Commentary: SJ Mayor Fired
By G. Romero Wendorf
As an elected official, one of the last things you want to do is get caught lying to the public. In the case of San Juan’s new mayor, Mario Garza, sworn into office only two short months ago, that’s now the position in which he finds himself.
Via a Public Information Request submitted by The Advance News Journal to the Hidalgo County Adult Probation Office (Community Supervision and Corrections Department), the law firm that represents it, Austin-based Lloyd Gosselink, released Garza’s personnel file (at least the portions deemed open to public disclosure), part of which includes the so-called Smoking Gun: A letter that clearly indicates that he was terminated from his job as opposed to the two reasons he gave to local media two weeks ago.
Those two reasons?
He was either on personal leave for medical reasons; or he had simply walked off the job as a county probation officer because of “job burn-out.”
That letter terminating his employment is dated June 15, 2017, and signed by Garza’s boss, Adult Probation Executive Director Arnold Patrick.
A handwritten addendum accompanies the letter: Effective June 16, 2017.
In a story published by The Advance June 21, that’s what Patrick is quoted as saying: “His (Garza’s) last day with this department officially ended June 16.”
In that same June 21 story, however, Garza said via a June 20 phone interview that he was still employed with the department where he’s worked for the past 15 years, but simply took some personal leave (as of June 16) “for medical reasons.”
If he had been fired the week prior, said the mayor, he would have had to have been given some formal letter, an email, some formal declaration that his employment had been terminated. He maintained that he never received any written or verbal correspondence informing him that he no longer had a job.
The letter to the new San Juan mayor, penned by Arnold Patrick, dated June 15, 2017, with the subject line – Termination of Employment --- reads:
“In accordance with (Community Supervision and Corrections Department) Personnel Policy Manual, which explains the basis for employee discipline, your employment with the Community Supervision and Corrections Department of Hidalgo County is terminated, effective this date. This action is a taken as a result of your violation of CSCD Policy.
“On or about April 13, 2015 (through) April 5, 2017, you processed Motion Order Waivers and Early Termination Orders without following department protocol and necessary documentation. Additionally, you entered into a personal or business relationship or other interaction with a person under the direct or indirect supervision of this department that was outside the scope of necessary duties and job-related tasks.”
The information released via Public Information Request doesn’t explain the details.
“With Garza’s 42nd birthday on tap for next week, it’s a heck of a way to enter one’s early 40s: without a job; and as pointed out in last week’s Advance story, it was a good job that wouldn’t necessarily ever make him rich, but it carried with it: county benefits, county paid holidays, a paid vacation, paid sick leave, and perhaps the most important of all, a county pension if he could go the distance.
What’s unfortunate for Garza is that if the theft-and-bribery investigation hadn’t been launched (Advance News; July 5), his failure to follow departmental protocol most likely wouldn’t have come to light, because with approximately 120 probation officers working at the department, an annual audit is no doubt conducted. Once the criminal investigation came to light last May (to date, Garza hasn’t been accused of any criminal wrongdoing), the Probation Department started digging deeper, and that’s where the mayor’s violation of protocol came to light.
Exactly what he did is open to speculation and the subject of rumor: with whom did he enter into a “personal or business relationship or other interaction with a person under the direct or indirect supervision of this department,” as spelled out in his termination letter?
Did it have to do with a personal matter or was it tied to politics in some form or fashion?
Don’t know. The last phone call The Advance placed to the mayor wasn’t returned.
Prior to his job termination, Mario Garza was always available for phone interviews. Pick up the phone, dial his cell number, and there he was.
When questions about his having left Adult Probation Friday, June 16, first came to light, it took four days to get him on the phone. His excuse? He had been on South Padre Island fishing with his family.
So now the mayor has a problem with regard to his truthfulness. Can his constituents still take him at his word?
The other problem is, the criminal investigation inside the Adult Probation Office, conducted both internally by staff and by the Sheriff’s Department, isn’t yet complete. So there is still this dark cloud hanging over Garza’s head.
His former boss, Arnold Patrick, told The Advance that the state jail felony that one of Garza’s former co-workers, Carlos Daniel De La Fuente, is now facing after being charged with “abuse of official capacity,” (allegedly he pocketed money handed to him by some people on probation instead of handing it in to the cashier), doesn’t appear to be tied to Garza. Patrick said he’s seen no evidence of that.
However, earlier this week, Patrick told Dave Hendricks at ValleyCentral.com (KGBT-TV) that although he isn’t aware of any connection between Garza and the Sheriff’s Office investigation, “I’m not sure that there's not something criminal there to be honest with you."
Obviously, that lone remark leaves a black cloud hanging over the head of Mario Garza because apparently the criminal investigation inside the Adult Probation Department is still ongoing; and/or investigators are presumably still trying to decide if there is sufficient probable cause to arrest any other probation officers besides De La Fuente and charge them with a state jail felony.
In San Juan, speaking this week with several of Garza’s most ardent supporters, they’re crest-fallen. They believed in "their guy." To have him lie to the public, vis a vis, the media, well, they still can’t believe the new mayor could do that to the city and its constituents whom he now represents.
Is his political and/or personal reputation now permanently tarnished?
Will that affect his position as mayor, and to what degree?
Only time will tell.