Friday morning, Austin American Statesman’s Elizabeth Findell (a ‘The Monitor’ alum) wrote a piece on election fraud that’s ran rampant in east Hidalgo County (the “mid-Valley” for all of us down here) over the last few years.
The piece covered Weslaco’s infamous Lupe Rivera vs. Letty Lopez trial where an entirely new election was ordered and Rivera was found guilty of 16 counts of improperly assisting voters, as well as the 2013/2014 politiquera “coke for votes” scandal that, probably, cost AC Cuellar last May’s Democratic primary and ex-Donna ISD Board President Alfredo Lugo’s life.
The most interesting part of her article, however, is about Progreso and what’s left of the aftermath of their scandal that sent 4 members of the same family to prison for kick-backs on secured school contracts.
For those not in the know, after the FBI brought the hammer down on Progreso’s local government, a few election cycles had passed that elected new members of the community onto the school board, some of which who were even young college students which gave the impression that maybe Progreso was actually progressing (pun very much intended). The two TEA conservators that were assigned to Progreso’s school board, however, made a recommendation for replacing the entire board in exchange for a group of managers. The TEA agreed and moved to dissolve the board, however, the members of the school board banded together to fight the decision and the school district’s attorney filed a restraining order against the TEA, which was subsequently granted. Currently, Progreso ISD vs. TEA is awaiting it’s day in court.
So let’s pick out a few questions from these circumstances:
One is why would the TEA’s conservators assigned to Progreso recommend dissolving a school board that had none of it’s current members implicated in the 2013 scandal? The other is why would the members of this board be so adamant on fighting TEAs ruling, even going as far as using the district’s own attorney (who would bill the legal expenses back to the district)?
From the article:
“They tore down the bad trees, but the root system is still there, and it’s still growing,” (Cayetano) Flores said. “It’s very frustrating.”
In the runup to the May election, the new school board candidates connected with the Velas’ former party sat facing the early voting location, watching a slow trickle of cars come and go. They marked the surnames of voters in a red and black notebook and noted which faces they’d seen and which they hadn’t.They won the race easily with three-quarters of the votes. And they’re sick of being blamed for others’ misdeeds, they said.“If everyone was guilty by association,” candidate Robert Garcia said, “everyone would be guilty.”
A quick google search of news stories ran about candidates of Progreso gives you a pretty damning list of ties to those in public office, those employed by the city or school, and the Vela family:
President Frank Alanis (brother of current board member Alejandro Alanis and city alderman/Progreso ISD tech employee Gerardo Alanis; previously worked as the assistant city manager and city secretary of Progreso under Mayor Omar Vela and alongside current school board Vice President Juan Ramos, Jr’s father, ran with current board member Robert Garcia and current board member Lizett Villarreal)
Vice President Juan Ramos, Jr. (previously worked for the Progreso athletics dept., currently employed by Progreso city hall as a dispatcher, son of previous board member Juan Ramos, Sr. who was a member of the board during the 2000s and served as Progreso city alderman under Mayor Omar Vela)
Secretary Alejandro Alanis (brother of current board member Frank Alanis and city councilman/Progreso ISD tech employee Gerardo Alanis, ran with current board member Luis Lopez)
Treasurer Luis Lopez (Weslaco native, ran with Alejandro Alanis, related to Blas Medrano who serves as an alderman for Progreso city hall)
Robert Garcia (Progreso Red Ants football game announcer, 10 years running, ran with current board member Lizett Villarreal and current board member Frank Alanis)
Lizett Villarreal (city secretary for Progreso city hall, ran with current board member Frank Alanis and current board member Robert Garcia)
Leo Rodriguez (ran in 2014 with a party running against Juan Ramos Jr; all indications are that he is unaffiliated with the other members)
A whopping 6 out of the 7 board members, including 4 out of the 4 board titles, belong to members of the same party, each of which have their own ties to those who were jailed by the FBI.
You see, the problem with small cities like Progreso, Lyford, or La Villa is that the largest employer is usually the school district. So, by default, if you and your party govern the school district (like these folks), you and your party have quite a bit of influence over a large portion of the voting public in that city.
Progreso is one in a long list of similar instances all across the Valley, so what’s the takeaway here?
The Monitor needs to wake the fuck up.