Documents released to El Paso News under the Texas Public Information Act reveal that two formal Code of Conduct Violation complaints were filed against City Representative Alexsandra Annello last year. The first was on July 18, 2022. The first violation was revealed in an email Senior Deputy City Manager Cary Westin, who also serves as the Code of Conduct & Ethics Officer, sent reporting that he had received a Code of Conduct complaint involving Annello and Managing Director Laura Cruz Acosta in July 2022.
Westin continued that because of the Code of Conduct, “the City Manager has zero tolerance policy for any type of harassment in the workplace.”
The notification to the mayor included the complaint and two witness statements.
The complaint filed by Laura Cruz Acosta on July 15, accuses Annello of “audibly” being “upset and raised her voice” at Acosta, “stating that staff had disrespected her [Annello] wishes” in a proposed charter amendment about the powers of the mayor. According to the complaint, when Acosta tried to correct Annello on a statement Annello had made about policy, she “became further upset and stated repeatedly that staff was being political and attempting to gaslight her.”
Acosta adds in her complaint that she “was offended by her statements and felt she [Annello] was being disrespectful towards” Acosta.
Acosta concludes her complaint with “I believe Rep. Annello’s behavior was unbecoming of an elected official and it pains me that I would have to draft” the complaint. Acosta adds that she had witnessed “similar outburts” by Annello in other meetings.
In a witness statement to the incident, Araceli Guerra wrote that Annello “continued to raise her voice” and that Annello “stated that she knew what staff was doing and that they were just being political and said she would not be gaslighted by city staff.”
In a second witness statement by City Clerk Laura D. Pine, Pine wrote that “Ms. Annello kept interrupting staff, raising her voice, and accusing staff of gas lighting her and politicizing the issue.”
In the third witness statement by Kristen L. Hamilton-Karam, Hamilton-Karam wrote that Annello “became more vocal, and did not allow” the staff to speak. Hamilton-Karam added Annello stated that “she refused to be ‘gaslit’ by staff.”
The Code of Conduct
On June 10, 2019, city council adopted the controversial code of conduct. The new code of conduct established that city representatives “must support and advocate the City position on an issue, not a personal viewpoint.” The Code passed on a vote of 4 to 2 with representatives Annello and Peter Svarzbein voting against it. Representatives Claudia Ordaz Perez, Henry Rivera and Isabel Salcido voted in favor of the new code with representatives Cassandra Hernandez and Cissy Lizarraga were absent for the vote.
At the time, Annello argued that the city representatives needed more time to study the matter before voting on it. Annello accused then-mayor Dee Margo of rushing the matter through, stating that “at every possible moment, the mayor [Margo] has done everything to divide” the council.
Among the guidelines the code warns city representatives against speaking to the news media “off the record.”Code of Conduct
Penalties for violating the Code of Conduct includes removal from boards and commissions. At the time, Annello said that the new code could be used as “a way to weaponize certain council members.”
A Second Complaint
A second complaint was filed against Alexsandra Annello on September 30, 2022. In the second complaint, Ellen Smyth, wrote that after her September 27, 2022 presentation on Sun Metro’s LIFT paratransit service to the City Council, Annello “had several questions, the majority of which I and others perceived to be in an aggressive and accusatory manner.” Smyth added that Annello “commented, ‘So we’re contracting out services. That’s interesting,’ in what I [Smyth] perceived an extremely dismissive tone of voice.”
Smyth concluded her complaint against Annello with “While I appreciate that Rep. Annello must respond to her constituents and question staff, she has repeatedly disparaged me and questioned my integrity and credibility in the same disrespectful tone and manner.”
On October 28, 2022, Annello responded to Smyth’s complaint. In a memorandum to Oscar Leeser, Annello wrote, “I feel there is a real concern with this complaint,” adding that “a council member, asking questions and receiving the bulk of information about contracts that must be approved by council on procedural information from members of the public and not the department heads, should not be grounds for a complaint.” Annello continued, “Disagreeing with and having incorrect information, that again was not provided by the director until asked about it, is not reason for a complaint.”
Annello added in her response that “I am very concerned that this complaint is a retaliation for being publicly concerned for the performance of the department.”
In her response to Smyth, Annello takes “responsibility for interrupting Ms. Smyth,” adding that “it was not meant to be disrespectful,” adding that although she “had forgotten to be specific, none the less [sic] it was rude and I apologize for that.”
Annello concluded that “I regret that during my job as a representative of constituents, words and tone were misinterpreted as being demeaning.” She added “It was not and will never be my intention to treat staff is such a deplorable manner.”
Oscar Lesser Reviews Tape
In an email on October 10, 2022, Leeser’s Senior Chief of Staff, Estrella Escobar, reports that she had “spoken to the Mayor about” the Smyth complaint. Escobar wrote that once Leeser returned from a business trip, he would “review” the meeting tape. Escobar wrote that after Leeser reviewed the tape, she would call Cary Westin “to proceed with next steps.”
In an email on October 19, Escobar wrote to Annello that “Mayor Leeser received the attached.” Escobar added that the Leeser “would like to give you [Annello] an opportunity to respond in writing prior to any next steps.”
Annello sent her apology memorandum on October 28.
The open records documents reveal that a meeting was scheduled between Leeser and Westin on November 3 to discuss the Myth complaint. It is unknown if the meeting was held and the records released to us do not show any information about the meeting.
Status Of The Complaints
The documents released to us do not show what the conclusion of the two complaints against Alexsandra Annello are. In the complaint filed by Laura Cruz Acosta, Cary Westin recommended that Leeser “address the issue” with Annello and “schedule a meeting” between Annello and Acosta.
It is not known if such a meeting was held.
In the second complaint filed by Smyth, Annello responded with an email memorandum apologizing to Smyth writing that she regreted that her “words and tone were misinterpreted as being demeaning.”
This is developing story and El Paso News will report as more information becomes available.
We Need Your Help
Today is the last day to donate to independent journalism in El Paso during our January drive. We need your support to continue to bring you the news no one else is willing to do. All donations go towards supporting the platform and research needed to bring you these important stories. We would appreciate any donation, no matter how small. Please make a donation today, our last day during our January 2023 drive.