One of the two ethics complaints filed against city Rep. Brian Kennedy is being referred to the city’s Ethics Review Commission to determine whether his consulting work with a sports and entertainment promotion company violated ethics laws.
However, the Ethics Review Commission – tasked with holding government officials accountable – has been dormant for two years and is short one member with two others’ terms set to expire.
The commission, consisting of non-elected officials, was established to hear complaints about alleged violations of the city’s ethics ordinance by elected officials or city staff and makes recommendations to the mayor and City Council. The commission hasn’t met since January 2021.
City documents show that the April and June meetings scheduled in 2022 were canceled. There has not been a meeting scheduled since, according to the commission’s meeting agendas.
The commission is supposed to meet annually at the beginning of April to appoint the chair and vice chair and adopt rules for their proceedings, according to the commission bylaws.
Since the current committee has not met, there is no chair or vice chair appointed, said city spokesperson Laura Cruz Acosta in emailed responses to El Paso Matters. She also said the meetings in 2022 were canceled because there were not enough members to establish a quorum.
The nine-member board currently has one vacancy and two commissioners whose terms will expire in February. The District 6 appointee seat on the commission is vacant. City Rep. Art Fierro, who took office in January, would have to appoint a member to fill the vacant seat. City Reps. Joe Molinar and Isabel Salcido’s appointees’ terms expire Feb. 1.
City Rep. Alexsandra Annello appointed Marco Covarrubias on Jan. 4, according to the commission’s website. His term will continue through 2025. The remaining member’s terms will not expire until 2024.
The city is holding a special meeting Tuesday, but there are no items on the agenda related to appointing members to city boards. There is one regular City Council meeting Jan. 31 where board members can be appointed before the terms for the District 4 and District 5 expire and for the vacant seat to be filled.
Three ethics complaints were filed at the beginning of January, days after Fierro and Kennedy were sworn into office Jan. 3.
One of the complaints against Kennedy alleges that both he and Fierro violated the City Charter when they took the oath of office on Jan. 3 while having outstanding municipal court tickets.
A second complaint against Kennedy alleges, in part, that he violated the ethics ordinance through his consulting work with the El Paso Sports Commission, which runs the El Paso County Coliseum. It also alleges Kennedy should not have been present during the council’s Downtown arena discussion on Jan. 3 and he should not have been included in the executive session discussion of the item because the arena could be seen as a venue competing with the coliseum. Kennedy long served as CEO of the commission.
The City Clerk’s Office reviews the complaints to ensure they are properly notarized then sends them to the City Attorney’s Office for review. The attorney’s office then has 20 days to either refer the complaints to the ethics commission, dismiss the complaints that are not filed properly or request additional information from the person who filed the complaint.
The City Attorney’s Office referred the three complaints to outside legal counsel.
Frank Garza, an attorney with the Law Offices of Davidson Troilo Ream & Garza based out of San Antonio, dismissed a separate complaint filed against Fierro by former city Rep. Claudia Rodriguez. Rodriguez, who lost her reelection bid to Fierro, alleged he violated the City Charter when he took his oath of office with outstanding tickets. Garza states the allegations do not show a violation of the city’s code of ethics standards of conduct for which the Ethics Commission has purview over.
The complaint against Kennedy and Fierro filed by Chris Yost, a local firearms instructor, alleging the same violation as Rodriguez was also dismissed by Garza because the allegations do not show a violation of the city’s code of ethics standards of conduct.
The complaint filed against Kennedy that will be referred to the city’s Ethics Review Commission was filed by Dora Oaxaca, who is city Rep. Henry Rivera’s wife.
“Having reviewed the complaints, I have determined that the allegation made in the complaints describe a matter that is within the jurisdiction of the Ethics Review Commission,” Garza said in a letter sent to Kennedy regarding Oaxaca’s complaint.
The letter also states that while no determination has been made that he violated the ethics code, the facts alleged in the complaint require a review by the ethics commission.
Kennedy has 14 days to file a sworn statement with the City Clerk’s Office in response to the complaint.
Once the response is filed it will be sent to the Ethics Review Commission, which will have 30 days to schedule a hearing.