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Hidalgo County commissioner, 4 mayors demand apology for ‘unethical and libelous comments’

When flames ripped through five buildings in western Hidalgo County last month, a member of the Texas Commission on Fire Protection posted about the blaze on Facebook.

“This should not have happened, why did you ignore the neighbors plea to save the children? Why weren’t the tanks filled with water?” wrote Arminda “Mindy” Garza, 26, of Mission, a member of the state Commission on Fire Protection. “& To The Fire Department of Penitas, I’m more than disappointed in you! Where the hell were you?”

Arminda GarzaRumors about the July 21 blaze, which killed an 11-year-old girl in a rural neighborhood near Palmview, spread rapidly on Facebook.

Faced with questions from the community and criticism from a member of the Commission on Fire Protection, local firefighters called a news conference to set the record straight.

They had water. They attempted to save the girl. And firefighters from Peñitas, who covered for neighboring departments while they responded to the blaze, were involved in a car crash that day.

Officials also contacted Gov. Greg Abbott on July 31, asking him to review Garza’s conduct.

“We respectfully ask that an inquiry be made, and Commissioner Garza be held accountable for her actions,” according to the letter, which is signed by Hidalgo County Precinct 3 Commissioner Joe Flores, Mission Mayor Armando “Doc” O’caña, Palmview Mayor Rick Villarreal, Alton Mayor Salvador Vela and Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez. “We also ask for a public apology for the unethical and libelous comments made by Commissioner Garza, whom people perceive as a public servant. The apology should be to the agencies involved and to the families who were affected, especially those who are still grieving the loss of a loved one.”

The governor appointed Garza, a local businesswoman, to serve on the 13-member Commission on Fire Protection in January.

Garza had campaigned for justice of the peace as a Republican in November 2018 but lost to Juan Jose “J.J.” Peña, a member of the La Joya school board. In a news release, the governor described Garza as a “tax preparer for A&A Electronic Tax Services and guest speaker at The University of Texas of the Rio Grande Valley.”

Garza frequently posts on Facebook, sharing photos of herself with local firefighters.

“As your State Commissioner of Fire Protection, it is my responsibility to ask hard questions, to help ensure and encourage future fire safety across the State, especially in my own backyard. My priority is to serve the people and not the interest of local politicians,” Garza wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m a public servant not a politician, I’m concerned about our people not political chisme. State oversight can sometimes seem intimidating to people in our local government or people who are afraid of responsibility. Especially the local politicians fearing that bad press will prevent them from being reelected.”

Told about the letter, Garza stood by her comments.

“I’m not going to apologize for what I said,” Garza said. “They need to apologize to the people.”

Garza, who is supporting businessman Everardo “Ever” Villarreal against Flores in the March 2020 primary, also said she believes the letter may be politically motivated.

“It’s not going to change who I am supporting,” Garza said. “Especially now.”

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