When Hidalgo County Commissioner David Fuentes last week told us he would do what is right regarding his Jan. 9 appointment of his uncle to the all-powerful Hidalgo County Regional Mobility Authority Board, we gave him the benefit of the doubt and expected him to rescind his vote.
But Fuentes, who represents Precinct 1, let us down on Tuesday during Hidalgo County Commissioners Court when he failed to take back the appointment of his uncle Ezequiel Reyna Jr., his mother’s brother, to serve on the HCRMA board.
Steve Crain, a lawyer who represents Hidalgo County told commissioners Tuesday he wanted to study the item more. On Wednesday, he held firm to that notion, telling us briefly: “It’s attorney-client privileged so I can only say what I said in court but some additional facts were given to me before the meeting and I wanted to study them so I can best advise my client.”
We can’t wait to hear what additional facts could possibly change the fact that Fuentes is directly related to Reyna, a well-known personal injury lawyer and political heavyweight from Weslaco.
As we stated in a Jan. 11 editorial, nepotism has no place here. In a region marred by allegations of corruption and cronyism, as well as documented cases of both, we expect our elected officials to go out of their way to be above reproach. We expect them not to give lawmakers in Austin, or elsewhere, grist for maligning or thinking of the Rio Grande Valley as a region rife with unethical behavior.
Fuentes’ behavior plays right to that stereotype. And he needs to take it back.
Unfortunately it does not appear he will. On Wednesday evening, Fuentes defended the appointment, telling us: “Perception and reality are two different things. The Texas Government Code clearly addresses this matter and clearly the Texas Attorney General has published multiple opinions dating back to 1984 and it clearly states it is not nepotism when it is not a compensated position.”
Although Reyna would not be paid for service on the HCRMA, the board regulates projects using millions of dollars of taxpayer funds and is viewed as extremely influential and oversees transportation plans for the region. Last year, the seven-member board — which includes such heavyweights as Alonzo Cantu and banker S. David Deanda Jr. — administered revenue over $40 million. Placing an elected official’s relative in a position of such power and influence — and which oversees millions of dollars in taxpayer funds — in our opinion is unethical.
Fuentes said he hopes to get legal advice from Crain today. We hope it is that this is wrong. And that perception and reality sometimes do become one in the same, at least in the public’s eye.
We also call upon the Hidalgo County RMA board not to formally recognize Reyna at their Tuesday night meeting, especially since the appointment is not to begin until Feb. 1.
OWLS (Objective Watchers of the Legal System) Founder Virginia Townsend summed it up best when she told us: “Why they didn’t make him take it back and rescind it? What in the world? Come on! Is there something people don’t know about conflict of interest? Nepotism? Gee!”
The story has been updated to reflect the correct date of Ezequiel Reyna Jr.’s appointment.