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Peñitas TIRZ director abruptly resigns

The executive director of the Peñitas Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone abruptly resigned last week.

Peñitas hired former McAllen City Manager Mike Perez in November, when the TIRZ needed an experienced manager to handle a major economic development project. The project — an Amazon fulfillment center — fell through after the company re-evaluated plans to expand.

“It’s time to move on,” Perez said, adding that he simply couldn’t justify collecting a check from Peñitas without a major project in the pipeline.

Mike Perez (Photo courtesy of the city of Weslaco.)

Perez sent an email at 10:35 a.m. on May 31, announcing that he would resign “effective at the end of today.”

The TIRZ hired Perez in November, just weeks before City Manager Omar Romero pleaded guilty to federal bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges.

Two months later, Peñitas Public Works Director Andres “Andy” Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States and making a false statement during the purchase of a firearm.

They both served on the TIRZ board, which is charged with spurring economic development within the zone. Romero resigned after he pleaded guilty.

“I do not wish my legal status to complicate or put any potential projects in jeopardy,” Romero wrote in his resignation letter. “I strongly believe in the mission of this Board and the potential that the city has to use the TIRZ as a tool to drive development and growth in the area.”

Morales, however, remained on the board and attended a meeting after he pleaded guilty.

“I just didn’t think it was ethical,” Perez said.

Allowing someone who pleaded guilty to a public corruption charge to serve on a board that spends taxpayer money calls the board’s decisions into question, Perez said. Officials in Peñitas, though, didn’t always take his advice on governance issues.

Perez wasn’t the only person with concerns about how the TIRZ is governed.

“The recent bribery conviction of City leader and Zone Board Director Andres Morales, at a minimum, creates the public perception of questionable conduct in his wake,” Weslaco-based law firm Jones, Galligan, Key & Lozano, which represents Hidalgo County, wrote to Peñitas Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez in February.

The letter suggested that Peñitas cede control of the TIRZ board to Hidalgo County.

Officials from Peñitas and Hidalgo County met to discuss the situation in March, but the structure of the TIRZ board remains unchanged.

Along with economic development experience, Perez brought his reputation for honesty and integrity to Peñitas. His presence helped assuage concerns the TIRZ would be tainted by corruption and put some Hidalgo County officials at ease.

Without him onboard, Hidalgo County may double down on concerns about how the TIRZ is governed.

Several members of the TIRZ board said they appreciated the work Perez did and wished him well.

“He did us a really good job,” said board Chairman John Womack. “And I think we’ll always be able to count on him as a friend.”

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