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The La Joya City Commission approved a two-year employment contract with police Chief Adolfo Arriaga in October — and kept the details secret for nearly two months.
Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas, who is running for re-election with Chief Arriaga’s wife, Dalia, signed the contract on Oct. 8.
La Joya agreed to employ Chief Arriaga until Sept. 30, 2021. If he is terminated without “good cause,” La Joya must pay Chief Arriaga an amount equal to the remainder of the two-year contract.
“I think he was solely using it for political gain,” said Laura Mendiola Macias, who is running against Dalia Arriaga for City Commission, referring to the mayor. “That absolutely is not in the best interests of the city.”
After meeting in executive session on Oct. 8, the City Commission unanimously approved the employment contract without any public discussion.
The Progress Times asked Mayor Salinas about the contract after the meeting adjourned, but he referred questions to City Manager Jacqueline Bazan. She declined to discuss the contract and suggested the Progress Times submit a public information request.
The Progress Times submitted the public information request less than two hours later.
La Joya, though, failed to comply with the Texas Public Information Act. The city didn’t respond to the request within 10 business days and didn’t release a copy of the contract until Nov. 27, five days after the Progress Times filed a complaint with the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office.
The employment contract lists Chief Arriaga’s duties and sets his annual salary at $60,000. It also prohibits the city from reassigning Chief Arriaga without his written consent or reducing his salary unless all city employees receive a similar pay cut.
Along with standard benefits, La Joya agreed to pay for Chief Arriaga’s professional development.
“Chief will be allowed to attend the International Association Police (sic) training conferences each year without loss of vacation or other leave,” according to the contract, which requires La Joya to pay for “all expenses (including travel expenses) incurred while attending or traveling to the aforementioned conferences.”
Under a section titled “Compensation,” the city agreed to provide Chief Arriaga with a car and pay for all related expenses.
“The City shall provide a police vehicle for use by the Chief and pay for all attendant operating and maintenance expenses and insurance,” according to the contract. “Said vehicle is to be used by the Chief in connection with the performance of his duties as Chief and for his professional growth and development.”
While the employment contract expires on Sept. 30, 2021, the agreement will automatically renew unless Chief Arriaga or the city provides 12 months notice.
The contract allows La Joya to terminate Chief Arriaga for “good cause,” which includes negligence, misconduct and criminal activity.
If the city terminates Chief Arriaga without good cause, La Joya must provide him with “an amount equal to the value of the remaining years of this contract,” compensation for all unused sick, vacation and personal days, and six months of health insurance.
Why the City Commission approved the contract remains unclear.
City Commissioner Mary Salinas, who motioned to approve the contract, referred a request for comment to her husband, Mayor Salinas. Asked about the agreement on Tuesday, Mayor Salinas declined to comment.
Employment contracts became a hot-button issue during the mayoral election, which pitted Mayor Salinas against former police Chief Isidro Casanova.
The city posted a meeting agenda for Nov. 2, which listed agreements with more than a dozen employees. Casanova filed a lawsuit and requested a temporary restraining order against the city. A judge signed the order, prohibiting the City Commission from holding the meeting.
City Attorney Kennedy Salinas had the lawsuit removed to federal court, dissolving the restraining order.
The city posted a new meeting agenda for Nov. 18, which listed more agreements. Casanova filed another lawsuit. And the judge signed another temporary restraining order.
Kennedy Salinas had that lawsuit removed to federal court too.
In interviews, Mayor Salinas said he simply wanted to provide hardworking city employees with job security. Attorney Roberto Jackson, who represents Casanova, said the employment contracts would place an unnecessary burden on the city budget.
Mendiola Macias, the City Commission candidate, said the contracts aren’t necessary.
“We’re not in this to fire people,” Mendiola Macias said. “We’re not in this to hurt people or their families. We’re in this for the complete opposite.”