Tuesday, July 1, 2014
By Juan Montoya
If you have ever met him, former Cameron County Parks Department Director Javier Mendez was a likeable enough guy.
Not one to rock the boat or make waves, he rn the parks department quietly, ingratiating himself to county commissioners by pushing for their pet projects.
Pct. 1 Commissioner Sofia Benavides wanted the multi-service center and park on Browne Road in memory of her late husband Pete Benavides. Mendez acquiesced and got her the park.
Likewise, other county commissioners like Ernie Hernandez, Dan Sanchez and David Garza all had park needs.
Mendez was a holdover from the Gilberto Hinojosa administration before Carlos Cascos took over. It was rumored in county circles that Gilbert was his padrino, or godfather. Whether that's true or not is conjecture, but he did seem to have a charmed existence.
When Cascos came along, the county attempted to implement a computerized system to keep a closer eye on the park's income from trailer park rentals, the trash bag reimbursement program, park entrance fees and other sources.
Toward that end, they instituted the Odyssey auditing system in 2009. Of utmost concern to the county as the wildly fluctuating income numbers form the park entrance fees. Starting in 2006, the county auditor's numbers reflected income just over $1 million ($1,049,606 to be exact) that fluctuated downward in 2007, went even further down in 2008, and then jumped back to $1,040,168 in 2009.
However, when asked in open court why the system had not been put in place to keep control of the park entrance fees and other income, Mendez said that he hadn't implemented it because the system did not allow him access to it.
When he was told that it was purposely designed to prevent access to him and was limited only to the department's bookkeeper and county auditor, he relented and instituted it toward the end of 2009 and the beginning of 2010.
It wasn't until 2011 that the controlled entrance fees revenues were documented. And what a surprise that was.
Income from entrance fees between 2010 and 2011 jumped by $778,104 in that one-year span alone.
In other words, between the time the system was fully implemented in 2010 to 2012, there was an increase in entrance fees of $1,016,132. Was there a sudden surge in park visitors at Isla Blanca and Adolph Thomae Park? Was there an overwhelming crush at the paid entrances to the access road parks that no one noticed?
The Friends of Isla Blanca Park had requested information on the entrance fees and were stonewalled, as was local attorney Ruben Peña. No one wanted to let the cat out of the bag, apparently.
Now we get word that at least three park employees were charged and prosecuted for their alleged roles in pilfering the entrance receipts. Meanwhile, Mendez's life was going through changes. During this time, he divorced, began paying child support payments and alimony, and just lately, left parks to take a job with the City of Harlingen in charge of municipal parks. The good life and all its amenities are apparently over for Javier.
We're making our information requests on who was charged and prosecuted and what the outcome of those charges were. Stay tuned.
Posted by jmon at 11:53 AM