Donna hires school district’s former super as bridge director

DONNA — A former Donna ISD superintendent found another line of work — dealing with trade as director of the Donna Rio-Bravo International Bridge.

City Manager Carlos Yerena interviewed and hired Jesus “Rene” Reyna to oversee the bridge after the apparent departure of former bridge director Marga Lopez in May.

Yerena declined to speak in detail about Lopez’s exit and did not indicate whether she was fired from the position, which she held for about 17 months following a promotion from Donna Economic Development Corporation executive director by the city’s previous administration.

Lopez could not be reached for comment.

Asked about Lopez’s departure during a brief interview following a special city council meeting Tuesday, Yerena said “the city just wanted to go in a different direction.” The city decided to move forward with Reyna, who worked for the Donna school district for 10 years, hiring him in June as its executive bridge director, a position that was advertised in the Sunday, May 27 edition of The Monitor.

“We really needed somebody there quickly,” Yerena said. “He was the best qualified.”

Reyna, who resigned as Donna ISD superintendent while under suspension in 2015, and Jose F. Perez, himself a former superintendent for the Edcouch-Elsa school district and owner of Hi-Way 83 Auto Sales in Donna, were the only applicants for the position, according to applications obtained from the city.

A 1977 graduate of Donna High School, Reyna worked as an assistant principal, assistant superintendent for business and finance and eventually superintendent for the district, according to his application.

His career with Donna ISD began in 2005 and ended in 2015, a turbulent year for the district as its police department arrested Reyna and then-board member Ernesto Lugo, who launched a bid for the city’s mayoral seat last year, on charges of bribery and obstruction.

A Hidalgo County grand jury declined to indict the two due to lack of evidence to support then-school district police chief Roy Padilla’s claim that they attempted to bribe him so he would turn a blind eye to insurance fraud by Reyna, according to Monitor archives.

Reyna listed Lugo, as well as current Councilman Arturo “Art” Castillo and former school board member Efren Ceniceros, as references on his application.

He will focus on strategic ways to “build up the bridge,” said Castillo, adding that “money was there, and there was no movement.”

Castillo, along with others on the city council, will attend a groundbreaking ceremony Monday for the construction of lanes for the eventual crossing of southbound commercial traffic at the Donna Rio-Bravo International Bridge, a long-term project that’s been in the works since the bridge’s inception.

The city received a signed donations acceptance agreement in February, clearing way for construction on the southbound commercial lanes.

In addition to working toward growing the bridge’s traffic to potentially increase revenue, Reyna will manage its employees and budget.

Mayor Rick Morales lauded Reyna’s finance background, and said “he understands the mechanics of how to operate a business.”

Not everyone on the city council is certain Reyna fits the position.

“My concern is that he doesn’t have any bridge or trade experience with any municipality,” said Councilwoman Cathy Alvarado, adding that Lopez worked as bridge director in Eagle Pass prior to working in Donna.

Alvarado, though, did not know why the city decided to hire another bridge director.

Reyna did not return requests seeking comment.

Morales, Castillo and Yerena believe Reyna’s financial background, having dealt with the district’s about $150 million budget, is an asset to the city.

Prior to leading the bridge, Reyna sat on the city’s Economic Development Corporation board, having been appointed by the majority on the Donna City Council. Reyna has since stepped aside from the unpaid position.

The city pays at least $90,000 yearly as base pay to its bridge director, according to the city’s compensation plan adopted in February. Reyna qualifies to receive an additional $3,000 annually for his doctoral degree in education from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley in 2015.

Reyna’s salary as superintendent amounted to $195,000 annually, according to information he disclosed in his application with the city.

“I’m very happy with Rene Reyna,” Morales said. “I think he’s doing a tremendous job.”