La Joya Housing Authority director submits resignation

LA JOYA — The executive director of the La Joya Housing Authority, Cristi LaJeunesse, resigned from her position Wednesday amid concerns from the board about her presence.

In her resignation letter, which the board accepted during their board meeting Wednesday, LaJeunesse she stated she was concerned with the direction of the housing authority regarding several issues which she proceeded to list.

Those concerns included responding to requests for information from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), complying with the Texas Open Meetings Act, violations of the housing authority’s bylaws, understanding the budget, scheduling board meetings without obtaining “critical information” from her, failing to abide by regulations related to ineligible costs and not collecting reimbursements related to ineligible costs.

“Each of you are aware of my attempts to operate the LJHA in accordance with the Annual Contributions Contract between HUD and the LJHA, the LJHA’s policies and procedures, the Code of Federal Regulations, the LJHA’s By-Laws, the Texas Open Meetings Act, the Texas Housing Authorities Law and numerous other applicable laws and regulations,” she wrote in the letter. “At time my efforts have been thwarted, if not obstructed.”

Board Chairman John Peña said he viewed the reasons she listed in her letter as a counterargument to the issues the board had with her performance.

During a meeting last week, the board of commissioners aired their frustrations with LaJeunesse led by Commissioner Jorge Bazan. His grievances largely stemmed from LaJeunesse’s absences from board meetings and the housing authority in general.

LaJeunesse is also the executive director for the Kenedy Housing Authority which, in turn, manages five other authorities: the Smiley, Three Rivers, Nixon, Falls City and Hallettsville housing authorities.

She was officially hired to be executive director for La Joya in November and, at the time, she said she would work remotely from San Antonio most of the time but would try to be in La Joya at least five days out of the month.

Why that arrangement became a problem for the board afterward seemed pretty obvious to LaJeunesse who credited it to the change in board members.

Last fall, La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas appointed Bazan and reappointed Peña to the board.

However, the mayor initially sought to appoint more people to the board at that time that exceeded the number of available positions.

This led to a lawsuit that the housing authority filed against the mayor and the new commissioners that was eventually settled.

Two of the commissioners already on the board — German Reyna and Vice-Chair Sylvia Garces-Valdez — remained in their positions and shortly after, the mayor appointed Jose Armando Salinas to the position that is reserved for a tenant of the housing authority.

Salinas said he saw LaJeunesse’s resignation as a positive development, stating that he didn’t feel she communicated well with the board and agreeing that they needed somebody who could be at the meetings.

Though Reyna was among the commissioners who approved LaJeunesse’s hiring despite knowing of her other responsibilities, he said her absence gave rise to unforeseen problems such as employees having to work overtime because she wasn’t there.

“And she not being here, we couldn’t address that to her,” Reyna said.

However, Reyna was optimistic about whether the housing authority was making progress.

“Slowly but surely we are but we need people that are going to be here full time,” he said. “Overall she did a good job it’s just that maybe she didn’t like the way the board was heading.”

However, LaJeunesse was not so optimistic.

“I have some serious concerns in the direction that the board is headed in their lack of concern for gaining knowledge over the regulations that govern our program,” she said. “I just don’t think it’s a good avenue for me to continue.”

Prior to being the executive director, LaJeunesse worked as consultant for the housing authority under the last two executive directors.

“It’s been a downhill slide, crazily enough to say, since J.J. left,” she said referring to Juan Jose “J.J” Garza, the former executive director who’s currently serving a 37-month sentence in federal prison for conspiracy to commit wire fraud through a bid-rigging scheme.

“I think given the opportunity to work with board members that are invested, we could absolutely turn it around,” she said. “But you need somebody experienced and somebody the board is willing to work with and they’re not willing to work with me.”

The board is set to meet again on Monday when they might appoint an interim executive director and move to accept applications for a permanent replacement.

“We’re going to try to set it up so we can ask for applications and hopefully go from there,” said Commissioner Garces-Valdez. “Hopefully it’s somebody local.”