As you all know by now, the City of El Paso Ethics Commission issued two letters of reprimand to Tommy Gonzalez, the city manager. Both letters were issued on June 3, 2016, two days after the ethics commission held a hearing into the allegations made by Jim Tolbert against Gonzalez. There has been some comment as to why it has taken me so long to comment about the letters. Today, I’d like to address that and what the letters mean, in terms of Gonzalez’ actions and the future of the city manager in El Paso.
First, let me let you know that I had to take some time to understand what the letters mean. Maybe it is because English is my third language, but I was at a loss to understand what a “letter of admonition” is, or a “letter of notification” is. It also doesn’t help that everyone, the chairman of the ethics commission and the city attorney, all agree that there are some problems with the ethics ordinances governing the whole process. There is no appeal process, either to an ethics complaint that is rejected or to appeal a decision of the ethics commission. That is obvious problem.
Regarding the use of the term, “admonition” it really just means that the letter issued to Gonzalez is a “reprimand” of one of the activities he was charged with under the ordinance. Knowing that it is a reprimand makes it easier to understand what happened.
The “Letter of Admonition” is a reprimand of Tommy Gonzalez by his employer, the City of El Paso, for “recklessly disregarding an applicable policy or procedure by authorizing the installation of speed humps on Stanton Street.” Under the City’s ethics ordinance, it is the ethics commission that is the disciplinarian of the city manager on behalf of the elected officials.
In everyday terms, what it means is that the City of El Paso is notifying its employee, Tommy Gonzalez, that his conduct in regards to the speed humps violated the city’s code of conduct. Letters of reprimand normally state the violation and the punishment, if any. In this case, Gonzalez was notified of the violation and the punishment, which is a permanent black mark on his city manager resume.
In essence, anytime Tommy Gonzalez applies for a future job, his future employer would get a copy of the letter if they perform a previous employer verification request.
The second letter, the “Letter of Notification” is a letter that most of you reading this has issued or received before. Simply, a letter of notification is a letter advising someone of an important issue. For example, if you have lived in an apartment and have moved out, you likely issued a letter to your landlord letting them know you are moving out and the date you would be leaving. You may have received a letter of notification advising you that you have been hired by your present employer. A letter of notification can be as simple as complaining about bad service. Some of the letters of notification may carry with them legal issues attached to them. In essence, a letter of notification can best be described as a “cover your ass” letter to protect you against future litigation.
In the case of Tommy Gonzalez, the “Letter of Notification” advised him that he “recklessly” disregarded a city policy in regards to the him “authorizing the resurfacing of an unqualified alley in City Representative District Two.”
What Does It All Mean?
The two letters, as has been described in the news media, are the two lesser punishments that could have been given out to Tommy Gonzalez.
It is my belief that the politics of the city forced the ethics commission to find something that could be articulated against Tommy Gonzalez for political purposes.
There are many rumors as to the politics behind this. Many of them revolve around the notion that there are political factions working to do away with the city manager form of government. David Karlsruher has articulated that Eliot Shapleigh and his cohorts, Susie Byrd and Veronica Escobar are behind this in order to regain control over the city politics. There is also the argument that the city’ ethics commission had to do something because to do otherwise would further the public perception that the city is corrupt. Then there is the ongoing feud between the Claudia Ordaz and the city manager as well as the normal political posturing by the politicos.
I think it is all of the above with the exception of the movement to do away with the city manager form of government. I am sure it exists but it is insignificant in the grand scheme of things.
As for Tommy Gonzalez, let us face it, the two letters are nothing more than a professional embarrassment for him.
Did he deserve them?
No, because the allegations against him are nothing more than mistakes or misjudgments on his part. It is obvious, by the letters, that Tommy Gonzalez did not have any lapses in ethics in regards to the complaints filed against him.
The letters are the worst kind of politics.
This is more obvious when you consider that the former city manager, Joyce Wilson has admitted publicly that she delayed the sale of the ballpark bonds costing the city upwards of $20 million.
Unfortunately, the city’s ethics laws are so outdated and ill-conceived that there is nothing that can be done in regards to Joyce Wilson through the city’s ethics commission. As of today, to my knowledge, no one has filed a complaint against Joyce Wilson with the City of El Paso Ethics Review Commission so the point is moot. Even if a complaint were to be filed, it is doubtful it would be forwarded by the city attorney’s office to the ethics commission.
At best, Tommy Gonzalez will swallow his pride and continue to work with the city council professionally but, likely, with animosity against certain city officials, or at worst, Tommy Gonzalez will retaliate to the detriment of the city’s taxpayers.
The whole fiasco rests on the fact that the City of El Paso is ethically challenged at all levels by the fact that the city’s ethics laws are an incomplete mess being used for political shenanigans.