WESLACO – Jerry Tafolla didn’t want any discussion about axing the second Economic Development Corp. director in three months, he just wanted to do it.
The corporation board member and city commissioner moved Monday to remove Interim Director Alicia Aguilar back to her previous position as director of business retention and marketing and appoint City Manager Leo Olivares in her stead.
He then tried to quash even a sentence of explanation as fellow board members/city commissioners Lupe Rivera, David Fox and Joe Martinez backed the move and the non-commission board members questioned why they wanted to remove her.
Aguilar has led the corporation since June 28, when the board members/commissioners pushed longtime director Hernan Gonzalez to resign. The staffing shift followed a February corporation board shakeup that saw the City Commission appoint four of themselves.
Rivera and Martinez also refused to say why they wished to remove Aguilar. Only Fox provided an explanation, saying he was concerned that several development corporation projects had recently become public knowledge.
“You’re saying I leaked information?” Aguilar asked.
After the meeting, Fox acknowledged he was referring to reporting in two recent Monitor stories.
One involved a proposed $300,000 in upfront incentives to McAllen-based Sarina Group Ltd. to build a hotel along the expressway. Commissioners were apparently concerned that the name of the group appeared in the article.
At Monday’s meeting, the corporation approved a version of the budget that would spread those incentives over two years.
“I know there was a (public information request) for the budget and that information was not leaked – that’s a mean word … but we don’t have a development agreement with them, so their name should not have been included on the information that was released,” Fox said Tuesday.
The corporation’s budget included the name “Sarina Group” but did not explain what it was. The Monitor tied the group to the proposed hotel project only because it was publicly posted in a June agenda – by the City Commission, not the development corporation.
Fox also protested the release last week of a memo revealing that Olivares wished to have the corporation consider buying into the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge. The Monitor obtained the memo through a public information request while Aguilar was out of the country.
“Discussion topics that we had in executive session became public before we even had a meeting, (but) I realize Alicia wasn’t even there,” Fox said.
Regardless of whether Aguilar herself released any information, Fox said he held her accountable as head of the organization.
Rivera and Fox first called a meeting last week to replace Aguilar – while she was out of the country on vacation – but that was canceled because it hadn’t been posted a full 72 hours in advance, as required by law.
Monday, Aguilar requested that the board members discuss her demotion and replacement in public, rather than behind closed doors. Personnel matters can be kept closed, but the individuals being discussed have the legal right to demand that it be open.
Olivares has repeatedly said he does not want to lead the corporation, but nevertheless took the reins for the remainder of Monday’s meeting – borrowing Aguilar’s reading glasses to catch up on business.
A search committee is evaluating candidates to permanently fill the position.
Aguilar stressed that she has a good working relationship with Olivares and wanted to move forward in a positive way.
“At least David had the guts to say why, but nothing that he said was true,” she said. “I know that I served with the highest of ethics and principles because that’s who I am.”
Past reporting on Weslaco Economic Development Corp. turmoil: