No one should take pleasure when a government agency fails at its tasks, especially one that is designed to help low-income residents. But we should take pleasure when government leaders realize there are inefficiencies, restructure their agencies and reach out for help. Such is the case recently in Hidalgo County with the Community Service Agency, a county-run office that is supposed to distribute federal grant money to residents in need, but apparently one that has failed to properly administer $3.3 million in federal funds over three years that were supposed to help pay indigent residents’ electricity and propane bills. Last month, Hidalgo County Judge Ramon Garcia publicly admonished the agency’s longtime executive director, Maribel Navarro Saenz, for not distributing all available funds to the needy here. Less than a week later, Saenz announced her retirement, which was followed by two more agency leaders announcing their retirements. Hidalgo County Commissioners then took the smart step of appointing Jaime Longoria — who worked as assistant chief administrator for Garcia — to be interim director. And already we are seeing real changes happen. On Tuesday, Longoria told commissioners he invited officials from the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs to come and review the agency from top to bottom — from its bookkeeping methods to its building decor and office technology equipment. That’s quite a refreshing audit request of a government-funded entity and taxpayers should appreciate the gesture. Michael De Young, director of the state agency’s community affairs division, came from Austin this week with another coworker to conduct the review and staff training. He told the court he believed that there is no reason why this agency cannot fully expend the federal grant funds that were allocated to our county. He complimented Longoria’s 40-person staff, and told The Monitor: “There’s plenty of talent here and I have no doubt that we’ll be able to keep these funds here in Hidalgo County.” That’s what we need to hear because we have the poorest county in Texas and many residents who are sorely in need of help. Longoria, who worked on state programs that provided aid to colonias before he joined the county four years ago, told us he’s very excited to take this new post, albeit a temporary assignment, and that he wants to streamline operations and update office operations to better process grants and provide services.
We welcome his enthusiasm and look forward to future success.
–The Monitor Editorial Board