Editor’s note: Today’s regularly scheduled DMB podcast will appear in tomorrow’s edition to bring you the latest developments in the possible firing of El Paso’s second city manager.
New details emerged over the weekend about the possible firing of City Manager Tommy Gonzalez tomorrow at city council. Also, several sources confirmed an accusation against City Representative Joe Molinar is also on the city council agenda for tomorrow’s meeting. As we reported on Friday, Tommy Gonzalez’ may be fired tomorrow at the city council meeting. Because it is a personnel matter, the discussion will likely be held behind closed doors. However, another issue, that will also be discussed behind closed doors emerged over the weekend.
Because both issues involve executive session items, details are sketchy. City officials are prohibited from speaking to the news media about the details of both issues. However, El Paso News was contacted by several individuals over the weekend who wanted to provide us the latest information as background information because they are not authorized to speak about them. Two individuals provided first-hand information and others provided second-hand information. Here is what we learned.
Joe Molinar Faces Accusation
The last agenda item in tomorrow’s city council meeting is listed for Executive Session. The discussion and action item is about a “Complaint against an elected official.” The “elected officials” has not been named. However, on Thursday, February 23, City Representative Cassandra Hernandez issued a press release where she stated that, “Complaints against any member of council must be taken seriously and constitutes thorough review.” Hernandez’ press release cites a city charter provision that addresses the mayor or a city council member.
There are nine elected officials that sit on city council. Although Hernandez did not name the individual that is facing an accusation, two individuals that El Paso News spoke to independently stated that the elected official is Joe Molinar. Both individuals spoke to El Paso News on background to provide details to us that otherwise would not be available. Both individuals have second-hand knowledge.
One individual told us that the accusation against Molinar is about the “harassment” of a city staffer. The other individual that El Paso News spoke to provided more details to us. According to them, the accusation against Molinar involves a city event during the Thanksgiving Dy holiday. The unnamed individual added that the accusation against Molinar is in “retaliation” for Molinar adding his name to tomorrow’s city council agenda item discussing Tommy Gonzalez’ employment contract.
The individual alleges that the complaint against Molinar involves an invitation to dance, adding that to their knowledge a formal complaint was not filed until recently. According to the unnamed source, the complainant is a staffer in the city manager’s office. El Paso News was unable to verify the allegations independently.
However, we reached out to Joe Molinar for comment. In a telephone call on Monday, we asked Molinar about the allegation, including letting him know that we were told that it involved a harassment complaint against him and that it was alleged to be in retaliation for adding his name to the agenda item discussing the employment of the city manager.
Molinar responded to each of our questions with “no comment.”
Will Tommy Gonzalez Be Terminated?
As we reported on Friday, a source had told us that the item discussing the city manager’s contract was about terminating Tommy Gonzalez “for cause.” Gonzalez’ contract allows the city to terminate Tommy Gonzalez for an activity that includes misconduct, a negligent action or a conviction, among others. According to our source, on Saturday it was determined that a vote will be offered to terminate Tommy Gonzalez “without good cause.” The reasoning behind the removal of Gonzalez without good cause, even though our source says that there exists cause for his removal, is the cost to the city.
Terminating Gonzalez without cause will cost the city almost one million dollars. Our source told us that the price may seem high, but if the city were to terminate Gonzalez for cause, Gonzalez will likely file a lawsuit that in the end would cost the city’s taxpayers more in litigation fees.
Under the contract clause terminating Tommy Gonzalez without cause includes the provision that the city must provide Gonzalez 120 days notification of his termination. Should city council vote to terminate Gonzalez tomorrow, the 120 day clock will start there.
One source told us that Gonzalez has indicated that he would sue if he were fired tomorrow, with or without cause. However, we were told that once the city council votes to terminate Gonzalez’ employment contract, any lawsuit filed by Gonzalez against the city would be paid for by him and not the city.
The questions remains whether there are enough votes on city council to terminate Tommy Gonzalez tomorrow. Our sources all agreed that there are likely enough votes to terminate Gonzalez. All agreed that Art Fierro, Alexsandra Annello, Brian Kennedy and Joe Molinar – who both signed the agenda item that would lead to the vote to fire him – are likely to vote to terminate the contract. Cassandra Hernandez, Henry Rivera and Isabel Salcido are likely to vote against firing Gonzalez.
According to our sources, it is unknown how Chris Canales will vote with one source telling us that Canales was initially against the firing of Gonzalez until the Molinar matter was added to tomorrow’s city council agenda. The source says that the Molinar item is in retaliation for Molinar co-sponsoring the city manager’s employment contract agenda item.
Under the first scenario, with Canales, Hernandez, Rivera and Salcido voting against the firing, it is likely that Oscar Leeser will break the tie to terminate Gonzalez. In the second scenario, the vote would be 5-3 to fire Gonzalez without Leeser casting a vote.
All our sources agreed that it is likely that Gonzalez’ contract will be terminated tomorrow.
As to the Molinar item, one source predicted that it will be tabled for a week, or more tomorrow and possibly be dropped after the Gonzalez matter is resolved.
This is a developing story, stay with El Paso News for the latest information as it becomes available.
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