EDINBURG — Outside the Hidalgo County Precinct 4 office here on New Year’s Day, Ellie Torres took the oath of office and committed to a list of priorities for her first term as county commissioner.
During the Democratic primary in March, Torres defeated now former Commissioner Joseph Palacios, who held the office for eight years. Torres did not face a Republican challenger in November.
Joined on stage Tuesday afternoon by U.S. Rep. Vicente Gonzalez, D-McAllen, and the precinct’s newly hired Director of Field Operations and McAllen school board member Tony Forina, Torres recalled words of advice from her husband David Torres, an Edinburg councilman.
“I remember you telling me, ‘Being a public servant takes heart and sacrifice. You serve for the greater good of the community,’” she said in front of a crowd of a few hundred. “Those words have stayed with me, giving me courage and vitality to continue to serve the people.”
Ellie Torres, 51, who owns bail bond and home health companies along with her husband, decided to seek the seat while a member of the Edinburg school board.
Gonzalez administered the oath to Torres in front of a crowd that included then county Judge-elect Richard Cortez, Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina and Precinct 1 Commissioner David Fuentes.
Torres, an ally of Molina, defeated Palacios, whose family has held onto political power in the county for about a couple of decades.
“It just so happens that it was a Palacios that was there,” she said following the ceremony. “But even had it not been a Palacios, had it been anybody else, I would have challenged that seat.”
Voters in the precinct elected their first female commissioner in Torres.
“It’s about time we have a female intellectual perspective on the county commission,” the congressman said prior to administering the oath.
Torres will be the sole woman on the five-member county commission.
“Women think very differently; we have a different intellect,” Torres, the county’s second female commissioner, said. “I really think that it’s going to compliment all the efforts that the current commissioners have, and just a little different perspective.”
The county’s first female commissioner, Sylvia Handy, served Precinct 1 from 1996 until March 2010, when she pleaded guilty to tax evasion and harboring unauthorized immigrants.
Since then, the county has maintained an all-male commission.
Torres decided to challenge the precinct’s former commissioner due to “dissatisfaction of the community with the (lack of) services being provided,” she said.
“As a county commissioner, we need to be a household name,” Torres said, committing to enhancing customer service, drainage, roads and bridges within the precinct, which encompasses Edinburg, San Carlos, Faysville and parts of McAllen.
Following the ceremony, supporters were served tamales at a reception inside the precinct office in Edinburg.
By Tuesday afternoon, the county had updated its website to include a message from its newest commissioner.
“We will implement effective and efficient methods to stretch every taxpayer dollar and maximize resources,” the message read in part.
Since her election last March, Torres spent time “interning” with the county through the assistance of Commissioner Fuentes, who she called an “awesome mentor.”
Torres and Fuentes met while school board members in Edinburg and Weslaco, respectively. She’s since connected with commissioners Eduardo “Eddie” Cantu and Joe Flores.
“I can work with anybody. I’m easy to work with; I’m easy to get along with,” Torres said.
At the top of Torres’ priority list is strengthening the precinct’s budget.
“I wasn’t left with a very healthy budget at all,” she said.
Torres was one of at least 11 Democratic elected officials sworn-in Tuesday, including 93rd state District Court Judge Fernando Mancias, Hidalgo County Treasurer Lita Leo and court at law judges Arnoldo Cantu and Omar Maldonado.
Cortez, the county-judge elect who will preside over the commissioners court, will be sworn in Wednesday.