Mayoral candidate’s eligibility in question - Brownsville Herald: Local News

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Mayoral candidate’s eligibility in question

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Posted: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 9:52 pm

HARLINGEN — Mayoral candidate Rick Morales may not be eligible to seek that office, nor to hold it if he is elected.

It is unclear whether Morales resigned as a corporate officer of a corporation that has a contract with the city to buy city-owned land for an apartment complex.

Morales said this week that he in fact is eligible to be a candidate and to be mayor because he resigned his corporate post in January.

However, the Texas Secretary of State’s Office had no record of a change of corporate directors until late Monday.

According to the City Charter, Harlingen’s governing document, the mayor and city commissioners “shall not be interested in the profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work, or service for the municipality, or interested in the sale to or by the city of any property, real or personal.”

In addition, the charter states, “All such qualifications and requirements shall be fully complied with by any prospective candidate for the position of mayor or city commissioner at the time of the filing for election.”

“I know,” Morales said on Monday of candidate qualifications. “I resigned from that organization because of this. I resigned back in January.”

But the Texas Secretary of State’s Office until Tuesday afternoon continued to list Morales in state corporate records as a director of AAF – Vantage at Harlingen Inc., the group that plans to develop a 288-unit, multi-family housing complex at Palm Court Drive near Lincoln Avenue.

The Texas Secretary of State’s Office updated its corporate filings by Tuesday afternoon, recording a periodic report that it received from the corporation, dated May 6, 2013, which no longer contains Morales’ name on the list of directors.

The corporation has had a contract with the city since September 2012 to buy 19.743 acres of land that the city owns for the housing development.

Following questions from the Valley Morning Star on Monday about his status as a corporate officer, Morales, through his campaign, on Tuesday produced a letter for the Valley Morning Star.

In that letter, dated Jan. 28 and addressed to corporate president David Starr, he resigned from the corporate board.

Corporate attorney Jonathan Starr has not responded to a request for comment.

Neither City Attorney Roxann Pais Cotroneo, City Manager Carlos Yerena, nor City Secretary Amanda Elizondo responded to the Star’s request for comment on whether the city checked to ascertain if any of the candidates for mayor and City Commission had an interest in contracts, or in the purchase or sale of property, with the city. They also did not say if having contracts would disqualify any of them from holding or seeking office.

City officials contacted also did not respond to requests for a copy of the contract with AAF – Vantage at Harlingen Inc.

Morales questioned why he was being asked about his eligibility to seek or hold office.

“It’s not even a story because I resigned before I was even a candidate,” he told the Star on Monday.

“You see? You’re doing a hit job on me,” he added.

The City Commission in September 2012 approved a commercial contract with American Agape Foundation Inc. and/or assigns to the sale of the city land.

Subsequently, in January 2013, Morales and attorney Rick Rodriguez, a former Harlingen mayor, appeared before the Harlingen Housing Finance Corporation, presenting an application for tax-exempt bond financing in the amount of $28.5 million.

The application notes that it, the application, was submitted by AAF on behalf of AAF – Vantage at Harlingen Inc. The application remains under review.

On Jan. 22, Morales launched his campaign for mayor, appointed Rodriguez as his campaign treasurer, and soon began accepting campaign contributions and making expenditures.

He filed as a candidate for office on Feb. 14.

In the course of his campaign and during a candidate forum held by the Harlingen Tea Party in April, Morales said, “My background is in finance and development. I’ve been doing that for the last 25 years. We’ve developed multi-family all over the state of Texas and we’re now going into the Florida market.”

The application that AAF – Vantage at Harlingen filed for the tax-exempt financing notes that it was a newly formed “subordinate of the American Agape Foundation Inc.”

State corporate records also list Morales as a director of AAF and as a director of a corporation called Agape Iona Lakes Inc., which owns a multi-family complex in Florida.

“Agape Iona Lakes, Inc. is affiliated with American Agape Foundation, Inc.,” according to a project summary of the Florida Housing Finance Corporation dated June 28, 2011.

The summary notes that Agape Iona Lakes Inc. falls under the umbrella of AAF, which has David Starr as president. They also are associated with American Opportunity for Housing Inc.

Texas state corporate records also list Morales as a director of American Opportunity for Housing Inc., public records further show.

AAF’s 990 report for 2011 on file with the Internal Revenue Service shows that related organizations share common directorships.

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