Former Edinburg spokeswoman alleges political retaliation in federal lawsuit

EDINBURG — The city’s former public information director filed a federal lawsuit against the municipality and all but one council member, alleging her February termination stemmed from political retaliation.

Irma Garza, the city’s former spokeswoman, believes the majority members of the council — referred to in her suit as the “Molina faction” — conspired to fire her because she did not support the political group’s campaign last year, and names as the defendants Mayor Richard Molina, Mayor Pro-Tem David Torres, and council members Gilbert Enriquez and Jorge Salinas individually and in their official capacity.

Homer Jasso Jr., who stands alone as the minority on the council, was the only council member not named in the suit.

Her suit alleges the city and its elected leaders violated her First and Fourteenth Amendment rights by restricting her freedom of speech and denying her due process because she was not given any prior notice, a reason for her termination or the opportunity to be heard.

Garza performed her duties with “dedication, loyalty and hard work,” received high marks in annual reviews and never received written reprimand for improper conduct prior to the defendants “gaining control,” according to allegations in the suit.

Garza further claimed council members made numerous statements about their intention to terminate, demote or reassign employees who didn’t support them and set about on a campaign to reward those who were related or had openly supported the defendants, court records show.

“ … In order to make room for the political patronage that was necessary to reward their relatives, supporters and campaign workers, the board members directed then-city manager Richard Hinojosa to terminate employees such as (Garza), who during the campaign were not openly supporting the Molina faction,” the lawsuit stated.

According to the document, Hinojosa approached Garza in person on Feb. 21, told her she had been terminated and requested she “immediately vacate” the city building. Hinojosa himself was later fired.

“At that time, Mr. Hinojosa gave no reasons for her termination, simply telling her that he couldn’t do anything about the city council’s decision to terminate her,” the lawsuit stated. “All the adverse retaliatory employment actions taken by Mr. Hinojosa against (Garza) were at the direction of the Molina faction.”

Garza declined to comment Tuesday and directed all questions to her attorney David Flores, who also represented Jasso in the city’s attempt to unseat him, as well as former Economic Development Corporation Director Gus Garcia in a suit against the corporation. The attorney could not be reached for comment.

Attempts to obtain comments from the city officials were also unsuccessful as of press time Tuesday.

nlopez@themonitor.com