Saturday, January 10, 2015

Hidalgo County judge launches investigation into conflict of interest

The Monitor
January 10, 2015
by Jacob Fischler

EDINBURG — After a year of battling with the county’s drainage director on various fronts, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia launched an investigation this week into drainage district subcontracts that went to a company owned by the wife of district Manager Godfrey Garza.

After learning late last year that drainage district contractors in 2007 hired Valley Data Collection Specialists, Inc., a company owned by Garza’s wife, Garcia sent a letter Monday to Garza’s company, Integ Corp., requesting an accounting of all contracts and subcontracts that went to the company since then.

“You, as the Drainage District Manager, are responsible to negotiate with the contractors we hire,” Garcia wrote. “On December 16, 2014, we learned that your wife is the owner of a company (Valley Data Collection Specialists, Inc.) that does subcontracting work for contractors you negotiate with… Therefore I believe there exists a serious conflict of interest in your part.”

In an interview, Garza said he would provide the judge with a response that answered his questions, but added that his wife did not own the company at the time it was subcontracted for county projects.

“We're going to respond back to him on the letter that he submitted to Integ,” Garza said. “And in response to the letter, we should be able to answer the questions that he has. Specifically, the question on Valley Data going back to 2007 — my wife was not the owner then.”

Garza declined to say when his wife did become the owner, saying he preferred to withhold that information until he wrote it in the letter.

But he added: “I never contracted with myself or my interests.”

The issue became public in a commissioners court meeting Dec. 16 when Garcia questioned Garza’s stewardship of public money — as has become routine at the drainage district portions of commissioners court.

“See, my concern is here you are representing us, entering into contracts with the contractors and then the contractors entering into contracts with your company — well, your family’s company,” Garcia said to Garza. “Don’t you really seriously believe that constitutes a conflict of interest?”

Garza said he needed to research the issue and could not answer at the time.

The two have butted heads continually since at least last January, when Garcia learned that an earlier contract with the county had paid Integ — Garcia believed erroneously — a 1.5 percent commission for work on the hybrid border wall-levee system.

Garcia and other commissioners soon thereafter sought to begin a transition to a new drainage district manager who could be ready to take over by the time Garza’s contract expires in February 2015. But commissioners have yet to settle on a job description for the new manager or an assistant manager who could one day replace Garza.