Donna reappoints Villalobos as city attorney, maybe

Javier Villalobos

Just moments after swearing in three newly elected officials and finalizing a shift in political control of the city of Donna, the city council voted to appoint a familiar face to the position of city attorney: Javier Villalobos.

It was just last year that Villalobos ended an eight-year stint as the Donna city attorney. And his reappointment to the position during a special council meeting Wednesday evening came nearly a year to the day after he resigned the post due to conflicts with his schedule availability.

“(W)ith excessive events, it has become a bit burdensome on my schedule,” the attorney wrote in a Nov. 6, 2019 letter addressed to Donna City Manager Carlos Yerena in which Villalobos announced he would be resigning effective at the start of the following month.

In the wake of his resignation then, the council called a special meeting on a Saturday where they appointed Ricardo Perez, a Pharr attorney who was then serving as Donna’s bond counsel, to also serve as city attorney. The appointment passed unanimously.

But a year later, Perez has submitted a resignation letter of his own, stepping down from the dual post, Yerena explained Wednesday.

“Our same city attorney was also the bond counsel — he submitted a resignation letter,” Yerena said.

“We do need a city attorney to function, mayor,” Yerena added before asking if the council had any recommendations on Perez’s successor.

“I like the previous one we had: Javier Villalobos,” Mayor Rick Morales said.

With that, Place 4 Councilman Eloy Avila Jr. — whose peers had just elected to serve as mayor pro-tem — made a motion to approve Villalobos’ rehiring. Freshman Place 1 Councilman Ricardo “Richie” Moreno seconded the motion.

It passed unanimously.

But when reached by phone Thursday afternoon, the attorney himself said he still hasn’t made a decision on whether to again serve the city of Donna.

Now, as in 2019, accepting the position depends on his availability, Villalobos said.

“I’ll probably call and I’ll talk to them (Donna), but I kinda have to get an idea of whether I have time, whether I can do it,” he said.

And though such appointments are typically made after language has been drawn up in a draft contract between the public entity and the service contractor which the governing body then moves to approve, Villalobos said he has not yet signed a contract with Donna.

He said he hopes to speak with the city manager and the mayor to ensure everything runs “nice and smooth.”

“A lot of time you get into the issues of local politics and I don’t want any of that,” he said.

Along with running a private law practice with civil, criminal and family court clients, Villalobos also serves as the District 1 city commissioner in McAllen.

Too, he serves as city attorney for Progeso, and has continuing commitments with the La Joya Housing Authority, the city of Crystal City, and the South Texas Economic Development Corporation.

The attorney said he is looking to “wean down” his workload, in part because of the complexities involved in attending court for criminal and family law cases amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

And while he said he enjoys trial work, Villalobos said he has also enjoyed his work with various municipalities, which oftentimes look to their city attorneys to help solve financial issues.

That may be what has prompted Donna to seek out his services again, Villalobos said.

“I hear it’s a little difficult and that might be one of the reasons they might need some assistance,” he said when asked about his knowledge of Donna’s current budget and finances.

Just two months ago, the city passed a lean budget which included more than $277,000 in contractor and consultants’ fees — expenditures the city manager had urged the council not to approve.

Villalobos said he has spoken briefly with Yerena about the city’s finances and that he is leaning toward working with the city again, though it’s still unclear whether he is considering serving as bond counsel, as well, as his predecessor did.

“Like I’m telling you, chances are I am going to assist them. They need some help and I’m ready to go,” Villalobos said.

Donna’s legal representation wasn’t the only change the council made Wednesday night.

The council also made decisions regarding Donna’s financial advisor and engineering services, as well as restructured the governing boards for the city’s two economic development corporations and the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge.

Finally, the council approved a $50 per year compensation for all elected officials.