La Joya Housing Authority hires former Rio Grande City mayor as executive director

The La Joya Housing Authority board hired former Rio Grande City Mayor Ruben Villarreal as executive director on Wednesday night.

Ruben O. Villarreal, 56, of Mission — who served as mayor of Rio Grande City from 2008 to 2015, campaigned for U.S. Congress in 2016 and currently works as a social media strategist — is the fourth person to hold the executive director position during the past 12 months.

Ruben Villarreal PhotoThe U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development designated the housing authority “troubled” in April and warned about a “history of corrupt management and poor oversight by the Board of Commissioners.” The FBI arrested a member of the board last month. And the housing authority remains in a precarious financial position, without enough money in the bank to cover a month of operating expenses.

None of that deterred Villarreal.

“I want to say something that needs to be said: In order to put this housing authority in the best shape it can possibly be, it’s going to take patience. It’s going to take perseverance. It’s going to take a lot of tenacity,” Villarreal said. “And it’s going to take a team of dedicated board members and an executive director to work together to provide the most basic need that a community can have, which is housing.”

At least four people applied for the position.

The board interviewed Villarreal, housing authority Interim Executive Director Claudia Alcazar, former Sullivan City Manager Juan Cedillo and Weslaco Housing Authority Programs Director Gloria Garza on Wednesday night.

Board Chairman John Pena and Commissioner Jorge Bazan voted for Villarreal.

Villarreal impressed the board during the interview process, Pena said, adding that he wanted an executive director with government experience.

“With his selection, we’re hoping that our future looks brighter,” Pena said. “And that we get everything to the point where we’re not a news item every week.”

Bazan declined to comment.

Commissioner Jose Armando Salinas, who wanted to keep Alcazar, voted against Villarreal. He said the decision had been tainted by self-dealing.

“It’s a lousy decision because we’re doing fine. We’re working fine. But these guys, you know, they have another agenda,” Salinas said. “They’re trying to do favors for themselves or something.”

Commissioner German Reyna abstained from voting.

“They were all good candidates. They did awesome interviews. I have nothing against anybody,” Reyna said. “But at this point in time and with the situation that we’re in, I felt that we needed a little bit more time.”

Board Vice Chairwoman Sylvia Garces Valdez, who is facing a federal bribery charge, didn’t attend the meeting. Whether or not she is still a member of the board remains unclear.

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