This article originally appeared in the Friday June 21, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
The Wednesday board meeting of the Mission Housing Authority highlighted the tense relationship between the organization’s newest board members, and its executive director.
When board member Connie Garza moved to approve the $1.7 million housing authority budget for the upcoming fiscal year, she did so with one stipulation.
“Section six of employment contract for the executive director says ‘This contract shall be extended for an additional one-year period upon approval of the yearly budget unless the budget is approved with specific reference to the executive director’s contract,’” Garza said. “So my motion is to approve the budget…and in no way does this approval indicate that we are extending the contract of the executive director for another year. That is my motion.”
Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez responded to Garza’s motion by thanking her.
“I have a contract through December, I don’t expect to go beyond that,” Gonzalez said. “This I’ve made clear to staff, board members, everyone.”
Board member Irma Flores, who was sworn in with Garza last February, seconded the motion.
“We find it interesting you’ve been here three years and serving on a part time basis,” Flores said to Gonzalez. “I’ve never heard of any agency having a part time director and a deputy director. I’m glad this is coming to a close.”
The board had spent approximately 50 minutes discussing the budget due to Flores and Garza requesting more information on several budgeted items such as the housing authority’s decision to extend their contract with insurance carrier Texas Municipal League and what they referred to as the housing authority’s inconsistent method of determining which employees get a raise without providing a required yearly evaluation to them.
“I’m not sure if the other board members knew that was in his contract had I not reviewed his contract and seen it,” Garza said. “It’s very dysfunctional for an organization to be operating the way it’s been operating for as long as it has been.”
Gonzalez was given a chance to speak about his three years as executive director, where he receives a salary of $56,000 despite working on a part time basis.
“I was moving to retire two years ago when (former Mission Mayor Norberto “Beto” Salinas) asked me to stay for an additional two years,” Gonzalez explained. “At the time I wanted my assistant, Deputy Executive Director Jaime Ayala to take over for me but [Salinas] felt at that point he did not know him well enough to name him executive director so he asked me to stay on a part time basis to train him. That’s what’s been going on.”
As deputy director, Ayala is a full-time employee responsible for the day-to-day activities of the housing authority when Gonzalez isn’t in the office.
Gonzalez’s history clearly did not impress Flores.
“So [Ayala]’s been training for two and a half years because [Salinas] didn’t have confidence in him?” she asked.
“No, he didn’t say he lacked confidence, he said he didn’t know him well enough,” Gonzalez replied.
“So are you almost done training him,” Flores asked.
As executive director of the Mission Housing Authority, Gonzalez oversees 32 employees and more than 749 families in the program. He said after the meeting that in his first year as executive director he worked full time on an approximately $128,000 salary before agreeing to work part time in his second year with slashed salary. He said the contract stipulation regarding the budget was only added last year to consolidate his salary as part of the budget.
“Connie brought it up in a fashion that sounded like it was something that was being snuck in,” Gonzalez said after the meeting. “It’s not a matter of that. If they don’t want me, then I don’t want to stay around. I don’t need this job, I’m 73 years old, I don’t need to work anymore.”
Though Gonzalez said he thinks the stipulation should be removed for future contracts, he mentioned that he has had a rocky relationship with Garza.
“She has been trying to evaluate me since day one when she started. She and I have basically not gotten along and I don’t know why,” he said. “I’ve never done anything to her, her husband’s a good friend of mine and I thought she was too.”
Asked about their relationship with the executive director, Flores and Garza said anything resembling an amicable relationship is nonexistent.
“He has blocked every opportunity for us to have dialogue,” Garza said of Gonzalez. “We as a board and executive director play an important role in leading and guiding the housing authority with a vision, but how can we do it if he refuses to meet with us? What kind of relationship is that?”
Garza and Flores discussed how they spend as much as 20 minutes on a single agenda item asking pointed questions about it. This is due to Gonzalez and the rest of the housing authority refusing to hold workshops to discuss the items in the agenda, despite requesting them since they were sworn in, they said.
“How can we approve a major budget that takes a lot of money and decision making without a workshop,” Flores said. “They just expect it to be approved without discussions. Their meetings used to be an hour long. With us, it’s longer. We’re gonna dissect these items.”