New development exec’s hiring is blocked

BROWNSVILLE — A member of the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corp. board of directors has secured a temporary restraining order to prevent GBIC’s new executive director from assuming his duties with the organization today.

The GBIC board voted 3-2 during a special meeting June 26 to hire Mario Lozoya, former director of government relations and external affairs for Toyota Motor Manufacturing in San Antonio. Nurith Galonsky, one of two board members opposed, was granted the restraining order July 11 by Associate Judge Louis S. Sorola in Cameron County’s 107th District Court.

Galonsky said Lozoya’s employment contract lacks adequate protections for GBIC and that the organization’s bylaws, as they stand, do not allow for the hiring of an “executive director” and furthermore limit all officers’ terms to one year, subject to reappointment.

The order was granted on the grounds that Lozoya assuming his duties “exposes GBIC and the taxpayers to uncertain financial liability due to the vague, uncertain, and questionably enforceable elements of the Contract,” according to the document.

Galonsky submitted a statement at the June 26 meeting explaining her “no” vote, arguing that Lozoya’s base salary with GBIC ($220,000) would make him the highest paid economic development corporation director in the Rio Grande Valley “despite the fact that he has no proven track record of economic development in any city.”

Lozoya has led successful workforce-development efforts for Toyota in high-poverty sections of San Antonio but has no direct management experience with an economic development organization.

Galonsky also complained that the contract, which is for five years, contains no probationary period. GBIC could end up paying up to $1.22 million during the contract period, including bonuses, “even if his performance is mediocre or substandard,” she said.

“We are dealing with taxpayers’ money,” Galonsky said. “This is a very risky way to commit Brownsville’s sales tax revenue.”

GBIC’s operations are funded by a quarter-cent city sales tax.

John Cowen, the other board member opposed to hiring Lozoya, said in a statement he voted against the contract because the compensation package was nearly double the base salary of GBIC Interim Executive Director Gilberto Salinas, even though Lozoya “has no previous experience running an economic development department for a city.”

“More alarming, this contract is guaranteed for five years and the new hire cannot be terminated due to non-performance,” Cowen said. “As a GBIC director, I have fiduciary responsibility to ensure that taxpayer funds are used efficiently and appropriately and as such, I feel this decision by the board is reckless on many levels and may have serious repercussions for our city.”

Cesar de Leon, GBIC board chairman and city commissioner, said GBIC would not comment on the restraining order until it hired counsel (Luis Hernandez already serves as GBIC counsel).

However, in a June 6 interview with the Herald, de Leon argued that Lozoya’s contract does contain provisions for termination in the event of poor performance.

“He’s got a bonus, but the bonus is tied into his performance,” de Leon said. “If he doesn’t perform, he doesn’t get his bonus, and that sets him up for next year to be terminated. That’s in the contract.”

He said he feels strongly that Lozoya was the best pick for the job out of three finalists, which included Salinas and a candidate in El Paso. A fourth candidate, from Missouri, had been the top pick until withdrawing his name after receiving a sizable raise from his current employer, de Leon said.

sclark@brownsvilleherald.com