Senator files bill requiring more transparency from Agua SUD

State Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen.

A new bill would impose new requirements on the Agua Special Utility District, including the filing of financial disclosure statements from the board of directors and those that would affect the eligibility of the general manager.

Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, filed Senate Bill 2552 Monday, which would in part require the Agua SUD Board of Directors to file financial statements, a requirement typically reserved for state-wide officials.

If the bill were enacted, failure to file those statements would be a class B misdemeanor.

The board directors and Agua SUD employees would be prohibited from gifts, services or favors that might influence their actions, or that they know is being offered with the intent to influence them.

They also cannot accept other employment or engage in a business or professional activity in which they expect would lead them to disclose confidential information acquired through the course of their duties with the utility district.

Additionally, they can’t accept other employment that could impair their independent judgment, can’t make personal investments that could create a conflict of interest between their private interest and the interest of the utility district, can’t solicit or accept a benefit for their exercise of powers or performance of duties, and can’t have a personal interest in an agreement executed by the district.

Agua SUD would also be required to post monthly reports on their website that would show all payments the utility district made. Minutes from their board meetings would also have to be posted within 72 hours of their approval.

The formation of the bill was done with the cooperation of the Agua SUD leadership, according to a news release issued by Hinojosa’s office, in which the senator applauded Board President Esequiel “Zeke” Ortiz and General Manager J.E. “Eddie” Saenz for already implementing some of the “recommendations” in the bill.

The parties continue to work together to re-district Agua SUD’s boundaries and allow for single-member districts.

Currently, the board is a seven-member body, the representation of which is broken down between five cities and two county-at-large positions representing rural areas. Hinojosa said that he’s received complaints that the board’s current composition doesn’t provide equal representation of the residents. The change would have each board director representing a district with the same number of residents.

A statement from Ortiz, the Agua SUD board president, was included in the release in support of the bill.

“As board president of Agua SUD, we want to reassure the community that we are working together in close partnership with Senator Hinojosa on this legislation as another example of the Agua Board’s commitment to transparency in our governance of this utility district,” Ortiz stated, “and fully support Senator Hinojosa in the proposed re-districting of the Board seats to provide a more equitable representation of all rate payers.”

The bill also lays out the eligibility for someone to serve as the Agua SUD general manager.

It prohibits someone from serving in the role if one of their relatives — within the third degree of consanguinity or affinity — received 10 percent or more of their income from a company that receives money from Agua SUD.

It also would prohibit the general manager from being employed by or managing a company that receives money from the utility district and from owning or controlling more than 10 percent interest of a company that receives money from the district.

The bill also explicitly states that the board of directors may assign duties only to the general manager but not to any other person.

Any employment contract the general manager enters with the board would be limited to two years.

“I appreciate Agua SUD’s leadership working with me to develop this legislation to further increase transparency and accountability of this important utility district,” Hinojosa stated in the release. “The updated operating procedures, standards of conduct, budget transparency, and ethics guidelines recommended in this bill are important to ensure a strong governance structure with the highest level of integrity and accountability.”