EDINBURG — In its first regular meeting since Sheriff Lupe Treviño resigned his post Friday, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court on Wednesday selected — by unanimous vote — Precinct 4 Constable Eddie Guerra to serve as sheriff, at least until a November election.
After about 25 minutes of discussion, commissioners chose Guerra over two other finalists, Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office jail Cmdr. Danny Garcia and former Drug Enforcement Administration Special Agent Fred Ball.
Guerra’s commissioner, Joseph Palacios of Precinct 4, officially made the motion to name him the sheriff.
“The reason for my support for Eddie Guerra comes from overwhelming support from various business individuals, elected officials and so many people that have called and have endorsed Mr. Guerra,” he said.
Palacios also recognized that Guerra already serves in elected office, something neither of the two other finalists could claim.
After the vote, Guerra spoke with reporters for about 2 1/2 minutes before excusing himself to return to his office.
“The message that I really want to give out is that we’re going to start restoring accountability back to the Sheriff’s Office,” he said. “We’re going to hold these people accountable — the deputies accountable for their actions — from now on. We’re not going to make any excuses for any troubles.”
Treviño resigned Friday, citing “internal and external pressures” stemming from the December 2012 arrest of his son, then-Mission police Investigator Jonathan Treviño, in connection with a corrupt Sheriff’s Office and Mission Police Department task force called the Panama Unit.
The Commissioners Court officially accepted his resignation just prior to discussing an interim appointment.
Guerra, 52, is expected to take the oath of office Thursday, thus automatically resigning his constableship. He said he planned to meet with his command staff Wednesday afternoon to “get a clear picture of what their thoughts are.”
He will serve until at least the November general election, when a contest to finish Treviño’s term — that expires in December 2016 — will be on the ballot.
The executive committees of the county’s political parties — composed of the precinct chairs and the county chairs — are expected to nominate candidates this summer. Guerra said Monday he plans to seek the office at that time.
Next week, county commissioners are expected to conduct a process similar to Wednesday’s to replace Guerra as Precinct 4 constable. Guerra will give his input, but Palacios will likely have more latitude in that decision, Guerra said.
“The commissioner and I will sit down and basically it’s going to be the commissioner’s choice,” he said.
District Attorney Rene Guerra, who’d publicly advocated commissioners select someone without aspirations to seek the position in November, said the selection will make no difference in the working relationship between his office and the sheriff’s.
“He’s inheriting, I would say by and large, a very good crew selected by both (former Sheriff Henry) Escalon and Treviño," Rene Guerra said. “A lot of the people in the Sheriff’s Office have been there a very long time.”
Rene Guerra’s concern was that appointing someone who planned to run for the office gave that person an advantage ahead of the nominating process. McAllen attorney Ric Godinez, who is in a runoff election for Hidalgo County Democratic Party chair with former Chair Juan Maldonado, acknowledged that concern — but immediately downplayed its likelihood.
“There’s a political train of thought … that incumbents always have an advantage,” Godinez said. “And as it is, he’s the incumbent. It’s an interim, placement-holder incumbent, but he’s an incumbent.
“But, you know, I would think that all the applicants will have an equal and fair chance to make their case to the county executive committee.”
The leader of the county’s second-largest law enforcement agency praised the selection of Guerra.
“I think he’s equipped to take on the department right now and give the community the stability it expects from the department,” McAllen police Chief Victor Rodriguez said by phone.
Palacios, who met with Guerra about the position prior to the appointment, shared that sentiment.
“I have no doubt that he’s going to unite the force and not only that but work with all agencies,” he said.
Neither well-wishers were alone.
By Wednesday afternoon, Eddie Guerra said he’d received about 400 texts and his voicemail box had filled up with supporters offering their congratulations.
But Fern McClaugherty, an active member of the Objective Watchers of the Legal System, wasn’t one of the supporters. McClaugherty voiced her objection to Guerra’s selection, citing a 2009 item Guerra introduced to the Commissioners Court that sought to ban concealed handguns from county property. To McClaugherty, the episode may demonstrated an inclination in the new sheriff to promote an agenda outside of the limits of his power.
“What’s he going to do now that he’s turned into the sheriff?” she said. “And then if he gets elected in November, what stance will he take? That’s the only thing that I worry about.”
The incoming sheriff disputed that accusation, saying the item appeared under his office’s portion of the Commissioners Court agenda, but was requested by Rene Guerra. The DA, Eddie Guerra said, wanted to prohibit concealed handguns from the county administration annex building, which is in Precinct 4.
“I am an advocate for gun rights,” he added. “I’m a life member of the National Rifle Association.”
Before Guerra officially jumps from supervising 16 employees as constable to about 800 as sheriff, he planned to meet with the Sheriff’s Office command staff Wednesday afternoon to gather feedback.
“It’s going to be them talking to me, for right now,” he said of the meeting. “What I want to hear is what’s working. We’ll expand on what’s working, and what, in their opinion, is not working.”