La Joya mayor, former police chief, head to runoff

LA JOYA — La Joya Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas will head into a runoff election after coming in second to a challenger in Tuesday’s city elections.

Salinas, who earned 34% — or 533 votes — will face off against former La Joya Police Chief Isidro Casanova who led Tuesday with 48%, or 748 votes, according to unofficial final numbers.

The third mayoral candidate, Jaime Gaitan, trailed with 17.4% of the votes which amounted to 271 votes.

Casanova, the La Joya police chief from about 1999 to 2004, ran on the “We Are La Joya” political slate which includes Place 2 candidate Roger Hernandez, who sits on the board of directors for the Agua Special Utility District, and Place 4 candidate Laura Mendiola Macias, a realtor.

Hernandez led his race with 50.03% of the votes, or 770 votes, but it is unclear as of Tuesday whether a runoff will be necessary.

The second vote-earner in the Place 2 race, Daniel Flores Jr., ran with Salinas on the “La Joya Citizens Working Together” slate. He earned 29.95%, or 461 of the votes. In third was Sylvia Cerda-Oxford, a business owner who ran with Gaitan on the slate dubbed “3 Candidates, One Vision,” who earned 20% of the votes which equaled 308 votes, according to unofficial final numbers.

Mendiola Macias led in her race but will also head into a runoff after failing to receive a majority of the votes. She received 49.58% of the votes, or 768 votes, followed by Dalia Arriaga — Salinas’ and Flores’ running mate — who earned 31.96%, or 495 votes. In third was Aurora Ruiz, Gaitan’s running mate, with 18.46%, or 286 votes.

The current office-holders, Place 2 Commissioner Anna Lisa Ruiz and Place 4 Commissioner Maria Eugenia “Geny” Salinas opted not to run for re-election.

The last few weeks of the campaign have been politically tumultuous for the mayor, following the guilty plea of former City Administrator Mike Alaniz to a federal theft charge related to the city’s purchase of property that belonged to Alaniz. Federal prosecutors allege that Salinas approved that purchase, though Salinas denied doing so.

But Salinas and the rest of the council found themselves the targets of a restraining order last week over a city council meeting scheduled for Saturday, during which the council was set to consider employment contracts for various city employees.

“I want to be able to upgrade the status of our employees,” Salinas said Tuesday afternoon, a few hours before the polls closed.

He explained he had a five-year plan for the city and those employees were a part of that.

“I want to make sure that they’re stable, that their families are stable; this is what I want to do,” he said, adding that he hated hearing that only administrators were supposed to get contracts.

“Why can’t they have a chance to get a four-year contract?” Salinas said.

While his opponents didn’t say it was necessarily wrong to give contracts to those employees, both Casanova and Gaitan questioned the timing of awarding those contracts, given they would have been approved three days before Election Day.

“We decided to put a stop to that because it just didn’t seem right,” said Casanova, who was the petitioner in the restraining order. “It wasn’t fair — not only to the community because it was something that wasn’t planned, it wasn’t budgeted — to go out outright and give out contracts to a certain number of employees just wasn’t right to the other 40.”

Casanova added it was something that had never been done in the city.

“Everybody has always been an at-will employee for years and years and years,” he said. “So why would this time be any different?”

Gaitan noted that if someone new were to be elected mayor, he and the council would be unable to make staffing changes because of those contracts.

“If I go in there and wanted to change their positions or stuff like that, I wouldn’t be able to do that because of the contracts that were made prior to him leaving,” Gaitan said. “So we thought it was a bad decision on his part because we shouldn’t make those kind of decisions three or four days before the actual election.”