Edinburg council feuds over hiring of internal auditor

Gilbert Enriquez and Richard Molina

EDINBURG — The latest brawl on the council here involved the creation of an internal auditor.

The issue was brought up for the second time this year during a council meeting Tuesday, and it once again pitted Edinburg Mayor Richard Molina against Councilman Gilbert Enriquez.

“This internal auditor, in my opinion, is a very important position, especially with the amount of money that flows through our city,” Enriquez said Tuesday. “We have a lot of money and an internal auditor makes sure that there’s checks and balances, that the processes and the procedures to collect that money and to allocate that money to the different departments, meets the standards of the accounting principles.”

Enriquez argued the position would help the city ensure accountability for the more than $100 million it receives.

“I think it’s only prudent for us to have an internal auditor,” Enriquez argued. “We always preach transparency. I see it every day on our Facebook, on our websites, newspapers, everyone stressing transparency. So I think this is a step forward to get us to that level.”

Molina, however, was not convinced.

“I still feel the same way I felt the last meeting,” the mayor said Tuesday, noting his apprehension. “You know there was a campaign that was run by two council members that are sitting up here about wasteful spending, and one of the things that I have an issue with, is that when you came on this board, Mr. Enriquez, we saw eye to eye. And this was the first time that I had heard of an internal auditor.

“Now, I’m not saying that is a bad thing, I just don’t think we’re at that level yet, to create a position for over $100,000 to start an internal audit.”

The discussion devolved into a fight about whether the position was needed; whether there was funding for it; whether the council should wait for the budget cycle to take the issue up and whether other positions had been created in a similar fashion.

Molina argued that as a senior council member, he had never been told by any of the previous city managers that the position was needed, and he’s worked with at least four different ones, he said.

The mayor also noted the city already contracts an external auditor each year to perform an audit as required by law. He then pointed out that Mission and Pharr do not have internal auditors. And while McAllen does, he said, that city has a budget of over $400 million and employs more than one person to see the internal auditing operation through.

“We need to watch our spending. Since we’ve come in with some new council members — and I’m not pointing fingers — we’ve spent $250,000 to pay out our city manager,” he said. “I myself as a mayor got criticized for ideas that I had about implementing a governmental liaison and moving $120,000 that we had there.”

Enriquez groaned and said, “Oh my goodness.”

“First of all, anyone can look at the meetings and know that I was an advocate for this position since day one that I was here. In fact, we created the position when I was here … and that was in November of 2017,” Enriquez said. “Mayor, I hate to say it but you got to get your facts straight before you say something that is not true. And you voted for it.”

“That’s incorrect what you said,” Molina shot back.

“It has been budgeted for the last couple of years,” Enriquez replied, arguing that an internal auditor and an external one are not the same.

An external auditor only uses a “sampling” of some of the departments and doesn’t check all of them, Enriquez argued, while an internal one makes sure every department and procedure is followed.

This isn’t wasteful spending,” he said. “This is to make sure that every department that receives money is receiving it the right way and allocating it to the departments that it needs to — that there’s no illegal activity going on, there’s no embezzling.”

“The only reason I’m very hesitant … is because we have already been through this with the EDC,” Molina said in reference to a forensic audit the Edinburg Economic Development Corporation paid for in 2018. “And at the end, we didn’t end up with anything — not even a report at the end of the day.”

The mayor then argued the issue should be discussed during the budget cycle.

“Every year we do mid-year adjustments,” Enriquez said, with Edinburg City Manager Richard Hinojosa agreeing with him.

“This is not a foreign concept,” Enriquez argued. “I can name all these positions that you hired or created and not one of them impacted the citizens directly. I don’t know what you’re afraid of, that they might find …. It goes beyond comprehension that you would be against hiring an internal auditor.”

Molina shot back: “I don’t have access to the bank accounts here.”

“You have a credit card, don’t you,” Enriquez asked him.

“Yes, (but) I have not spent a nickel,” the mayor said. “There’s a thing called trust.”

“So where’s the accountability?” Enriquez asked.

And after a few more exchanges between the pair, the council ultimately voted against the measure on a 3-2 vote. Councilman Johnny Garcia was the deciding factor, choosing to side with the mayor and councilman Jorge Salinas.