How long have you been involved in county government? What was your background before being elected?
I was hired as the Hidalgo County District Attorney Chief Investigator on June 6, 1988, after I earned a B.S. in Criminal Justice as well as a Master of Science in Criminal Justice from the University of Texas Pan American. Under the direction of the D.A., I commanded a state/local and federal drug task force. I was elected Hidalgo County Sheriff in November 2004 and took office on Jan. 1, 2005. Before joining county government, I served almost 15 years with the Austin Police Department and 1.5 years with the Edinburg Police Department. That is 41 continuous years as a Texas peace officer. I am the only sheriff in Texas that is a Certified Public Manager.
Why and how did you become involved in county government and why have you stuck with it? What is the best part of your job?
I joined the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office because I wanted my sons to grow up in the Rio Grande Valley. After 17 years with the office, I realized my potential as a county leader, and specifically as the sheriff of Hidalgo County. My entire adult life, I have been a public servant. Helping people has been my calling, which is the most satisfying part of my job.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve dealt with as an elected official and what advice would you give to other county officials facing the same or a similar challenge?
The biggest challenge any elected official faces is attempting to please and satisfy all of your constituents' concerns and requests. We know that is going to be impossible. My advise to other elected officials facing this challenge is to tell the people the truth. Don’t give any false expectations hoping to gain political favor. That is a true recipe for public distrust.
What kinds of things do you do to ensure that you’re working for your constituents and hearing from them?
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office is a very transparent organization. Our major tool in connecting with the public is our numerous community outreach programs, which are too many to mention. A secondary tool that we utilize is the media. We make ourselves very accessible and maintain a high profile through media interviews and press releases.
What’s been your proudest accomplishment as a county government official?
Our proudest accomplishment as a county entity is solidifying our “partnership” with the community. As equal partners, we have been able to lower the crime rate to percentages that haven't been seen in the past 15 years. Developing public confidence and listening to our constituents is the key.
What’s the best thing about your county?
Hidalgo County by far is the jewel of South Texas. We have a low cost of living, low crime rates, great restaurants and entertainment, and the beautiful Padre Island less than an hour away. Hidalgo County people are extremely friendly and the weather is great.
What legislative issues are most important to you right now and why? Is there anything in particular you hope the Legislature accomplishes this session and why?
From a law enforcement perspective, there are several issues that are of great importance. We must have common-sense legislation regulating the use of firearms in the vicinity of schools. We must also refrain from infringing on the Second Amendment and the right to bear arms, and just as important, force the federal government to solve the immigration problems so that the states do not have to deal with them.
How do you describe your job to people who may not be familiar with the day-to-day of what you do or the responsibilities of your office, or with the way county government functions? Are there any common misconceptions that you hear?
The Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office is a full-service law enforcement agency. We provide police services to all unincorporated rural Hidalgo County, approximately 300,000 people. There are two very big misconceptions about sheriff’s officers. First, yes, we can enforce the law and conduct criminal investigations inside the municipalities, and second, yes, we can issue traffic citations.
What’s the biggest challenge facing your county or office, or what project you are most looking forward to accomplishing in the future?
The biggest challenge the Hidalgo County Sheriff’s Office is facing is placing us as the flagship law enforcement entity for South Texas. We are well on the way, but economic constraints are somewhat slowing us down. We have numerous big-ticket projects we are working on. We are finishing construction on our first substation and we are starting to plan our second. We are constructing a state-of-the-art communications center and a fully wireless reporting system for the entire office. We are also developing a three-point proactive anti-corruption program that will detect and deter potential corrupt police activity.