The city of Mission will hold a special meeting next Wednesday to discuss finances in the wake of alleged fiscal liquidity issues that surfaced this week, which the city largely denies.
That meeting will follow a bitter city council race (also special).
Noel Salinas — a sitting Mission Economic Development Corporation board member and current city council candidate — told the Progress Times Friday that EDC administration informed him that day that the city has withheld about $3 million in sales tax payments from the corporation, which he says the city has been using for payroll and expenses.
Mayor Norie Garza disputed that narrative and accused Salinas of making up stories for a “last ditch” effort geared toward political gain.
Garza supports one of Salinas’ opponents in Saturday’s special election for Place 3.
Tensions could hardly be higher.
The special council election very much looms over those conflicting narratives and one concrete fact: a city council agenda posted late Friday afternoon for next week.
The agenda for Wednesday is sparse, just one broad item that entails the city’s financial plan, economic development and “other related matters.”
Garza brushed the meeting off as being informative and just tentatively slated for scheduling purposes, saying she hadn’t even seen an agenda and didn’t know if the council would take any action there — should it be held.
“It’s a meeting that’s posted,” she said, saying that the meeting agenda had been left vague intentionally. “We may not have this meeting, there may not be a need for this meeting, but it got posted for it just in case. And I’m not sure exactly if this meeting is going to come to fruition, really, at this point.”
Councilman Ruben Plata described the meeting as a checkup on financials, though not necessarily a regular one.
“I think it should become a routine,” he said.
Plata said he’d have to consult the city’s attorney before responding to any questions about a liquidity issue.
Councilwoman Jessica Ortega said Friday afternoon that she’d been ill, and was aware of neither a liquidity issue nor the special meeting.
The city’s attorney, city manager and the rest of the council could not be reached for comment Friday evening.
Asked about municipal liquidity issues Friday, the EDC administration referred inquiries to a city spokesperson — who never did wind up commenting, despite repeated requests.
All that leaves up to interpretation the decidedly contradictory accounts of the politically opposed mayor and EDC board member.
According to EDC Board Member Salinas, the corporation’s CEO began individually informing board members of a discrepancy in EDC funding Friday. Salinas described a faulty paper trail.
“The financials are showing one number, but what’s actually in the bank, it’s something else. It’s not showing that number,” he said.
Salinas said he understood sales tax monies intended for the EDC were being gradually diverted to city expenses.
“I don’t think it happened overnight. The way it was explained, it’s been happening for a while,” he said.
Those EDC monies, Salinas says, have been used to pay the city’s bills.
“It appears that the city couldn’t make their payroll or their expenses, and they were using EDC money to pay what they owed,” he said.
If there have been financial alarm bells ringing in Mission, they haven’t been widely publicized.
This year the city lowered its tax rate and approved raises.
The city has also, however, been on a consistent Moody’s ratings decline for five years.
Mayor Garza denied any sort of fiscal crisis within the city.
“We have so many projects that are in the process, that are in the works, and if we had liquidity problems, there’s no way in the world that we could…do that if we were having issues with our financial statements,” she said.
The Progress Times asked whether the city was withholding money from the EDC.
“The word is not ‘withholding,’” Garza said. “Because there is a process that needs to be followed. There’s procedures, there’s protocols, there’s a process. And so, all of that comes into play.”
Garza couldn’t succinctly describe a synonym for “withholding.”
She was, however, particularly interested in where the Progress Times and others heard about liquidity issue rumors — sometimes confrontationally so.
“So you already don’t have your information correct,” she said, responding to Salinas’ assertion that the EDC notified its board of financial issues Friday.
Garza said she never was called by the EDC about finances and didn’t know what Salinas was talking about.
“Was there a meeting?” she said. “There was not a meeting. And if there was a meeting, that was an illegal meeting, because all meetings by the EDC board need to have a 72-hour posting, and if there was a meeting, it was an illegal meeting, and I will get to the bottom of that one.”
Garza and Salinas both hurled insults at each other.
“To say the least, it’s disappointing that an EDC member would make comments without knowing the facts,” Garza said. “And that’s very disappointing. I hold all of our board members to a very high standard, and obviously, this is very disappointing. Very disappointing. There is no issues with liquidity.”
Salinas was hardly less heated.
“You can add that this is beyond unethical,” he said via text. “The mayor and the city manager failed to advise or request approval from the EDC board to make such transactions. We need an independent audit to identify where those funds were used.”