The La Joya Housing Authority may select a new executive director during the next few weeks — potentially the fourth person to hold the position in less than a year.
Applicants include former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben O. Villarreal, housing authority Interim Executive Director Claudia Alcazar, former Sullivan City Manager Juan Cedillo and Weslaco Housing Authority Programs Director Gloria Garza.
“I just hope that whoever is part of this La Joya housing is here to help the tenants,” said Commissioner Jose Armando Salinas, who represents tenants on the five-member board. “Because they have been neglected for so many years. Not months. Not the previous administration. I mean years.”
The executive director position isn’t exactly auspicious.
Former Executive Director Jose Reynaldo Trevino and former Section 8 Director Ovidio Ramirez embezzled nearly $195,000 from the housing authority in the 1990s, according to a report prepared by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Office of Inspector General.
After the scandal, the housing authority hired Juan Jose “J.J.” Garza, who pleaded guilty to participating in a bid-rigging scheme. He’s serving a 37-month sentence in federal prison.
The board fired Garza and replaced him with Frances A. Salinas, the daughter of Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, in February 2017.
During her tenure, the housing authority spent thousands on hotels and restaurants, according to bank statements, which also show more than $10,000 in cash withdrawals.
The board terminated Frances Salinas in October 2018. She denied any wrongdoing.
Her successor, Cristi LaJeunesse, attempted to fix a myriad of financial and management problems. She resigned in July after clashing with Mayor Salinas and members of the board.
The board hired Alcazar, the interim executive director, on July 15.
Whoever accepts the permanent position will inherit a housing authority faced with both administrative and criminal investigations.
The HUD Office of Inspector General is conducting a wide-ranging investigation of the housing authority. The FBI arrested housing authority Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Garces Valdez on Aug. 19. And the HUD Departmental Enforcement Center is preparing a report that could become the basis for receivership.
Uncertainty about the federal investigations could prompt the board to postpone the decision indefinitely. The housing authority canceled a meeting scheduled for Monday.
“We already have a plan right now,” Jose Armando Salinas said. “We’re communicating with HUD. We’re doing great. Everything they want to know, it’s answered.”
To avoid any disruptions, Jose Armando Salinas said he wanted Alcazar, the interim executive director, to stick around.
Jose Armando Salinas also said that board Chairman John Pena and Garces Valdez, the vice chairwoman, hadn’t shared the executive director applications with him.
“John and Sylvia are the ones that have them,” Jose Armando Salinas said. “He just got ‘em and he just took ‘em.”
Pena didn’t respond to a request for comment.