Hidalgo County Head Start fight heads to commissioners court

Teresa Flores

EDINBURG — Divisions on the Hidalgo County Head Start Programs Policy Council that culminated in the potential removal of Executive Director Teresa Flores last week are primed to explode at the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning.

The central question appears to be whether the court will rubber stamp Flores’ removal from her position or decide to keep her in place.

No one appears prepared to comment on the propriety of either option before the meeting.

Head Start’s Policy Council appears to have voted to remove Flores from that position last week, while a document written by Flores earlier this month indicates she feels the council is behaving entirely out of line.

Representatives for the organization declined to comment, but the council met to discuss Flores’ position Thursday and is slated to meet this Wednesday to discuss appointing an interim executive director and advertise for a permanent replacement.

Flores herself said that she was no longer the director of the organization Monday afternoon, although a lawyer representing Flores said Monday evening that she no longer believed she’d been terminated.

“Her position is that she has not been terminated as of now,” attorney John Shergold said. “We are going to be in attendance tomorrow at 10 o’clock at the county commissioner’s meeting, where she’s on the agenda, and I have already sent a representation letter…”

Shergold said he’s requesting discussion on Flores be held in open session.

Can the commissioners court countermand Head Start’s leadership’s decision? Shergold didn’t quite say.

“That’s why I’m asking the press or anyone to come down there and listen to me talk tomorrow. I’ll be down giving my answer, or my opinion, in front of the county judge’s court,” he said.

Head Start is a multi-million dollar program that traditionally flies under the radar.

In 2020-2021, the organization reported almost $40 million in funding, which it used to offer child development services to 3,855 families in the area.

The federally funded program operates under the loose auspices of the county and is generally ignored by local media and the public.

It’s governed by its Policy Council, made up of representatives picked by county commissioners and the county judge, along with representatives elected by parents.

Recently, that council appears to have been in a state of turmoil.

County Judge Richard Cortez said Monday that he wasn’t well apprised of recent developments on Head Start’s council and that whether or not the county can oppose a decision to terminate Flores would be a decision for lawyers. He says he’ll learn more at Tuesday’s meeting.

The Policy Council’s Chair, Avelina Peña Segovia, acknowledged things have been lively on the council, but referred questions to its legal counsel in lieu of an executive director.

“Because you’re right, there has been some drama, so I would rather refer you to him so it can be technically correct,” she said.

Segovia was mostly concerned with why The Monitor had her cell phone number.

Ricardo Gonzales, the program’s lawyer, declined to comment on council divisions, action taken on Flores’ position, or anything at all, really.

Council meetings are recorded, but aren’t readily available online.

Correspondence penned by Flores, however, indicates the council’s August 24 meeting, during which it discussed alleged improprieties and a potential audit, was entirely out of order.

In the letter, Flores claims the body violated its by-laws, that it failed to obtain and follow legal counsel, and that parent representatives serving on the council were doing so improperly.

“The meeting was a fiasco,” she wrote. “Our directors and I witnessed the most unprofessional behavior whereby the Chairperson [Segovia] who did not have control of the meeting proceeded to raise her voice and clapped her hands at administration as she spoke in an angry voice. Roberts Rules of Conduct were not followed.”

Flores describes members of the council screaming and yelling over one another and denied allegations of wrongdoing that were discussed.

“We have never had such a disorderly meeting as this one in the 20 years I have been the Executive Director,” she wrote. “I am totally unaware of any “impropriety” which I or my staff have committed to have caused the Policy Counci [sic] to act so irresponsibly without regard to the impact it may have on the Program or its funding.”