New City administrator, police chief pledge to bring fresh set of eyes to Natalia

The drive from Alice, Texas, to Natalia takes barely two hours, but Rene Hinojosa took several trips around the globe to land the job as city administrator in the Queen City of the Southwest.
And the 35-year-old Alice native says he’s excited to be here.
“Alice [pop. 19,200] is known as the Hub City of South Texas because it is centrally located between San Antonio and the Rio Grande Valley, and between Corpus Christi and Laredo,” Hinojosa notes.
“While Natalia’s population is approximately 1,581, it is also centrally located 20 miles southwest of San Antonio, between Devine and Lytle. I see plenty of potential here.”
Having spent 12 years in Saudi Arabia as a contractor training officers in that country’s military, and traveling to more than 60 nations, Hinojosa describes himself as “ambitious and grateful for the opportunity to be a fresh set of eyes to Natalia.”
Citing ongoing projects like the Downtown Revitalization Plan, the Home Program and construction at local schools, Hinojosa said his administration will “coordinate with entrepreneurs, business people, community members and the Natalia Municipal Development District to promote growth.”
After first-hand encounters with many different forms of government during his global travels, Natalia’s new chief executive told the News last week that he appreciates the warm, down-home reception he has received here.
“Residents have been very welcoming and are excited to know that I live in town. In fact, several have stopped me during my evening runs to introduce themselves,” he related.
While holding degrees in International Studies and Spanish from DePaul (Ill.) University and a Master’s of Public Administration from Texas A&M Corpus Christi, Hinojosa also knows how to have a good time. He says he will continue to root for his beloved Alice Coyotes on the gridiron, along with the Mustangs (“they don’t play each other”).
“Local residents will probably find me at the area games on Friday nights,” he said.
Hinojosa, whose annually salary is $54,000, said one of his top priorities is to build “an effective, efficient and stable police department.” Instrumental in the hiring of Police Chief James Fleming, Hinojosa said the new chief “has done a wonderful job thus far.”
“We have enjoyed open communication and I look forward to working with him to promote a safe, clean and drug-free community.”
Police chief hiring more officers
Pledging “community policing with fairness,” new Natalia Police Chief James Fleming says he is committed to safety and security for all citizens while filling vacancies in the department.
“Many people see what’s going on in the world today with police and may be losing trust in the badge. I want them to know the Natalia Police Department is there to help them and protect them,” Fleming told the News last week.
A reserve officer with the department before his appointment to chief last month, the 38-year-old Fleming acknowledged that victims of crimes “may be hesitant to come forward based on the mistrust they have built while watching trending videos. The Natalia Police Department will hold any and all officers accountable for any misconduct,” he stated.
Since losing two police chiefs to resignations in the past year, the Natalia City Council considered disbanding its department and turning over local law-enforcement duties to the Medina County Sheriff’s Office. But after interviewing a dozen applicants, Fleming emerged as the consensus choice.
Fleming succeeds Glenn Barrow, who resigned May 27 after less than a year in the position. Interim chief Matt Garcia quit the force last week. Prior to Barrow, Gilbert Rodriguez led the department for six years before resigning.
Barrow’s letter of resignation stated he had “let several [officers] go who should have been gone a long time ago.”
Fleming, whose annual salary is $50,000, said, “I want the citizens of Natalia to know I am here to commit to them now and the future. We are all in this thing called ‘life’ together. It’s about helping each other regardless of our differences.”
To better serve and protect the community, Fleming is in the process of hiring two more patrol officers, with a goal of filling vacancies while bolstering professional standards in the department.
The chief is also adding another reserve officer, while looking for more reserve officers who will work scheduled shifts on a volunteer basis.
“I want people who want to be police officers,” says Fleming, who will make staffing moves in consultation with new City Administrator Rene Hinojosa.
With more than 15 years of experience in law enforcement and security, the Illinois native has served as central region director for the Texas Narcotic Officer’s Association and has worked as a field training officer. The Air Force veteran earned a bachelor’s degree in Justice Administration and a master’s degree in Public Administration, both from Wayland Baptist University.
Ultimately, Fleming aims for his department to “create more positive interactions than negative. Community policing breaks down that barrier between law enforcement and the community. It builds positive relationships with each officer being fair in each situation.”
By Kenric Ward