By HEATHER C. COX
Special to the PRESS
According to tax records from the Cameron County Tax Assessor Tony Yzaguirre, John Thobe – who is running for election to the Laguna Madre Water District Board this November 6 – owes $30,762.52 in back taxes, penalties, and fees, which is not considering $5,536.85 for the 2012 tax year.
Thobe’s campaign implores voters to “Help him stop ‘poor management.’” Additionally, Thobe says the district should “hire an experienced general manager.” The campaign further states that “experience and education ‘do count,’” a statement making reference to the candidate’s credentials, two of which are relevant to the LMWD and include Thobe’s past experience as a water district director and member of the citizens’ advisory council.
Such slogans have raised concerned with at least some local voters as to the legitimacy of Thobe’s campaign and have prompted questions regarding the candidate’s fitness for office.
One resident of Laguna Vista, Bruce Swain, stated in a letter to the editor, “Mr. Thobe alleges fiscal mismanagement by the LMWD Board when…his fiscal, financial management skills…have resulted in him owing the Cameron County Tax Assessor $30,762.52 in back taxes.” Swain continued, saying, “In my opinion, electing Mr. Thobe to oversee millions of LMWD ratepayer dollars just does not seem like the right thing to do.”
In an interview on Wednesday, Thobe also admitted to receiving a $250k settlement at the close of the lawsuit against the LMWD. He further explained, “I was the chairman of the Laguna Madre Golf Course committee. We raised $15,000 to do a study on golf course feasibility (1989). We studied seven sites in this area, one of which is where the golf course is now.”
During the time of the study, Thobe said, “The water district was secretly negotiating with one group while openly negotiating with another (second) group. When the other (second) group discovered [aforementioned] secretive negotiations, the (second group) sued the district.”
Thobe, who works in real estate, further stated that, professionally, he was representing the second group of individuals, who were in open negotiations and trying to sell land – to later become a golf course. Thobe said this led him to “file a conflict of interest affidavit.” He also reports that he immediately ceased attending executive session meetings of the board which involved the sale.
Thobe said that it was the water district, not he, that was in violation of board policy. The suit in question was filed in 1995 and reportedly concluded in 1999 when three insurance companies received settlements, one of which involved the $250k received by Thobe, who at that time did not hold an office with LMWD.
“I have been a successful real estate broker and development consultant in this area for 24 years,” said Thobe, “and this is the worst real estate market I have ever seen.” Thobe claims these events led to his filing Chapter 13 bankruptcy last April.
“After four years of barley surviving by selling off my development land at considerable discounts, I finally had to file for Chapter 13 Personal Bankruptcy in order to save my home,” said Thobe, adding, “All of my back taxes are currently being paid through the bankruptcy trustee and will be paid in full in seven years.”
It’s inarguable that the real estate world has seen an overall decline due to the recession, but whether that fact alone is reason enough for citizens to stand behind Thobe is up for debate, or up for election this November 6.
Read this story in the Nov. 1 edition of the Port Isabel-South Padre Press, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.