No sooner had the celebration and self-congratulating over Duranguito had ended that the credibility of the newly elected city council became a public controversy. This is especially true for Art Fierro who won the seat from Claudia Rodriguez in December. Ticketgate – the revelation that several members of the newly elected city council owed money to the city when they took office last week – has now dominated the news cycles.
El Paso Matters began the controversy with the report that Art Fierro and Brian Kennedy, who were sworn into office last Tuesday were not eligible to sit at city council. The revelation came not before they took their offices nor after, but after the much-anticipated vote to move the so-called downtown sports arena out of the Duranguito neighborhood had ended. El Paso Matters also reported that Isabel Salcido, who was reelected in November, also had an outstanding ticket.
The timing of El Paso Matters’ report, after Duranguito was saved, raised questions about the city’s process in handling the situation and, why and how Matters’ chose to publish their report. Public commentary about the article suggests that the city issued two statements to El Paso Matters’ Elida S. Perez. The first did not include Salcido’s name and the second did.
The timing of the release of the ticket information and how Matters received the information about them has raised the question of whether the city was sitting on the Ticketgate revelations until after the Duranguito vote. The speculation is that the ticket revelations were for “impugning two City Council representatives,” as Duranguito advocate, Max Grossman wrote in an email on January 7.
Did El Paso Matter Have A Motive Other Than Informing?
Grossman writes in his email that El Paso Matters’ report is “flawed” and remains online. El Paso Matters followed its initial report on Ticketgate with a second report the following day. In the second report, the online publication reports that nothing is likely to come from Ticketgate because the other city representatives are unlikely to act against the three city representatives implicated in the ticket controversy. Only city council can take actions against the three city representatives who had outstanding tickets.
All three city council representatives have paid their outstanding tickets as of January 4.
In a text statement to us yesterday, Art Fierro explained,
“Reps. Brian Kennedy, Isabel Saucedo and I were alerted by the Office of the City Clerk that there were outstanding traffic and parking tickets; I did owe some parking tickets but I was not aware of them. We were informed of this issue late in the evening of January 3, after the oath of office was administered that morning and after the day-long city council meeting. They were immediately paid the next morning on January 4 by all three council members.”
Art Fierro And Claudia Rodriguez
The matter should have ended there, except that the questions about the Duranguito vote and El Paso Matters’ report raised several questions about the purpose of Ticketgate and how it transpired.
What we know is that the city issued one statement to Elida Perez on January 4 late at night. This is according to Laura Cruz, the city’s communications director. It should be noted that Perez’ request to the city was about Fierro and not about the other city representatives. The city’s statement to El Paso Matters included the names of the three city representatives’ names, although Perez had inquired about Fierro only.
Although Fierro’s opponent in the last election was not named by El Paso Matters or the city’s response to the online publication, in an email Max Grossman added Claudia Rodriguez to the Ticketgate controversy.
According to Grossman, Rodriguez had an outstanding ticket when she took office in February 2020. Grossman wrote that Rodriguez is a “hypocrite” for filing an ethics complaint against Art Fierro when she had an outstanding ticket.
On January 5, two ethics complaints were filed. One was filed by Chris Yost against Brian Kennedy and the second by Rodriguez against Fierro. In her complaint to the city’s Ethics Review Commission, Rodriguez alleges that Fierro “failed to qualify” for the city representative office because Fierro “was indebted” to the city. Rodriguez asks that the ethics commission disqualifies Fierro from being the city representative for district 6.
In her press release announcing the filing of the ethics complaint, Rodriguez stated that Fierro is “not above the law and must vacate” his city council seat. Rodriguez added that Fierro “committed perjury,” by stating under oath that he did not have outstanding tickets, and Fierro “violated the City Charter” by taking his seat while owing the city money.
In a telephone interview, Rodriguez told us that Fierro “has demonstrated several times that he believes that he is above the law.” Asked to explain, Rodriguez pointed to Fierro filing his financial report late and added that Fierro lied about not knowing about the tickets “because he missed two court dates” to resolve them.
Fierro did not deny in his statement to us that the online publication’s report about the arrest warrant or his failure to appear were false. Fierro acknowledged owing “some parking tickets,” adding that he “was not aware of them.”
The ethics complaint filed by Rodriguez against Fierro prompted Grossman to write an email accusing Rodriguez of having an outstanding ticket.
We asked Claudia Rodriguez about Grossman’s allegations against her.
In an email on January 6, Rodriguez provided us a copy of her official Texas Driver’s License record. According to the copy provided by Rodriguez, she has three tickets on her driver’s record. The first ticket was issued in 2001. The second ticket was issued in 2005 and her last ticket, for speeding was issued in 2009. Grossman, in his email accuses, Rodriguez of having an outstanding ticket on her record under her maiden name, Rivera. According to Grossman, that ticket was issued in 2014. This ticket does not show up in Rodriguez’ official ticket history generated on January 5.
Rodriguez told us that the ticket was issued to a family member for an automobile still registered to her. She had sold her car to her family member who received the ticket. Rodriguez explained that the car remained in her name because she had sold it to the family member so that the family member’s daughter, who was underage, would have a car. Rodriguez added that the plan was for the underage daughter to register the vehicle when she became old enough to but that did not happen. Rodriguez told us that she was not aware of the ticket. She added that as soon as she became aware of it, she contacted her family member and the ticket was paid.
Rodriguez provided us a receipt for the payment of the ticket. The ticket was paid to the city on January 5, by Dina Zamarripa. Rodriguez stated to us that by paying the ticket, Zamarripa took responsibility for the ticket that was not issued to Rodriguez as Grossman alleges.
Rodriguez told us that Fierro “continues to demonstrate his inability to follow the rules” everyone else is expected to follow, both by ignoring court summonses and by filing his campaign report late in the last campaign. That is why she filed the ethics complaint against him. Rodriguez acknowledged to us that she expects to be criticized for filing the complaint. In her press release announcing the complaint, Rodriguez stated that she has “graciously accepted the will of the voters,” and that her “intention…is to ensure that we hold our elected officials and leaders accountable for their actions.”
For his part, Fierro stated in his statement to us that Rodriguez’ complaint “is vague” and that it is “difficult to fully respond” to her “allegations, beyond what is already occurred and confirmed by the City Clerk.” Fierro is referring to the tickets having been paid.
In his statement Fierro added that,
“It is unfortunate that Claudia Rodriguez, her allies, and special interest groups have taken to utilizing the City’s Ethics Ordinance in a frivolous and harassing manner. It is unfortunate that a few continue to rehash this issue even now that it has been addressed and resolved. This is yet another example of political pettiness. It is a desperate effort to undermine the election process and the governance of city council. In this instance, it is a waste of our city’s resources and it is a distraction from the city’s important work.”
Rodriguez reiterated that “Art Fierro continues to believe that he is above the law.”
Grossman, for his part, alleges in his email that Rodriguez is a “hypocrite” for filing the ethics complaint. We asked Grossman for a comment about Fierro’s two missed court dates and arrest warrant. Grossman told us in an email statement yesterday that he “has no comment” beyond what he sent out in his two emails, adding that “Claudia’s hypocrisy is obvious.” Grossman did not address Fierro’s missed court dates, nor the arrest warrant issued against him.
Ticketgate continues to be a controversy for city council as they go into today’s session. Rodriguez’ ethics complaint against Fierro remains open and it is unclear when it will be taken up by the city’s Ethics Commission. The City Attorney first reviews the complaint and either forwards it to the Ethics Review Commission for action or dismisses it as an incomplete filing or because it is deficient for various reasons including that the allegation falls outside the purview of the commission. The city attorney has 20 days to act on it.
Stay with El Paso News for new developments in the ethics complaints filed against Art Fierro or Brian Kennedy.
Disclosure: Then-candidate Claudia Rodriguez contracted technical support from the author’s technology company. These services were provided separately from the publication and have no influence on our reporting.