WESLACO, RGV – Ken Jones, the longtime leader of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, has announced he is to retire.
Jones, a Valley native, has held the executive director position at the council of government for the past 23 years. At a board meeting on Wednesday Jones said he plans to retire one year from now. LRGVDC directors asked Jones to immediately advertise for an assistant executive director in order to ensure a smooth transition.
“It has been a wonderfully fulfilling experience but I think the time is right to retire. I will be 65 next year. My health is good. I will be able to do some things once I retire. Everything has its time,” Jones told the Rio Grande Guardian, at the conclusion of Wednesday’s LRGVDC board meeting.
LRGVDC President Jim Darling, the mayor of McAllen, offered this tribute: “We will miss Ken immensely His are big shoes to fill. Ken and I go back a long way. He was planning director for the City of McAllen while I was general counsel. He was my boss when he was at the COG and I was doing outside work. Ken has provided great leadership. You can see how the COG has grown in the functions it now provides. It is vitally important to the region. Kudos to Ken. He still has a whole year with us but I am sure he is looking forward to retirement.”
The LRGVDC is the official council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties. It serves as a conduit for tens of millions of dollars assigned by the federal government for public transportation, economic development, homeland security, assisting the elderly, regional planning and disaster recovery.
Jones, who was born in Mercedes, has worked at the LRGVDC for 38 years. He joined as an entry level planner in 1977, earning a salary of $12,000 a year. He left in 1981 to work in the City of McAllen’s planning department. He rejoined the COG in 1983 as assistant executive director, taking over the top job in 1992.
Jones graduated with honors from Mercedes High School in 1969. He graduated cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Texas A&I University in Kingsville, Texas, in 1973. He received a Master of Arts degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in 1977. His major course of study was planning and resource management.
The growth of the COG reflects the growth of the Rio Grande Valley. When Jones became its executive director in 1992 the LRGVDC’s budget was $3.8 million a year and it had 30 employees. Today its annual budget is $38 million and it has 175 employees.
“The refreshing thing is the growth of the organization, which proves out the need for doing what we do on a regional basis. There is a lot of support and unity amongst the local governments to work together to overcome challenges that face the region, challenges that cities and counties could not necessarily deal with on an individual basis. Our budget size, the comprehensive nature of all the programs we are now involved in is reflective of that,” Jones said.
Eddy Gonzalez, mayor pro-tem for the City of Edcouch has been a member of the LRGVDC board of directors for many years. He offered this tribute to Jones: “Ken Jones is tremendous. He has lasted all these years because he knows how to take care of business. He knows how to deal with people. We have a big, big, board and a lot of clever minds and different opinions. This gentleman, because that is what he is, a gentleman, knows how to deal with each one of us. You have got to admire a man like him. Of course, you hate to see someone with that talent leave but I understand that one day, that comes. The day comes for all of us. We are very proud of him. It is kind of emotional because of how we feel about him but I wish him the best.”
Wanda Garza of South Texas College holds one of the higher education slots on the LRGVDC board. Garza said it is easy to get emotional at the thought of the LRGVDC not having Ken Jones at the helm.
“We are all getting emotional here. Ken really has been the heart and soul of this agency. It has really been his vision, working with the whole region. We just have so much trust in him. We are happy for him and his family. We really do appreciate that he gave us the time,” Garza said. “It is going to be very challenging because he set the bar very high and so the board’s difficult task is to find another Ken Jones. We have to find someone with the leadership, the experience, and the integrity out there in the community. Ken has just been a big asset to the entire region.”
Garza she is particularly pleased at the way the LRGVDC has in recent years developed a regional bus service for higher education students.
“It all started with Los Fresnos needing a bus service. They were so isolated. That has grown into a regional university and college transportation system. It has given Valley students the mobility they need. That one idea has turned into something phenomenal. It started out as a means to help a rural community and now look at it. It stretches all the way from Brownsville to Starr County. All of our campuses are now connected. I never thought I would see that in my career,” Garza said.
Armando “Mando” Garza, chief of staff for Hidalgo County Commissioner Eddie Cantu, served on the LRGVDC board for six years. Mando Garza said Jones has been a great mentor to him.
“I have learned a whole lot from Ken, not only about the work that the COG does but the regionalism it has been trying to create. Ken has been the leader, in my opinion, for creating that regional mindset the Valley needs. He was one of the first people I met that was pushing regionalism for the good of our community. Ken’s departure is going to be a great loss. I am very sorry to see him go but I am very grateful for all of his years of service for our community and for all that I have been able to learn from him. He was always very willing to share his extensive knowledge of this area. In terms of governmental affairs and working regionally, Ken has definitely been a mentor.”
Editor’s Note: The main picture accompanying this story shows Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council executive director Ken Jones and LRGVDC board members Wanda Garza and Eddy Gonzalez sharing a joke at the end of the August 26, 2015, LRGVDC board meeting.