La Joya mayor settles lawsuit with housing authority

La Joya Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas settled a lawsuit with the La Joya Housing Authority on Valentine’s Day.

Attorneys signed the agreement Thursday, resolving a long-running dispute over the housing authority board.

CC FitoSalinasMayor Salinas disagreed with claims made by the housing authority, which accused him of attempting to stack the board, said attorney Albert E. Tovar of San Antonio-based law firm Sanchez & Wilson.

“Rather than fight all that, everyone decided: ‘Let’s not be wasting time and taxpayer’s money,’” said Tovar, who represents the mayor.

Tovar said that Mayor Salinas wants to cooperate with the housing authority and help the board move forward.

Attorney Tim Daniels, who represents the housing authority, described the agreement differently.

“It’s a like a home run,” Daniels said, adding that the mayor capitulated. “You don’t get that too often.”

Two people appointed by Mayor Salinas agreed to step aside.

“It’s certainly unfortunate that it took thousands of dollars from the housing authority’s operations and, I believe, thousands of dollars for the mayor’s lawyers, to correct the mayor’s mistake,” Daniels said.

The feud between Mayor Salinas and the housing authority board started in October, when the board fired Interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas — the daughter of Mayor Salinas and his wife, City Commissioner Mary Salinas.

Frances Salinas filed a lawsuit against the housing authority, claiming breach of contract and violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act.

The lawsuit flopped. Hidalgo County Court-at-Law Judge Albert Garcia dismissed the case and awarded the housing authority $20,000 in attorney’s fees.

After the board replaced his daughter, Mayor Salinas attempted to replace the board.

Mayor Salinas appointed Jorge Bazan, the brother-in-law of City Attorney Kennedy Salinas, to replace housing authority board Chairwoman Maricruz Sifuentes.

The city accused housing authority board Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Garces Valdez of misconduct, claiming a consulting contract between Garces Valdez and the city made her ineligible to serve on the board.

Mayor Salinas also appointed construction contractor Arnold Ochoa — the former La Joya school board president, who is married to school board Trustee Claudia Ochoa — to the housing authority board.

And, finally, Mayor Salinas re-appointed businessman John Pena to the board.

The housing authority board, however, already had two members: German Reyna, who works for the La Joya Independent School District; and Jose Luis “Puma” Rodriguez, who Mayor Salinas appointed to the position reserved for housing authority tenants.

That left the five-member board with six people.

The housing authority filed a lawsuit against Mayor Salinas, accusing him of attempting to stack the board.

Along with claims against the mayor, the lawsuit named Bazan, Ochoa, Pena and Rodriguez as defendants.

Garcia, the same county court-at-law judge who handled the Frances Salinas lawsuit, signed a wide-ranging temporary restraining order against Mayor Salinas and all four people he appointed to the board.

The order paralyzed the housing authority board, which hasn’t been able to hold a meeting since November.

Attorneys for the mayor and the housing authority settled the lawsuit Thursday, hours before a hearing at the Hidalgo County Courthouse.

Under the agreement, Mayor Salinas agreed to rescind his appointment of Rodriguez, who never scheduled a swearing-in ceremony or attended a housing authority board meeting. Mayor Salinas may appoint a new tenant representative within 21 days.

Ochoa, who Mayor Salinas appointed on Nov. 20, voluntarily relinquished any claim to serving on the board.

Mayor Salinas also agreed to abandon misconduct proceedings against Garces Valdez.

Attorneys finalized the agreement Thursday. After reviewing the document, which is called a Rule 11 agreement, the judge is expected to dismiss the lawsuit.

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