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New legislation would stop Agua SUD from holding workshops on South Padre Island

State lawmakers may stop the Agua Special Utility District from holding workshops on South Padre Island and move utility board elections to November.

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, said he plans to introduce a bill that would block the utility district, which serves western Hidalgo County, from holding workshops at hotels on South Padre Island — more than 70 miles away. The bill would also move utility board elections from May to November.

“I want them to hold their annual financial meetings, workshops, in the district,” Hinojosa said. “Where the ratepayers and residents can attend, and listen and hear what’s going on.”

Hinojosa also introduced bills that affected Agua SUD during the 2017 and 2019 legislative sessions.

Agua SUD fought the 2017 bill, which prohibited reciprocal employment relationships between local elected officials. It passed anyway.

Two years later, when Hinojosa introduced a bill that required Agua SUD to post more financial information online and take other steps to improve transparency, the utility board supported the legislation.

The latest bill, which Hinojosa plans to file during the next few weeks, will block Agua SUD from holding workshops or meetings on South Padre Island.

In 2019, when the utility district held a three-day workshop at the Isla Grand Beach Resort, members discussed the budget, infrastructure projects and redistricting.

Agua SUD paid for four members of the utility board, General Manager Jose E. “Eddie” Saenz, an engineer, an attorney, four utility district employees, a consultant and lobbyist to stay at the hotel, according to documents released under the Texas Public Information Act. Along with hotel rooms, the utility district paid for buffet-style meals and mileage.

The trip cost about $13,300.

Agua SUD held a similar workshop at Schlitterbahn in August 2018.

Utility board President Homer Tijerina, who didn’t attend the July 2019 workshop, said he agreed with Hinojosa.

Meeting in western Hidalgo County will allow customers to attend, Tijerina said, and improve transparency.

“In the previous years, it had been done at the island,” Tijerina said. “And since the people can’t go out there, they’re recommending for it to be within our district so people can attend the workshops and the meetings.”

Hinojosa said the bill would also move Agua SUD elections from May to November.

Sullivan City, Peсitas and Mission hold City Council elections in May. The city of La Joya, Palmview and the La Joya Independent School District hold elections in November.

Turnout during nonpartisan May elections, however, is sometimes much lower than turnout during the general election in November. Moving the utility board election to November may increase voter participation.

The switch may also save Agua SUD money.

“It’ll be more cost-effective for us,” Tijerina said.

Moving elections to November may also extend the terms of three utility board members.

The coronavirus pandemic forced Agua SUD to move the May 2020 election to November, extending the terms of three incumbent utility board members.

It also shortened the terms of two new board members. Moving elections to November may allow them to serve full, four-year terms.

With Tijerina as president and two new members on the utility board, Hinojosa said he’s optimistic about Agua SUD.

“Hopefully we’ll see changes for the better and improvement,” Hinojosa said. “Since that’s what they ran on.”

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