Edinburg to revisit council member’s potential charter violation

EDINBURG — The city council here will revisit an issue that could force one of its members out of office.

Edinburg council members will discuss whether to launch an inquiry against council member Homer Jasso Jr. at their next meeting Tuesday. Jasso is accused of profiting from city coffers through Santa Anita Recycling LLC, a tire recycling business in which he has a 15-percent stake, despite an ordinance prohibiting such action.

The issue was initially discussed behind closed doors in September 2016 and again in February 2017 before the previous administration discussed it publicly during several meetings in March 2017.

At one point, council members discussed whether to launch an inquiry into the matter, but a lack of votes in favor of an inquiry, coupled with an opinion by former city attorney Rick Palacios indicating Jasso had not willfully violated the charter, forced the council to drop the matter.

But a heated election last year changed the makeup of the council, and those in power now have not forgotten the unresolved issue.

Jasso believes a second attempt at an inquiry is politically motivated, but welcomed an impartial investigation into the matter.

“I think it’s a good thing,” he said Sunday. “I want this to come out because the truth never really came out the first time.”

Jasso said he disclosed his ties to the company to Edinburg City Manager Richard Hinojosa and Palacios July 2016, when he and his business partners began the process of acquiring the existing business that was already doing work for the city.

“They gave me the go-ahead (and said) there’s no conflict of interest,” Jasso said.

Jasso said Hinojosa and Palacios did not see a conflict with his ties to the business because of his low stake in the company and the services it provided to the city did not exceed the $15,000 threshold that would trigger a council vote.

He and both city officials were unaware of the provision in the charter that prohibits elected officials from profiting from city funds, Jasso said. Had he’d known, he argued, he would not have filed the disclosure documents with the city September 2016 — just two days after the purchase of the company closed.

“If we had known that back earlier in July (2016), then this would’ve never happened,” he said. “As a matter of fact, when this was brought to our attention in February 2017, I asked the city manager to terminate any services with Santa Anita Recycling — and that’s just the God-honest-truth.”

Jasso said he believes he followed protocol by reaching out to Palacios and Hinojosa for advice — advice that was wrong, he said.

“They never did their due diligence,” he said. “Nobody knew that provision was there, but once it was brought up, we terminated services immediately.”

The Monitor initially reported last year Santa Anita Recycling LLC had billed the city more than $17,000 for services rendered, but that information is now muddied by documents attached to the city’s agenda packet, which provides copies of checks issued to the company that appear to have been voided by the city.

Jasso said he does not know how much Edinburg paid Santa Anita, but according to language attached to Tuesday’s item, the city paid Santa Anita over $4,000 in fiscal year 2016-2017.

The council, which is now being advised by a different attorney, is slated to discuss the issue Tuesday, and Jasso.

“I just want to make sure that they are impartial,” he said. “That they get the facts and that’s it.”

nlopez@themonitor.com