Two companies concluding investigations; review public works, investments

HARLINGEN — Two companies have questioned city officials while asking for documents in their reviews of the city’s public works department and investment policy after the new city commission raised concerns during weeks of heated debate .

While international auditing firm Ernst & Young conducts a performance audit of the Public Works Department, Safe Track, a private investigation firm of McAllen, conducts a compliance review of investment policy and investments .

“I look forward and eager to see what conclusions they come up with and I look forward to their recommendations,” City Commissioner Frank Puente said Friday. “We will have updated policies and procedures.”

Mayor Chris Boswell said the companies would have made short on-site visits, questioning some city hall officials while asking for documents.

“It has been reported to me that the two have completed their site visit (and) review of documents and are making their reports,” he said.

Boswell, who said the companies have not contacted him, said he interviewed city manager Gabriel Gonzalez, chief financial officer Robert Rodriguez, director of public works Rodrigo Davila, a purchasing agent, some commissioners and others.

Meanwhile, Puente said both companies have contacted him.

“It was just substantive issues and some of my concerns,” he said. “My comments and concerns related to some of the practices, policies and procedures of certain departments to see if there was room for improvement.”

What’s Behind Hiring Companies?

At City Hall, Gonzalez said the companies requested financial documents as well as policies and procedures from the Public Works Department and the Finance Department.

Meanwhile, Boswell said the commission’s new majority has hired the companies to look into baseless allegations aimed at smearing his administration weeks before the May election in which he is running for re-election while the seats of Puente and commissioner Richard Uribe are up for grabs.

“I don’t believe it’s a coincidence, it’s just before an election,” he said.

Puente denied the request.

“I personally think it’s offensive and shows a lack of leadership,” he said, adding that he and the majority of the commission hired the companies “to make sure we have transparency and responsibility”.

Public Works Department allegations

The reviews come after weeks of heated debate between commissioners.

In November, members of the commission’s new majority hired Ernst & Young at $60,000 to perform a performance audit of the public works department.

In one meeting, Uribe demanded that the scope of the audit include “every aspect of public works — the entire operation” for at least the past 10 years.

About 10 years ago, the city investigated complaints including charges of theft, the alleged sale of scrap metal and engines as well as what he described as “bogus bills and phantom checks,” he said. Uribe in a meeting.

On Friday, Boswell said then-police chief Tom Whitten investigated an allegation related to the loss of scrap metal about 10 years ago.

“I remember there was an allegation about the loss of scrap metal,” Boswell said. “He told me there was no basis to this allegation. This is the only thing and the only time I have heard of anything.

Investment Policy Matters

Earlier this month, Uribe, Puente and Commissioner Frank Morales voted to hire Safe Track for $80,000 to conduct a compliance review of the city’s investment policy and investments.

In a meeting, Uribe questioned Rodriguez’s decision to transfer $5 million in a certificate of deposit at Texas Regional Bank, arguing that the city was not getting the best return on the money that could have finance drainage projects.

Uribe also said the Harlingen WaterWorks system transferred $9 million on a CD to the bank.

In response, Rodriguez presented the commissioners with a five-year summary of the city’s cash and investments while explaining that he invested $5 million in a certificate of deposit at Texas Regional Bank because the bank offered a rate of 0.46%, much higher than other banks. he contacted in 2020.

While Texas Regional Bank offered its rate of 0.46, Frost National Bank offered 0.0001, TexPool offered 0.147, BBVA offered 0.20, Lone Star National Bank offered 0.3% and the US Treasury offered 0.12%.

Amid talks, Morales said he wanted to review any ties between the city and the Texas Regional Bank, which employs two airport board members.

While Uribe said Hilltop Securities, the national financial advisory firm that has served the city for years, limited its latest review of the city’s investment policy, Boswell said the firm found the policy to investment, which the commissioners had approved in April 2021, in accordance with Texas law.

During the meeting, Boswell and Commissioner Michael Mezmar argued that Safe Track did not have the experience or staff of licensed accountants and attorneys to perform a financial review.

Perez, who backed the majority’s call for an investment policy compliance review, joined Mezmar in voting against Fast Track, suggesting that commissioners hand the job over to Ernst and Young while arguing that the private investigation firm lacked the experience and personnel to conduct the review.

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