This article originally appeared in the Friday Aug. 23, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.
After suffering through a seemingly endless four-hour meeting filled with questions, bickering, snide comments and a visit from the Mission Police Department, Mission Housing Authority Chairman Romeo De La Garza had a question.
“Can we move on?”
“I’ve got to wake up at 4 to take my mom to work,” she said.
These comments came near the end of Wednesday’s regular meeting of the Mission Housing Authority where two board members-Connie Garza and Flores clashed with Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez.
During a discussion of the Mission Palm Plaza senior center-which the Mission Housing Authority operates-the arguments came head to head after Gonzalez accused Garza of trying to “defund” the program.
According to Deputy Director Jaime Ayala, Garza and Flores approached him with concerns that the center was open to the public, instead of just to members of the housing authority like its funding sources indicate it be open to.
The center is run through funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Area Agency on Aging. Garza reached out to these agencies to share her concerns.
“I received a letter from a director at the Area Agency on Aging telling us that our funding is placed on hold pending a letter from the board stating it’s OK that the center be utilized for the general public, not just our residents,” Ayala told the board, adding that the hold is temporary.
The agenda item read “Discussion on Mission Housing Authority commissioner’s attempt to defund the senior center operations at Palm Plaza funded by the Area Agency on Aging.” Gonzalez said that he chose the wording of the agenda item to illustrate what he thought of Garza’s actions to reach out to AAA and HUD with her concerns.
“She went directly to the funding source to destroy this program, disrupting services to the 40 some elderly we serve in our projects,” Gonzalez said. “She was going to kill the program because people from the community are coming in. I think it’s wrong for her to pursue that. She did an injustice to the elderly. I’m stating it the way it is.”
Gonzalez argued that Garza should’ve come to him with her concerns so they investigate the matter internally.
Throughout Gonzalez’s comments, Garza remained silent. At one point she gathered her belongings as if she was about to walk out of the meeting but ended up remaining in her seat.
“The ideal situation would’ve been to handle it in house, but the reality is you do not afford us to have that dialogue with you,” Garza shot back at Gonzalez. “There’s nothing more I would like than for us to have that open line with you. I’ve set up appointments, you’ve cancelled them. You’ve said you want an agenda of what I want to talk about which I’ve given, and you still refuse to see me. I try to come speak to Jaime and he tells me he has been instructed by you to not answer our questions. We’re back to ground zero. So if I have questions, I will get them answered, if I have concerns.”
After the meeting Ayala explained that he had been instructed not to discuss any old items that have already been addressed so that the housing authority can move on to new items and continue to run effectively.
Similar arguments have become routine at board meetings for the Mission Housing Authority since Garza and Flores were sworn in last January. They regularly spend as much as 20 minutes per item requesting more information on the item.
After the meeting, Garza said that the senior center still concerned her since she was contacted by a representative from HUD stating that the center is supposed to be used for housing authority members only, not the public.
“The issue raised a red flag for me…I wasn’t trying to be deceitful. It was not an underhanded move on my part either. I was transparent to [Gonzalez] all along,” Garza said. His libelous statements don’t discourage me from wanting to remain on the board.”
During the meeting, the board also voted to deny Ayala’s proposed appointment to the position of executive director, approved a new one-year legal service contract for their current lawyer, Carlos Ortegon, and discussed a $455,000 project to build a new warehouse storage facility that Flores and Garza criticized for taking too long. These items and others had motions led by Garza and Flores.
The item to discuss Ayala’s appointment occurred during an hour-long executive session which was briefly interrupted when Flores called the Mission Police Department for security concerns after Gonzalez became “aggressive” toward her, causing her to run to the lobby to make the 911 call.
“He aggressively got up and started shouting at me, I have to do what’s right,” she said as she made the call.
The responding officer ended up staying for the duration of the meeting.
Arguments between Gonzalez, Garza and Flores continued after the discussion of the senior center where Gonzalez said he felt attacked by Garza and Flores whenever they talk to him.
“It feels like harassment on your part since day one,” Gonzalez said. “You’re seeking not to improve the housing authority, but to enhance your position in the board. I have to avoid you except when I deal with you on the board publicly. You two keep disrupting the operations here and expecting staff to drop what they’re doing to attend to you.”
The meeting concluded with a plea from lawyer Carlos Ortegon to keep the peace amongst board members.
“At the end of the day, you all serve the board. Everybody here is here to serve the best interests of the housing authority and put politics and personal feelings aside,” Ortegon said. “It’s not about us, it’s about members of the housing authority that we serve. We need to unite.”