MCALLEN, Texas – All’s Well That Ends Well is a play penned by William Shakespeare that was first published in 1623.

It is also the way the president of Hidalgo County Water Improvement District No. 3 feels about about the recent election for the group’s board of directors.

Othal Brand, Jr., was not happy with the way a couple of challengers secured their place on the ballot. But, he is happy that voters in the district rejected them. 

Brand said the means by which McAllen attorneys Kevin Pagan and Jesus ‘Jesse’ Barba, Jr., secured a place on the HCWID No.3’s board of directors was “bizarre and ungentlemanly.”

Asked to explain, he said: “Kevin and Jesse were only able to get their names on the ballot by purchasing one square meter of land from a landowner in the district. If they had not done that, they would not have been able to run. However, the voters rejected them heavily. So everything turned out for the best,” Brand said.

Pagan is a former city attorney for the City of McAllen. He works for the powerful Austin-based law firm of Bickerstaff Health Delgado Acosta, LLP, but lives and works in the Rio Grande Valley. Brand said Pagan tried to entice McAllen Mayor Jim Darling to run as a candidate for the HCWID No. 3 board of directors also, but, he said, that backfired. 

Barba is an attorney with McAllen-based Rioco Real Estate Services, LLC. 

Another attorney, Fidencio Guerra also ran unsuccessfully for the HCWID No. 3 board but he did not have to purchase a meter of land in order to qualify as a candidate. 

An election campaign flyer produced for the three incumbents in the race – Chris Burns, Lance Neuhaus, and Bill Moschel – stated: “Challengers have zero experience running a water district. They are led by persons whose only interest is to give control of the District to the City of McAllen.”

The results of the May elections were:

Lance Neuhaus (incumbent) – 48 votes

Fidencio Guerra (challenger) – 6 votes

Jesus ‘Jesse’ Barba, Jr. (challenger) – 17 votes

Kevin Pagan (challenger) – 9 votes

Chris Burns (incumbent) – 50 votes

W.D. Moschel (incumbent) – 47 votes.

“I am very pleased with the outcome of the election and so are the other directors on the board. We had two farmers (Burns and Neuhaus) and a businessman (Moschel) who has been on the board since 1996 running for re-election. Now that is some experience,” Brand said.

“These other guys might be good attorneys but they have never been involved with a water district. Kevin Pagan represents one as an attorney but he has never run one. They are not water people.”

Pagan and Barba purchased their one square meter of land from McAllen-based FMA Properties LLC. The land was in a floodway south of McAllen that is farmed by Dan Worthington. He is a part owner FMA Properties. 

Randy Whittington, attorney for HCWID No. 3, explained what happened.

“FMA Properties LLC owns a 15-acre tract of land in the floodway. Right across the middle of it is a diagonal strip, about 130 feet wide, that was deeded in 1928 by a woman from Fort Worth who owned it. She deeded it to a local drainage district. The drainage district was out to acquire a whole bunch of right of way and they just held on to all the deeds until they had all the right of way they needed and then they recorded them all at one time. It took a couple of years to do that. So, they had these deeds that had not been recorded. A year after the owner from Fort Worth deeded it to the drainage district, she deeded the same property to her future husband and forgot to mention she had already deeded the property and did not own it any longer.”

Asked what FMA Properties did, Whittington said: “They took a one meter squared out of the northwest corner of the 15-acre tract of land and deeded it to Kevin Pagan. They then took one meter squared out of the southwest corner and deeded it to Barba. This diagonal strip missed Pagan’s one meter squared piece of property by ten feet. If the diagonal strip had gone through that one meter squared, Pagan would have been out, too.”

Asked what happened in the case of Darling, Whittington said: “FMA Properties deeded the southeast corner to Jim Darling but this square meter of land was right in the middle of the diagonal strip. He got the deed to property that had not been owned by anybody in that chain of title for almost 90 years. You can go on the appraisal district website today and it will show you that a drainage district still owns it. Always has. I don’t think Worthington and his people had any idea they did not own it.”

The drainage district that was deeded the diagonal strip of land running through the FMA/Worthington property in 1928 is Hidalgo County Drainage District No. 1.

Brand said purchasing one square meter of land in order to become eligible to run for the HCWID No. 3 was “bizarre.” He explained what happened in the case of the former mayor of McAllen.

“Jim Darling was given one square meter of land by Dan Worthington, whose company owns land in the old floodway of McAllen, which is in our district. But, apparently, there is a drainage ditch that goes through his property and that ditch was conveyed to Hidalgo County a long time ago. And so, the one square meter that Dan gave him was actually Drainage District No. 1 property, which is not taxable by our district. That means he cannot run because he would have to own land in the district that is taxable.”

Darling earlier told the Rio Grande Guardian that he was sanguine about not being on the ballot. He said time is on his side and he will run again in a future election. 

Brand said there is a previous case of a small parcel of land being given to an individual just so they can run for the HCWID No. 3 board. He said he did not like that maneuver either. 

“The City of McAllen gave businessman Mark Freeland about three square feet of property that they owned on the south side of town. That was illegal because a public entity, when you sell, you have to sell public property. You have to declare it surplus and you have to appraise it and then bid it. They did none of that. They just gave it to Mark,” Brand said.

“The City was not going to have anything to do with it this time. So, they got Dan Worthington to give them each a square meter, to keep the city out of it.”

Some McAllen city leaders have wanted to take over HCWID No. 3 for many years. Brand said he believes some McAllen city leaders tried to get Freeland on the board in order to undermine it. However, he said, Freeland has turned out to be an excellent director who works well with the other board members. 

“This time around we did as (former HCWID NO. 3 attorney) Glenn Jarvis told us to do with Mark Freehand, when we discussed his three square feet of land. We said, we will let the election take care of it and it did. The voters rejected the challengers and re-elected the incumbents by a big margin.”

Asked why Burns, Moschel, and Neuhaus deserved re-election, Brand referred this reporter to an election campaign flyer. It stated:

“Vote for experience. Continue the success by voting for those who have served the Water District well. Over 90 percent of the land in the district is still agricultural.”

The flyer listed these accomplishments:

  • * Raised the main pump station higher than any recorded flood in the Valley, thus guaranteeing water reliability (only district to do so at that time in the Valley). 
  • * Supplied the city of McAllen with virtually 100 percent of water needs during the 2010 flood for three months. 
  • * Was the only 100 percent reliable water source during the freeze of February 2021 (only district with back-up generators).

The flyer added: “We need businessmen who know water.”

Brand added: We are very pleased with the outcome of the election. We have a great board of directors. All of the directors have a lot of experience and they know water.”

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