RGC city secretary files temporary restraining order to prevent termination

The city secretary for Rio Grande City avoided possible termination Wednesday after a judge granted a temporary restraining order that prevented the city commissioners from going through with it.

An attorney for the city secretary, Lyzette Peña, filed a temporary restraining order ahead of a special meeting of the Rio Grande City commissioners during which they were set to discuss “legal issues related to the employment and/or termination of Lyzette Pena.”

District Judge Jose Luis Garza signed the temporary restraining order, effectively preventing the commissioners from firing Peña that night.

The petition for the restraining order, filed by Peña’s attorney Sonny Palacios, argues the commissioners are trying to fire her in retaliation for filing a grievance against City Commissioner Dave “Chachi” Jones.

The petition requests that city commissioners not be allowed to move forward until they hold a hearing on the grievance filed against Jones.

“They state that there is no procedure to hear a grievance against a commissioner and I understand that,” Palacios said, but added that a simple solution would be for the commissioners to hear the grievance without the involvement of Commissioner Jones.

“They could have done that over the past six months and have not done so and now they want to take action against her,” Palacios said. “So we’re asking that the court restrain the city from taking any action against her until they have the hearing.”

The city placed Peña, 32, on administrative leave earlier this year after she was arrested on allegations she illegally recorded other city employees.

She is facing three counts of unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral or electronic communications for allegedly placing a recording device in the office of the city’s HR director on Sept. 6, 2019.

HR Director Valerie Brown discovered the recording device under her desk and later reported it to the city manager.

Following an investigation, the Starr County Special Crimes Unit charged Peña with the first count in January.

Also heard on the illegal recording were police Chief Noe Castillo and police officer Juan Perez.

After Castillo and Perez stated they did not consent to being recorded and provided affidavits for the investigation, authorities charged Peña with the last two counts earlier this month.

But before her arrest in January, while the investigation was already underway, Peña filed a grievance against Commissioner Jones, accusing him of attempting to dissuade her from following the directives of City Manager Alberto Perez.

“He said and I quote, ‘Mr. Perez is sinking the City and you are going down with him,’” Peña wrote. “He also said (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.”

When she asked what she was doing wrong, she said 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.”

Jones declined to comment on the allegations.

Towards the end of her grievance letter, Peña addressed the investigation, writing that she felt it 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.”