El Paso city Rep. Brian Kennedy was paid thousands of dollars per month for consulting work for the El Paso Sports Commission while campaigning against the city’s Downtown arena plan.
That work has created a possible conflict of interest in his role as a council member when considering actions related to the city’s long-embattled multipurpose performing arts and entertainment center.
Kennedy abstained from the Jan. 3 vote on the advice of City Attorney Karla Neiman because of the consulting work with the commission, which manages the El Paso County Coliseum on behalf of the county. The coliseum, which hosts an array of entertainment and sports events, could be considered a competitor of the proposed arena.
“I don’t believe there was a conflict (and) I still don’t believe there was,” Kennedy said, in a phone interview with El Paso Matters. He added that he recused himself from voting and discussing the item during the Jan. 3 meeting out of an abundance of caution.
He said it is still being determined by the city attorney if a conflict of interest occurred.
The City Attorney’s Office declined to respond to El Paso Matters’ questions about whether Kennedy would have to abstain from future votes.
Having a substantial interest in a business entity could be deemed a conflict of interest according to state law that regulates governing bodies including local elected officials. A conflict of interest may exist if funds received by the person from the business entity exceed 10% of the person’s gross income for the previous year, according to the statute.
Kennedy was paid $55,000 by the sports commission in 2022, including $15,000 in the month of September alone, documents obtained by El Paso Matters through the Texas Public Information Act show.
Kennedy did not say what percent of his gross income the $55,000 constituted the previous year.
Invoices submitted by Kennedy to the commission show he began getting paid $5,000 per month beginning in October 2021 – one month after his controversial contract as the sports commission CEO ended. He continued in his consulting role through September 2022, documents show.
Kennedy filed for candidacy to run for the El Paso City Council District 1 seat that covers portions of the Upper Valley and the Westside on July 25. He launched his election Facebook page in August.
He said he did not fully launch his campaign efforts at the time.
“That’s when I notified (the commission) and they asked for 30 more days for the transition, and I gave it to them,” Kennedy said of the final month of consulting done in September.
Kennedy submitted three $5,000 invoices in September for work on an event management transition and marketing plan, a sports tourism annual plan and analysis and solicitation review for sporting events to draw sports tourism to the county, documents show.
During his campaign, Kennedy’s stance on the project was that the city should abandon plans to build the facility in the Duranguito neighborhood and instead make improvements to the Abraham Chavez Theatre and Judson F. Williams Convention Center.
Omar Ropele, who took over as the sports commission’s president, said there was no contract or written agreement for the consulting work. Rather, there was only a verbal agreement that Kennedy would help the commission as needed, Ropele said. Ropele said Kennedy told him after he won the December runoff that he would not be able to do consulting work any longer.
“Imagine having a guy working here for decades and all of the promoters wanting to deal with him and then all of a sudden, he’s no longer here,” Ropele said, adding that he asked Kennedy to help with the transition.
The consulting work and Kennedy’s abstention from the Jan. 3 vote that moved the Downtown arena out of Duranguito sparked an ethics complaint.
The ethics complaint was filed on Jan. 5 by Dora Oaxaca-Rivera, the wife of city Rep. Henry Rivera.
Oaxaca-Rivera alleges, in part, that Kennedy violated the city’s ethics ordinance through his consulting work and asserts Kennedy should not have been present during the arena discussion Jan. 3 and should not have been included in the executive session discussion of the item.
The city has 20 days to review the complaint from the date it was submitted to determine if any more information is needed, if it was filed properly and whether it is referred to the city’s Ethics Review Commission.