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Our Opinion: Giddy with power

July 16, 2001

Last week saw some major changes for the Calexico Housing Authority board. A new chairman and vice chairwoman were selected in Jesus "Chuy" Solano and Irene Hueso-Mora, respectively, and Calexico resident Adriana Esparza was newly appointed to the commission.

What proved to be most unsettling, however, were the changes that came along with this shift in leadership.

In an action that saw little explanation, the board made a motion to check into finding new legal counsel, never giving any indication as to whether this action would be the start of a movement to replace authority board attorney Steve Walker or merely seek a second lawyer to augment his services.

Still, by the time the motion came from the mouth of Hueso-Mora, which the board agreed to by a 4-1 vote, the damage was done. Walker got up, announced his resignation and quickly left.

We certainly aren't trying to question this particular decision, but Walker has a reputation as being a smart, fair attorney. He has done a lot of work for government entities in the Valley and we have heard nary a complaint. Out of respect and courtesy to a man who had served the board for some time, the commissioners should have had the decency to tell Walker and those congregated for the meeting what exactly was being sought in new legal counsel.

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While the decision to look for new legal counsel leaves us scratching our heads, it is nowhere near as questionable as a decision the authority board made earlier in last week's meeting.

Solano, seemingly giddy with his new power, told authority Executive Director Lupita Rios that she was not allowed to leave the city of Calexico while on the clock for the authority.

That just seems ignorant. And mean. And short-sighted.

As the executive director, Rios may need to deal with business outside city limits directly pertaining to the residents served by the Housing Authority, the most obvious example being her dealings with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

HUD is the federal agency responsible for subsidizing much of the housing run by the authority, thereby allowing a great many Calexicans affordable homes and apartments they otherwise may not be able to afford.

HUD also is the agency helping the Housing Authority put through the 5H program that will allow residents of the Casas del Sol housing project to buy the homes they now rent from the authority. Considering that program is constantly being reshaped, delayed and perpetually five minutes from implementation, it is likely Rios is one day going to have to deal with HUD outside Calexico's borders. She shouldn't need board permission to do so; that's micro-management.

While we strongly believe such an order by Solano and the commission was foolish, we also think Rios dug her own hole with some of the commisioners. She has a reputation for not being accessible to residents of the authority and the community in general.

When running for Calexico City Council a few years ago, one couldn't go anywhere in the city without seeing her. However, both prior and following her failed bid for office, she was virtually invisible.

To some extent we can see the board's side of this. Solano did indicate, while making his directive to Rios, that she needs to tear down the walls — both literal and figurative — that seemingly separate here from the community. We don't just don't think he made his point eloquently or even effectively.

The commission, with its new member and new leadership, needs to make sound decisions. For far too long the Calexico Housing Authority board has been a hushed joke to a great many in Calexico, appearing to exist as nothing more than some political appointees mad for their own little power trips. If that's the image the commission wants, its taking the right steps to get it.

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