Two new City Council members owed the city money and were ineligible to be sworn in Tuesday morning prior to their first meeting, city officials said late Wednesday.
“The City Attorney’s Office was informed today that Rep. Brian Kennedy and Rep. Art Fierro had outstanding balances with the City of El Paso for moving and parking violations,” city spokesperson Laura Cruz-Acosta said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters, which had raised questions about unpaid fines listed on the Municipal Court website.
The ineligibility of the two representatives raises questions about actions taken by City Council on Tuesday – including a 4-3 vote to end plans to build an arena in the Duranguito neighborhood of Downtown El Paso.
Fierro voted to end the arena plans and Kennedy abstained on the advice of City Attorney Karla Neiman because he has done contract work on behalf of the El Paso County Coliseum, which would be a competitor of the proposed arena.
Cruz-Acosta didn’t directly respond to questions about the legality of votes cast by ineligible council members. She said that under the City Charter, the City Council “shall be the judge of the election and qualifications of its members and of other elected city officials and of the grounds for removal from office.”
She said all members of the City Council have been advised of the issue and will decide if they wish to take action on this issue.
The City Charter prohibits newly elected City Council members from taking office if they are “indebted to the city in any sum of money on judgment, contract or valid tax levy or assessment.”
The oath of office for City Council members includes the phrase, “I furthermore solemnly swear that I am not indebted to the City of El Paso.”
Cruz-Acosta said both Kennedy and Fierro paid the balances Wednesday.
Court records show that Fierro received two citations on Sept. 14 – for speeding in a school zone and failure to maintain financial responsibility, which means he could not produce proof of insurance when asked by police. The citations carried fines totalling $700.
The records show Fierro twice failed to appear for court dates for the tickets – on Oct. 7 and on Nov. 8, which was Election Day. A bench warrant was issued for Fierro’s arrest, for failure to appear in court, on Dec. 7 and recalled on Dec. 13, the records show.
Fierro, in a phone interview with El Paso Matters earlier Wednesday, said he did not think the outstanding ticket was an issue because he had an upcoming court date set for Jan. 12.
“As far as I’m aware, that (fine) shouldn’t apply until either the judge says I owe it on January 12, or whatever I owe,” he said, adding he did not think that would impact his eligibility to get sworn in since he had not seen the judge.
Kennedy said he did not realize he still had an outstanding balance of about $149 for prior tickets, but paid it Wednesday. Municipal Court records showed that Kennedy had four unpaid parking tickets issued between 2017 and 2019, totalling $429.
“There were three of us with outstanding tickets and the partial payment I had made – I didn’t realize it wasn’t fully paid. So we all paid,” he said. “I’d actually run a check on myself and it didn’t come up for some reason.”
City Rep. Isabel Salcido also had an outstanding ticket. However, her name was not listed on the ticket and the vehicle is co-owned by Salcido and her sibling, Cruz-Acosta said in the statement. She said Salcido also paid the ticket Wednesday.
The nature of the ticket faced by Salcido wasn’t clear in Municipal Court records. Those records show that more than 50 traffic and parking citations have been issued to a person named Isabel Salcido since 2004. It’s not clear how many of those involve the city representative.
“All candidates for office and elected officials are responsible for ensuring that they are in compliance with all City Charter provisions and all other applicable laws,” Cruz-Acosta said in the emailed response.
Two former City Council members said that in the past, the City Clerk’s Office did research before new council members took office to ensure they didn’t owe debts to the city. The former representatives asked not to be identified because they are no longer with city government.
Fierro and Kennedy were elected in the Dec. 17 City Council runoff elections; Salcido was re-elected in the first round of voting Nov. 8.