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Ramos wins seat on Peñitas City Council in special election

Voters picked a replacement for Peñitas City Councilman Alex Guajardo on Tuesday, five months after he pleaded guilty in a federal corruption case.

Osiel Ramos, 47, of Peñitas — a teacher at John F. Kennedy Elementary School — won the special election for City Council Place 1. He defeated Jose Luis Ochoa Jr., 33, a teacher at Hope Academy.

Ramos thanked God and everyone who supported him throughout the campaign.

“We’re ready to move forward,” Ramos said. “We can’t control the past, but we’ll make a pretty nice future from now on.”

Nearly 58% of the 783 people who voted in the special election supported Ramos, according to preliminary results published by the Hidalgo County Elections Department on Tuesday.

Jose Luis Ochoa Jr. said the results spoke for themselves.

“They had more people on their side, I guess,” Jose Luis Ochoa Jr. said. “Nothing we can do about it. Hopefully next time we’ll do better.”


Osiel Ramos, left, shakes hands with Jose Luis Ochoa Jr., right, outside the Peñitas library after the polls closed on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times.)


Peñitas City Councilman Ramiro Loya, Peñitas City Councilman Felipe Quintanilla, La Joya City Councilman Chuck Garza, Agua Special Utility District board Director Homer Tijerina and other elected officials backed Ramos.

Jose Luis Ochoa Jr., meanwhile, counted former La Joya school board President Arnold Ochoa, former La Joya school board President Claudia Ochoa and La Joya EDC board Director Elias Macias among his supporters.

Who funded the campaigns and how much the candidates spent remains unclear.

Both candidates missed the 30-day and 8-day deadlines to submit campaign finance reports. On Tuesday morning, City Secretary Yenni Espinoza said Peñitas hadn’t received any reports from either candidate.

Concerns about corruption at City Hall dominated the campaign.

Peñitas City Manager Omar Romero pleaded guilty to bribery and bankruptcy fraud charges in November. After he resigned, Peñitas agreed to pay Romero nearly $5,500 a month for “administrative and support services.”

Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Armin Garza and Public Works Director Andres “Andy” Morales pleaded guilty to conspiracy to defraud the United States in January.

Garza resigned. Morales, who confessed to accepting more than $1.1 million during a bribery and kickback scheme, remains employed by Peñitas.

Public Information Officer Oscar “Coach” Salinas quit in February. A week later, he pleaded guilty to an extortion charge.

Peñitas made headlines again in June, when the FBI arrested Mayor Rodrigo “Rigo” Lopez on federal theft charges. He pleaded not guilty.


Osiel Ramos hugs a supporter after winning the Peñitas special election on Tuesday afternoon. (Photo by Dave Hendricks / The Progress Times)


Documents filed by federal prosecutors also revealed the city of Peñitas had been part of a conspiracy to improperly influence public officials in other parts of western Hidalgo County. Officials who supported contracts with Performance Services Inc., an Indiana-based company, received jobs, contracts and positions in Peñitas.

The scandals convinced some voters that Peñitas needed change, Jose Luis Ochoa Jr. said, but others decided local politics had become so dirty they didn’t want to become involved.

“I know the city has problems,” Jose Luis Ochoa Jr. said. “But I don’t think it’s too far gone, that we can’t turn the ship around.”

While some voters brought up the corruption cases, Ramos said he believed Peñitas residents are more concerned about streets, development and property taxes.

“You hear more of that,” Ramos said. “Then what you see in the news.”

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