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Funds for Palm Plaza Development senior center remain on hold

This article originally appeared in the Friday Sept. 6, 2019 issue of the Progress Times.

$40,000 in funds to maintain meal operations at the senior center in Mission’s Palm Plaza Development remain on hold after board members with the Mission Housing Authority expressed concerns with continuing to let a handful of non-tenants of the housing authority use these services.

Tuesday’s special meeting for the Mission Housing Authority provided an update on this hold from the Area Agency on Aging which was created last month after board member Connie Garza reached out to the agency to express concerns that allowing non-tenants to use those funds would endanger the development center.

MissionHousingAuthorityLogoThe center runs on public housing funds and AAA funds for maintenance and operations services, respectively.

According to housing authority Deputy Director Jaime Ayala, AAA provides to the development plaza a $40,000 grant to serve as a refund to give salaries for kitchen staff in the senior center.

Concerned with how members of the public were using the services, however, Garza reached out to AAA and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to see if any violations were made, creating the hold.

No violations were found by either agencies, Ayala told the board Tuesday. To remove the hold, Ayala said, the board had to send a letter to AAA saying they will continue to serve non-tenants in the senior center at Palm Plaza, which was denied by the majority.

Garza, who sits on the board of AAA, acknowledged on Tuesday that a contingency AAA provides to award these funds was that the center be open to the public.

“This potentially exposes the Mission Housing Authority to liability. If this center is open to the public, we would need to comply with health and safety requirements and permits and trained staff,” Garza said. “If there’s any liability, it’s us-who voted-who will take the debt of liability with it.”

Garza recommended to make the senior center available only to the tenants living in that development, located on the corner of Mayberry Road and Business 83, and referring the five non-tenants to other local adult daycares such as Amigos del Valle. She added that if the senior center were to ultimately lose the funds, the housing authority should take advantage of local pilot programs the city offers to keep funding it.

“I’m not against services to the elderly. It’s not that I want to engage in a confrontation, but I want us to do what is right and transparent and make good business decisions,” Garza said.

Executive Director Joel A. Gonzalez said after the meeting that he will contact AAA to see if they can continue to receive the funds if they exclude the five non-tenants from their services.

The only other item the board discussed was a motion to advertise for the position of a new executive director.
Gonzalez has stated publicly in previous meetings that his contract ends next January and that he has no plans to continue working for the housing authority after more than 25 years of service.

However, the motion was denied after Garza and fellow board member Irma Flores pointed out that there was no vacancy for Gonzalez’s position, making the advertisement come across as premature, they said.

“I don’t know why we’re advertising something when the board has not approved any separation agreement between us and Joel Gonzalez,” Garza said. “We need to have that and put it on the agenda so we can have a discussion on what are the wishes of the board. If and when the vacancy happens, how are we going to proceed? What would we like to see in a future executive director?”

Gonzalez argued that his contract end date was enough of a separation agreement, but Garza countered that Gonzalez needed to submit something in writing stating that he does not plan to continue working past his Jan. 4, 2020 contract end date.

“She can write it herself and then I’ll just sign it if that’s what it takes,” Gonzalez said after the meeting.

Garza also said that the hiring of a new director should be made by a new board as the terms for three of its members-Chairman Romeo De La Garza, Lupe Ozuna and resident board member Ricardo Garcia-are set to end at the end of December.

According to Gonzalez, new board members will be appointed by Mission Mayor Armando O’Caña in January. O’Caña was in attendance of Tuesday’s meeting.

“Gonzalez has said in the past that he was planning on retiring but ended up renewing his contract instead,” O’Caña said. “That’s probably why there’s hesitancy from everyone regarding his position.”

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