A trail of city records show a Robstown board member made money off a project he approved months earlier.
Robert Gonzalez, an elected official who serves on the Robstown Utilities System, billed $812.50 through his company RJ Contracting for work done on George Street, according to a city invoice. The company was listed as a subcontractor on the invoice.
Gonzalez didn’t do anything wrong, he said.
The payment happened despite city officials previously cutting business ties Gonzalez’s company.
“It could be an oversight,” Robstown Mayor Mandy Barrera said, when 6 Investigates showed her a recent invoice listing Gonzalez's company on a city project. “It could be a billing error.”
City officials ended that business relationship in March 2016, Barrera said. She decided to do that after people questioned her integrity for allowing Gonzalez to continuing lucrative contract work for the city while he also served as a city board member. At the time, Gonzalez received more than $350,000 in contract work during a one-year period. Most of the work Gonzalez did was for city bond projects, including a fire department renovation and work on Main Street, said Herman Rodriguez, City Secretary.
For elected officials – Texas Local Government Code states that people who decide how tax money is spent should not benefit from those decisions. It’s not only unethical, but possibly illegal.
A month after Barrera said she cut ties with Gonzalez – she voted alongside him on the Robstown Utility Board to approve the George Street project. The mayor also serves on the utility board in Robstown.
The George Street Project consisted of two blocks being re-paved and utilities replaced. It ended up costing taxpayers about $90,000.
The project was Gonzalez’s idea, according to April 4, 2016 meeting minutes. Months later contractor Hernandez Truck Service submitted an invoice to the city for work on George Street. Gonzalez’s company is listed as a subcontractor, according to the Oct. 7th invoice. Two weeks later the city cut a check for the work.
When first asked about it, Gonzalez refused to talk about his company’s involvement on that project. Instead – he emailed 6 Investigates this statement, and followed up with a text message to say he had done nothing wrong.
Resident Tommy Cabello, who brought the issue to the utility board during a recent meeting, disagreed.
"It's illegal,” Cabello said. “Clearly there is an ethics violation that's taking place here and people need to be aware of it."
When she voted, Barrera said she wasn’t aware that Gonzalez would later be paid for some work on the George Street project, she said.
In a statement emailed earlier today, Barrera clarified there was no billing error for the city payment made to Gonzalez’s company, and she doesn’t believe there needs to be any changes going forward.
“I find it wrong and slanderous that you imply Mr. Gonzalez voted on a $92,000 project to get paid $812.00,” Barrera said, in an email to 6 Investigates. “Mr. Gonzalez does not vote on projects that his company then bills on. You are the only person that does not understand that the RIDC and the City of Robstown Utilities are two separate entities. Mr. Gonzalez does not need disclosures for business relationships that do not exist.”
Texas Local Government Code has clear guidelines for public officials doing business with the city to avoid what’s called a conflict of interest. The city of Robstown has no record of Gonzalez filing any financial or conflict of interest disclosures.
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