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Six candidates seeking their party’s selection to be on the November ballot to elect a new Hidalgo County sheriff appeared at a candidate forum hosted by the UTPA Department of Criminal Justice at the Edinburg university campus Wednesday afternoon.
Seeking the Democratic Party’s selection to appear on the ballot this fall are Juan Gonzalez, Eddie Guerra, Frank Guerrero and Geovani Hernandez.
The sole Libertarian nominee is Vince Ousley and the only Republican candidate attending the forum was Al Perez. Israel Pacheco, who was seeking the Republican’s spot on the ballot is said to be ineligible.
Gonzalez is currently police chief and interim city manager for city of San Juan. He has 25 years of law enforcement experience.
Eddie Guerra is the former Pct. 4 constable who was appointed by Hidalgo County Commissioners Court to serve as interim sheriff to replace Lupe Trevino. Trevino resigned earlier this year due to his criminal investigation. Guerra served 20 years as an Hidalgo County deputy constable and constable.
Guerrero did not cite his credentials during the forum. Instead, he encouraged the students and others in attendance to get involved in politics and to vet the candidates to make an informed choice during elections.
“This process is a little different,” he said. “The precinct chairs are the ones who will decide who gets on the November ballot for the Democratic Party.
“But,” he said, “you can call your precinct chairs and voice your opinion.”
Since Trevino resigned after the March primaries, it’s up to the precinct chairs to decide whose name will appear on the November ballot. The 52 precinct chairs for the Democratic Party are to select their party’s candidate this Saturday, July 26.
Hernandez said he has a bachelor’s degree in police administration, a masters degree in general psychology and has 18 years experience in police work. He says he worked 12 years in Hidalgo County and 8 years as an international police officer.
Ousley, a graduate of Sharyland High School, began police work in 2004 when he was hired by the Harlingen Police Department. He worked from 2009-2013 for the Palmview Police Department, and then moved on to work for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission in February, 2013.
“I come from a family that values service, morals and character. The way my siblings and I were raised and the men and women we have become are a testament to the caliber of sheriff I believe I will be and the type of sheriff that Hidalgo County needs,” he said during his opening statement.
Perez, the Republican candidate, recently retired from the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Department to run for sheriff. He retired with the rank of sergeant after a 30-year career in law enforcement that included stints with Mission PD as a private investigator and Pharr PD as a Police Academy Director.
“I want to bring the integrity back to the sheriff’s office, the accountability,” said Perez.
“One thing that really, really bothered me this past Fourth of July (at the Sheriff’s Department) …I found out that there was (sic) only two deputies for my shift. And the previous shift that we were overlapping had four deputies, which makes six deputies for the entire west side of Hidalgo County. That bothers me because the deputies aren’t safe. Neither are you,” said Perez.
Since the previous sheriff, Lupe Trevino, was recently sentenced to prison for conspiracy to commit money laundering, corruption within the Sheriff’s Department is a major concern for voters. The first question posed to the candidates was:
What would you do to ensure the environment of corruption created by the former sheriff is no longer existent in the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office?
Vince Ousley replied, “Corruption… is a constant problem that needs to be attacked on all levels at all times. As your sheriff I would devote a portion of our internal affairs division to constantly seek out corruption. It’s one thing to find those that are corrupt right now; it’s another thing to find those that are corruptible. That is what’s key in rooting it out completely.”
Guerrero responded, saying, “One of the fundamental reasons why I’m running is those hard decisions, looking in someone’s eyes and saying, ‘You can no longer work here.’ It’s very tough to do that. It is imperative … that we make those tough decisions. We cannot face corruption when the root of the problem is still there.
“Yes the federal government made arrests, but there’s still those bad apples… Yes, I will make those changes immediately.“
Gonzalez said, “The first thing you’ve got to do is you actually have to stand up against corruption. What happened in December 2012? Who stood up against corruption? The only who stood up against corruption in Hidalgo County is Chief Juan Gonzalez…I’m the only one that actually knows how to weed out corruption in Hidalgo County.”
Guerra said, “The reason why there was corruption was there was lack of supervision. And I’ve already made changes in my department that that’s not going to happen because I made these supervisors accountable for their actions.
“Also, as a constable, I was the only county agency that was trusted with the investigation with the former sheriff. And I bring that trust back into this department.”
In response to the question, Hernandez said, “We need to make changes right away. A reassessment is needed right away.”
Perez responded, “I worked internal affairs about three years. Some of the stuff that went on in the sheriff’s office… I was on the lower part of the totem pole and couldn’t really say anything so it went on. If you said something, you would be retaliated against and basically you would lose your job. Deputies, and sergeants and lieutenants, they have to feed their families, so they can’t do that; it’s not that easy. It starts at the top. You have to put the leadership up there and implement an entirely new administration that you trust.”
The second question posed to the candidates also pertained to corruption.
We know that political corruption and political intimidation is nothing new to the Valley. So, what policies would you put into place to investigate crimes committed not only by Hidalgo County employees, but by county officials. And the second part of the question is how will you ensure that that investigative process is not going to be tainted but actually protected.
Ousley responded to this corruption follow-up question saying, “I’ve had it posted on my website for a few months now that we need to have a citizens review board in order to show transparency within county government. Whenever an officer is accused of any wrongdoing, a citizens review board comprised of citizens and professionals would review the allegations to determine whether it is a policy violation or a law is broken.”
Perez also endorsed the formation of a citizens review board, but added that the citizens board could refer the investigation to an outside agency, when warranted. The agency must have no ties to the sheriff’s office, he added.
Guerra rebutted, “We are already doing that here at the Sheriff’s Office. We are investigating some corruption in this county. When we do that, we want to be transparent and we are bringing in other outside agencies that we requested to help us.
“I’ve already reached out -- if elected I’ll work with the new DA-elect…to form a new Public Corruption Integrity Unit in his department,” added Guerra.
Gonzalez agreed with the citizens review committee concept.
“The only way we are going to weed out corruption in Hidalgo County is to have a citizens review committee composed of law enforcement executives and citizens like you that will keep our feet to the fire.”
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The Progress Times is the hometown newspaper for the local communities of Mission, Sharyland, Alton, Palmview, La Joya and surrounding areas in Western Hidalgo County. We have a staff of veteran reporters who work diligently every week to bring our readers the latest news as it affects their hometown area and people.