EDITORIAL: Accounting for Hidalgo County drainage funds - The Monitor: Opinion

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EDITORIAL: Accounting for Hidalgo County drainage funds

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Posted: Thursday, March 20, 2014 2:00 am

A prescient video of a Feb. 6, 2007 meeting of the then-Hidalgo County Drainage District Board of Directors — which is the same as the Hidalgo County Commissioners — was replayed before the current day board on Tuesday that showed commissioners at that time questioning whether there would be enough controls placed on payments to the county’s drainage manger.

In the video, former Precinct 4 Commissioner Oscar Garza Jr., worried whether there were enough “checks and balances” placed on Hidalgo County Drainage District No. l Manager Godfrey Garza if Godfrey Garza was awarded a contract that allowed for his company, Integ Corp., to collect 1.5 percent of all county drainage construction costs.

Fast forward to present day and given that Garza’s company has earned at least $3.73 million since 2007, we may well conclude that perhaps there weren’t enough checks and balances.

That is why we applaud the move by County Judge Ramon Garcia and the drainage board on Tuesday to unanimously vote to appoint a special counsel from the district attorney’s office to investigate these payments and ensure that all funds from the 2006, $100 million drainage bonds were properly spent.

The embattled drainage manager, who has said he will step down sometime next year, was seen on the video saying “I feel it’s a fair compensation.”

It wasn’t. The payments have far exceeded what commissioners at the time expected — which were about $100,000 annually. And payments to Integ appear to have gone unchecked for years until Judge Garcia raised concerns earlier this year. Ironically, concerns came as Garza requested — and got — a $57,000 annual pay hike for his company, although it allowed the drainage board to remove from Integ’s contract the ability to receive any further percentage commissions on actual construction projects.

Josie Ramirez, section chief of the DA’s office that will head this investigation, told a member of The Monitor’s editorial board the inquiry could take weeks, possibly months, as they comb through all financial documents and payments to Integ dating back several years.

And ultimately, commissioners will have to decide how to proceed with whatever information Ramirez’ staff uncovers — whether that is via insurance claims as The Monitor’s Jacob Fischler today reports or possible court action.

We’ll be anxiously following this probe.

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Daily editorials reflect the majority opinion of The Monitor’s editorial board.

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