The three City Council members who owed the city money and were ineligible to be sworn in Tuesday morning prior to their first meeting will likely not be penalized by colleagues, a majority of council members said.

City Reps. Brian Kennedy, Art Fierro and Isabel Salcido each had unpaid traffic or parking tickets that had not been addressed before they were sworn into office in violation of the City Charter. The charter also gives the City Council the power to determine its membership, including potential expulsion of members.

“I too – like probably everyone else – have a lot of questions (but) I don’t think in any way, shape or form this council should reverse the will of the voters,” said city Rep. Cassandra Hernandez. “Honest mistakes happen and when mistakes happen, there could always be an opportunity to correct that.”

Hernandez said she would be open to having a conversation at a future council meeting about lessons learned, but not to punish the representatives.

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.”

City officials said all three paid their fines Wednesday after being alerted of the outstanding debts and after El Paso Matters raised questions about the issue.

Salcido said the ticket in question was for $110.50 and was incurred by another family member.

“The vehicle that was used or listed on the debt is co-owned by a family member who uses said vehicle. The debt of $110.50 has been cleared at this time,” she said in a prepared statement.

She said she has a 2021 speeding ticket pending in municipal court but no judgment has yet been entered. Court records show more than 50 traffic and parking tickets issued to a person or persons named Isabel Salcido since 2004, but it’s unclear how many were issued to the city representative.

Salcido did not respond, beyond a brief prepared statement, to multiple requests for comments for this story.

The El Paso City Council had its first meeting of 2023 on Tuesday, June 3. (Elida S. Perez/El Paso Matters)

Mayor Oscar Leeser, Hernadez and city Reps. Alexsandra Annello and Chris Canales said they would not vote to remove the three representatives from office. City Rep. Henry Rivera did not respond to El Paso Matters’ request for comment. City Rep. Joe Molinar said he wanted to get more information from the city attorney before commenting on this story.

The records showed Fierro twice failed to appear for court dates for September tickets for speeding and not carrying proof of insurance – 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 said he had an upcoming court date and didn’t think it would impact his ability to get sworn in.

Municipal Court records showed that Kennedy had four unpaid parking tickets issued between 2017 and 2019, totalling $429. Kennedy said he was unaware there was an unpaid balance.

“Those traffic infractions are no longer pending and have been paid. I believe at this time it is important to move forward to the important work on behalf of the citizens of El Paso,” Leeser said in an emailed statement to El Paso Matters.

The city clerk historically would check on whether there were any funds owed to the city from incoming elected officials before the swearing in ceremonies, Leeser said.

“That is the optimal time for review, and it was not done this time. It is the responsibility of each individual to ensure they don’t owe funds to the city, but I strongly believe it is also the responsibility of the city to run this check prior to swearing in any individual to represent the great city of El Paso,” he said.

Leeser said the practice should be adopted as an official city policy to “avoid further unfortunate situations such as the one we faced Tuesday with minor traffic infractions that were pending for City Representatives Isabel Salcido, Art Fierro, and Brian Kennedy.”

Annello also said there should have been due diligence done by the city to determine if there were unpaid debts prior to the swearing in ceremony. Annello said the city clerk does checks of unpaid balances on board and commission appointees.

“I don’t think that these are major infractions that should be taken seriously and then remove someone from office and have an election – which is extremely costly,” Annello said. “I don’t think that there needs to be action taken. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t done appropriately from the city side, but I don’t think that we should be removing people from office for traffic violations.”

Canales, who was also sworn in Tuesday morning, said he does not think there was ill-intent by his fellow city representatives to merit removal from office.

“I hope that they learned to be more careful,” Canales said, adding it is something that could happen to anyone.

Kennedy and Fierro won their runoff elections in December. Salcido won her second term in the November election. They were sworn in Tuesday morning before the start of the meeting that resulted in critical votes including removing the embattled Downtown arena project from the Duranguito neighborhood.

The vote to change the arena location was passed 4-3 with Fierro, Annello, Molinar and Canales voting in favor and Salcido, Rivera and Hernandez voting against.

Kennedy abstained from the vote at the advice of City Attorney Karla Nieman for a possible conflict of interest stemming from consultant work he has done for the El Paso Sports Commission.

City officials have not said whether any of the votes made by Salcido, Kennedy and Fierro during the meeting are in jeopardy based on the outstanding ticket snafu.

Elida S. Perez is a senior reporter for El Paso Matters. Her experience includes work as city government watchdog reporter for the El Paso Times, investigative reporter for El Paso Newspaper Tree and communities...