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La Joya Housing Authority board approves three-year contract with executive director

The La Joya Housing Authority board approved a three-year contract with Executive Director Ruben Villarreal on Wednesday.

Under the contract, which must be approved by an attorney, the housing authority will pay Villarreal an $84,000 annual salary. He will receive a 5 percent raise after the first year.

Ruben Villarreal Photo“It gives me a sense of relief and a sense of direction now,” Villarreal said. “Before, I wasn’t sure where we were going to go because there was so much instability within the framework of the board. But now I can plan for three years.”

Villarreal is the fourth person to hold the position during the past 12 months.

Constant turnover created uncertainty and made change difficult, Villarreal said, adding that fixing the housing authority’s financial and management problems will take time.

“This requires a three-year plan. It’s not going to be less than three years. It might be a little bit more than three years,” Villarreal said. “But three years is going to put us in a framework where we’re financially sound, we’re going to be accountable to our tenants and we’re going to have a system that’s going to be exemplary for the entire Valley. I have no doubt.”

The board voted 4-0 to approve the contract after a last-minute shakeup.

The La Joya Police Department hand-delivered letters to Commissioner German Reyna and Commissioner Sylvia Garces Valdez on Wednesday, notifying them that their terms had expired — and they were, effective immediately, no longer members of the board.

Reyna, who seldom spoke during meetings, had avoided public disagreements with other commissioners and urged the board to work together. Garces Valdez hadn’t attended a meeting since August, when a grand jury charged her with bribery.

Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas replaced them with Rosa Yvette Flores of La Joya, a teacher at Evangelina Garza Elementary School, and Berta T. Mireles of La Joya, a cafeteria worker at Dr. Americo Paredes Elementary School.

They joined Commissioner Jorge Bazan and board President John Pena on Wednesday afternoon, when the board voted 4-0 to approve the contract pending review by an attorney.

“He’s very dedicated,” Pena said. “He’s here at 7 in the morning. He leaves after close to 6 o’clock.”

Mayor Salinas agreed.

“I really admire the man,” Mayor Salinas said. “He’s got a lot of experience. He has a lot of knowledge in government.”

Commissioner Jose Armando Salinas, who represents tenants, didn’t attend the housing authority board meeting. On Wednesday morning, he blasted Bazan and Pena on Facebook.

“They want to give this guy 80-something thousand dollars?” Jose Armando Salinas said in an interview. “That’s crazy.”

Jose Armando Salinas said he joined the board to help tenants but slowly became disillusioned.

Villarreal and the housing authority board don’t actually care about tenants, Jose Armando Salinas said, adding that he thinks the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development should place the housing authority in receivership.

“He’s more concerned about his pay and posting filtered pictures on his Facebook,” Jose Armando Salinas said.

Along with approving a contract for Villarreal, the board agreed to retain attorney Javier Villalobos of McAllen for day-to-day legal matters.

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