Yesterday, the Agua Special Utility District (SUD) announced that the board was hiring an attorney at taxpayer expense to conduct an internal audit. It is like the fox guarding the henhouse. It is more waste of taxpayer money.
Since October of 2016 Agua SUD has received more than 30 open records requests from news outlets such as the Progress Times, The Monitor, Valley Central Channel 4, and other individuals requesting copies of all professional services agreements between Agua SUD and all the consultants they have hired. They refuse to release this public information and instead have appealed to the Attorney General’s office.
These are taxpayer funds they are dealing with. What are they afraid of? What is it they are hiding? Why do they not want to disclose public documents when the public has the right to know.
Agua SUD is willing to spend thousands of dollars to hire not an auditor, but yet another highly paid consultant that can help them find ways to justify the questionable actions and practices of the District. This attorney has been hired by the Agua board and has already made up his mind and does not want to be confused by the facts, which is proven by the statements he made at the press conference that SB 814 is based “off of rumors and not proof of actual misconduct.”
The Agua board has a long history of mismanagement and was placed in receivership when it used to be the La Joya Water Supply Company. Last year, the Agua board tried to fire the previous Executive Director and replace him with a La Joya School Board member with no experience whatsoever related to water or waste water infrastructure or experience with state or federal contracting.
Another example is when the Agua board delegated to their own engineering company S&B, a nationwide and very reputable engineering company, to make a recommendation on a contractor for Phase II of the wastewater project. After their own engineering company made a thorough review and verified the qualifications of the bids, they recommended the lowest bidder who had been working on Phase I. The board instead rejected their own engineer’s recommendation and awarded the contract to a construction company who bid $1 million higher than the recommended company. This is an additional $1 million cost to taxpayers.
When questioned and investigated by the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) for this contract decision, the Agua justification was found not sufficient. This week the TWDB made a decision to not release funding for this project, pending further investigation.
I filed SB 814 to increase transparency and accountability and to curb conflicts of interests within the Agua SUD board. Public servants must avoid creating even the appearance of impropriety. The bill has been amended to focus on the conflict with Agua and the La Joya Independent School District, since the majority of the Agua SUD board members are employees of the La Joya School District. Thus, the La Joya School Board controls Agua SUD.
SB 814 would stop Agua from employing La Joya School Board members to work for the utility district. The conflicts of interest must end and my legislation gives the two La Joya School Board members affected four years to decide if they want to run for re-election or continue their employment at Agua SUD (grandfather provision).
I am amazed at the amount of time, energy, and taxpayer money that Agua SUD is willing to waste to protect the employment of their bosses. They are politicizing a taxpayer utility district for their own political agenda.
Agua SUD is an important utility district in one of the fastest growing areas in Hidalgo County. There must be transparency, accountability and protections of taxpayer money.
Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa proudly represents the counties of Nueces, Jim Wells, Brooks, and Hidalgo (part). Senator Hinojosa served as the Senate President Pro Tempore of the Texas Senate in the 84th Texas Legislature. Senator Hinojosa currently serves as Vice-Chairman of the Senate Committee on Finance, and serves on the Senate Committees on Natural Resources & Economic Development; Criminal Justice; Agriculture, Water & Rural Affairs as well as the Sunset Advisory Commission.