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La Joya City Council adopts code of ethics

The La Joya City Council, concerned that a series of corruption scandals had damaged trust in local government, adopted a code of ethics on Tuesday.

Mayor Isidro Casanova and the City Council unanimously approved the code of ethics, which takes effect in January.

“I’m excited about it,” Casanova said. “I think it’s something that is needed and necessary for all elected officials and for the city employees.”

It’s unclear whether or not the City Council had ever adopted a code of ethics before — even though it’s required by the city charter.

The code of ethics covers members of the City Council, appointed officials, people appointed to city boards, and city employees.

“What we’re proposing is not creating another level of rules or requirements, reporting or disclosures,” said Interim City Manager Leo Olivares. “There’s a lot of state, federal, local, professional requirements already. And this is kind of going back to basics.”

The code of ethics requires all members of the City Council and appointed officials to attend eight hours of training on state laws, the city charter, city purchasing policies and city personnel policies. Employees and members of city boards must attend four hours of training. And volunteers must attend two hours of training.

“I think every city — every municipality — should have one if they don’t have one already,” said City Attorney Roberto Jackson. “It basically outlines existing statutes that govern our municipal elected officials but a lot of them are unaware of.”

For example, the training will cover how to handle conflicts of interest, Jackson said. State law requires elected officials and employees to file disclosure forms in certain circumstances.

“Most employees were unaware of that,” Jackson said, adding that La Joya had just one conflict of interest form on file.

Mandatory training will eliminate “I didn’t know” as an excuse, Jackson said, and make sure everyone follows the law.

“Transparency is what the public demands from our elected officials and our employees,” Jackson said. “It’s not rocket science.”

The City Council adopted the code of ethics after a series of corruption scandals that rocked City Hall.

Former City Administrator Mike Alaniz pleaded guilty to a federal theft charge in October 2019. Former Mayor Jose A. “Fito” Salinas pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge in July 2021. And Sylvia Garces Valdez, a former public relations consultant for the city, pleaded guilty to improper influence, a state misdemeanor, in September 2021.

The mayor’s daughter, Frances Salinas, also pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge.

All four cases involved the city of La Joya or the La Joya Economic Development Corp.

“This is an opportunity for La Joya to kind of turn the page on the past. And, given our history — our recent history — try to put the best foot forward,” Olivares said. “And this would send a very strong signal to — not just the community at large, but the business community — that we’re serious about reform.”

Members of the City Council who fail to comply with the code of ethics may be fined $75. Employees would be subject to disciplinary action or termination.

Every member of the City Council and all city employees must complete the training within 60 days. New employees and newly elected members of the City Council will be allowed 90 days to complete the training.

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