La Joya housing chairman resigns from board

LA JOYA — In a surprise to the La Joya Housing Authority board of commissioners and the executive director, Board Chairman John Peña resigned from his position Tuesday.

Peña, who had served on the board for four years, announced his decision at the conclusion of a board meeting held Tuesday evening.

Executive Director Ruben O. Villarreal read from Peña’s resignation letter which he’d received just before the meeting.

In it, Peña thanked the other board commissioners and reflected on his tenure there.

“During this time, the board and I faced many challenges, some were more difficult than others but all were faced with my best of intentions and my best of efforts,” Peña wrote. “I am pleased that most recently, the La Joya Housing Authority has been reinstated for funding by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. I feel that this was a great team effort and I am honored to say that I was a part of this team.”

During a brief interview after the meeting, Peña added that the timing of his resignation was due to the change in administration in the city.

The makeup of the La Joya city council underwent change during the city’s November municipal elections which went into runoff elections in December.

As a result, three newcomers were elected to the council including former Police Chief Isidro Casanova who is now mayor.

Peña was appointed to the housing authority board by former Mayor Jose “Fito” Salinas who served from 2010 until his defeat by Casanova in December.

“There’s new leadership so … different times,” Peña said Tuesday.

“The new administration might have new members that want to be on the board,” he said and noted when Salinas, then mayor, tried to appoint new board commissioners in fall 2018. However, the number of people he appointed to the board exceeded the number of positions available and the housing authority filed a lawsuit against the Salinas and the individuals he was attempting to appoint.

The lawsuit was settled in February 2019.

“Last time that it happened, we spent a lot of money … over legal wrangling for something that you don’t earn any money on,” Peña said. “I’m trying to be a nice guy.”

Criticisms that Peña said came with the position also didn’t help.

“You get criticized and blasted on social media and then everybody asking you ‘Are you going to be arrested?’” Peña said.

Former Vice Chairman Sylvia Garces Valdez and former interim Executive Director Frances A. Salinas were arrested by federal authorities last year for allegedly participating in a bribery scheme. Their charges, though, are unrelated to their roles at the La Joya Housing Authority.

Jose Salinas, the former mayor and father of Frances, was arrested also arrested earlier this month for his alleged role in that scheme.

After the board members were told of Peña’s resignation, they took turns thanking him.

Villarreal, the executive director, stressed the role Peña played in his hiring last fall.

“You were responsible for my sitting here and being able to take on this responsibility,” Villarreal said. “It was a great big step and I will always appreciate the fact that you supported me that day and you gave me your vote of confidence and I think it’s been a fruitful experience for us all.”

During the housing authority’s last board meeting in January, Villarreal announced that federal funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development had been restored after being cut off to them for months.

“Thank you for your time,” Villarreal told Peña. “I know how time consuming and weighing it can be in the best of circumstances and you saw this board through some very difficult ones.”

As for the future, Peña did not close the door on serving the community in a different capacity but said that, for now, he would focus on work and his family.

“I’ll serve my community as best as I can but this time,” Peña said, “it’s just that this road … I just felt tired.”