A grievance filed by the city secretary for Rio Grande City alleges a commissioner attempted to dissuade her from following the directives of the city manager, potentially giving credence to alleged political rifts in the administration.
City Secretary Lyzette Peña, who is currently on administrative leave, filed the grievance against City Commissioner Dave “Chachi” Jones and another city employee whom she accused of spreading rumors about her.
Peña said she confronted Jones in May 2019, asking if he had problems with her performance, but he denied spreading any rumors about her, according to a copy of the grievance obtained by The Monitor through a public information request.
But Peña alleged that Jones went on to say that she needed to choose whether to listen to City Manager Alberto Perez or lose her job.
“He said and I quote, ‘Mr. Perez is sinking the City and you are going down with him,’” Peña wrote. “He also said that that the rest of the Commissioners felt the same way about me and Mr. Perez. He also mentioned that they were unhappy with my work performance and didn’t see me ending in a good place.”
She added that when she asked what she was doing wrong, he couldn’t give her specifics.
“He said he was a City Commissioner and he had all the power to go into any office and give directives to staff,” she wrote, “he proceeded to say that Mr. Perez trying to stop him from giving directives was not going to end well and that he would soon be out of the City and so would I if I continued to listen to Mr. Perez.”
When reached for comment, Jones said he had not seen the grievance and could not comment as a legal case was still pending which stemmed from Peña’s arrest earlier this year.
Peña filed the grievance in October, after an investigation had already been launched into whether she had allegedly placed a recording device in the office belonging to Valerie Brown Garza, the city’s human resources director.
In January, Peña was arrested and charged with unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications and was placed on administrative leave.
Toward the end of her grievance letter, Peña addressed the investigation, writing that she felt the investigation was an effort to either push her to resign or to taint her name so that she would be terminated from her job.
“I have tried to remain patient and ride this out but I no longer feel I am being treated equally or fair,” she stated. “I feel like this is a political witch hunt into which I have fallen victim to.”
The investigation into the illegally placed recording device was led by the Starr County Crimes Unit, which included interviews with Peña, Brown Garza and with Perez, the city manager.
In the full report produced by the Special Crimes Unit, Perez is said to have mentioned a “divide” among the city employees when he was questioned by the investigator and added there were had been rumors that he had been fired.
While the extent of any divisions among the employees remains unclear, reports that the city commissioners were dissatisfied with Perez’s performance — as Jones allegedly suggested — may have been exaggerated given that in March, the city commissioners approved a two year contract for Perez with the possibility of a one-year extension.
But as for the other allegations Peña wrote in the grievance, City Attorney Calixtro Villarreal declined to comment on whether the city had corroborated her claims or taken any action to address her concerns.
“There’s some criminal charges pending against one of those parties so at this time — it’s my policy — I prefer not to comment on that,” Villarreal said.