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EDITORIAL You can lead a judge to water… “We are outraged! Outraged that the county is not here today! ” Mody Guzman was referring to Hidalgo County, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley more specifically, the absence of County Judge Renato Cuellar and his four county commissioners. Guzman was one of forty-two members of a Valley Interfaith delegation that had boarded a bus at 2 a.m. in Pharr in order to be in Austin by 9 a.m., where the Water Development Board was set to approve $800,000 for water and sewer projects in Valley colonias. More importantly, the Board was expected to take the first steps toward releasing an additional $100 million that will provide water and sewer systems for colonias in the western third of the Lower Valley. Valley Interfaith is a coalition of fortythree churches and nineteen schools, and since February its leaders have been meeting weekly with the commissioners court, the attorney general’s office, and the Water Development Board in an attempt to “unfreeze” some $200 million that the Legislature has already set aside to provide sanitary sewers and potable water for residents of border colonias. The Economically Distressed Areas Program funding was frozen in February, when the Attorney General ruled that Hidalgo County was out of compliance with Model Subdivision Rules passed in 1991, to stop colonia developers from doing what they have done for decades “developing” and selling residential subdivisions with the promise of water, sewers, and streets, then delivering only a raw piece of land on which they collect monthly payments from buyers who build houses, pay property notes and taxes, and wait for water and sewer service that never arrives. The Hidalgo County Commissioners Court had creatively interpreted the subdivision rules, deciding that a small water main on a subdivision street is as good as a water meter installed on each residential If you can’t have water, you can’t have a septic tank, and if you can’t have a septic tank, you have to have an outhouse and finally, the attorney general’s office stepped in and froze the funds in February. After four months of negotiations with the A.G. and the Water Development Board, and steady pressure on Judge Cuellar and his commissioners, the Valley Interfaith delegates came to Austin. They were unaware that on the evening before they left, their county judge \(or someone with faxed to the Development Board a onepage letter, filled with grammatical errors, suggesting that the commissioners court will not “compile” [sic] with the Model “THIS IS ABOUT VALLEY POLITICS, AND VALLEY POLITICS IS ABOUT. COMPADRAZCO POLITICAL COM-PADRES GETTING KICKBACKS.” Subdivision Rules and provide water and septic systems on lots sold since 1995. Noe Fernandez, a McAllen businessman appointed by Governor Bush to the sixmember Water Development Board, puzzled his way through the variables in Judge Cuellar’s equation. “I don’t get it,” Fernandez said, his voice quaking with anger. “One hundred thousand people. One hundred and six million dollars. And this commissioners court.” He then launched into what amounted to a personal privilege speech, excoriating the judge. “The letter is on his stationery, his name is typed at the bottom of it, he says he didn’t write it, and somebody else signed it.” The letter was signed by Urban County Program Director Anthony Covacevich, “for Renato Cuellar.” Fernandez continued in the lobby, exhorting the Valley Interfaith delegation to get back on the bus, go home, and meet with Judge Cuellar. “iQue es la ventaja?” Fernandez asked. “What is the advantage” of a decision that denies public services, paid for by the state, to 100,000 people? There’s usually a hidden motive behind a decision like this, Fernandez said, but in this case nothing seems to make sense. As McAllen Monitor reporter Rickey Dailey worked the crowd in the lobby, asking which precincts included the highest number of out-of-compliance subdivisions, one woman said reporters should follow the money: “This is about Valley politics, and Valley politics is about compadrazco political compadres getting kickbacks.” Two days later, Corpus Christi Senator Carlos Truan was in Judge Cuellar’s office. Truan, whose Senate district includes Hidalgo County and part of the House district that Cuellar represented for ten years before he was elected county judge told Cuellar that he had worked “too long on colonias” to allow the county commission to walk away from $100 million. When Cuellar told the Senator that he assumed responsibility for the letter that killed the funding, Truan told him precisely what had to be done to restore the funding. “I made him aware that we need to do everything possible to obtain that funding,” Truan said. “And Judge Cuellar was most accommodating, as he’s always been.” Two commissioners, Juan Rosel and Guadalupe Garces, were reportedly refusing to go along with Water Board requirements that the county provide water and sewer for the subdivisions it illegally approved since 1995. \(And there are separate state funds, at least $1 million, plus E.P.A. money, to begin that talk with Judge Cuellar, and a meeting with Valley Interfaith, the commissioners court found the road to Damascus, and at a May 26 emergency meeting unanimously voted to comply with state requirements. “Go to Alamo and talk to the mother whose child drowned in an outhouse,” Mody Guzman said. “Two children have drowned in outhouses in colonias waiting for that money…. “This vote is a first step,” Guzman said after the commissioners voted. “Valley Interfaith will keep pushing to keep them committed to these projects. It’s not over.” L.D. 4 THE TEXAS OBSERVER JUNE 5, 1998