Palmview police chief accuses city manager of sexual harassment

After the city pressured him to resign last month, Palmview police Chief Chris Barrera filed a sexual harassment complaint against the interim city manager — accusing him of sending suggestive text messages.

Interim City Manager Leo Olivares met with Barrera on March 16 and warned him to resign or risk a potentially messy termination process. Three days later, Barrera filed the sexual harassment complaint.

20180406 PalmviewPDChiefAndCityManagerCity Attorney Gus Acevedo investigated the complaint and determined the sexual harassment allegations had no merit.

“There was no sexual innuendo or undertone or any requests for sexual favors,” Acevedo said, adding later: “The actions complained of do not rise to the level of sexual harassment.”

Olivares denied the allegations from the beginning.
Barrera didn’t return to work after filing the complaint. Attorney Javier Peña, who represents him, said Barrera wants Palmview to thoroughly investigate the allegations and take appropriate action.

“We’re hoping that everything can be resolved without having to file lawsuits,” Peña said.

Barrera is among the last top-level managers from the previous administration.

After taking control of the City Council during November 2016, the Progress for Palmview candidates — Javier Ramirez, Linda Sarabia and Joel Garcia — formed a new majority and slowly replaced the management team.

Assistant City Manager David Nacianceno and City Attorney Rick Perez resigned. The City Council fired City Manager Ramon Segovia and City Secretary Bertha Garza. Palmview terminated police Capt. Saul Uvalle during a “reduction in force” layoff. And police Cmdr. Lenny Sanchez left for the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office.

The City Council hired Olivares and demanded a top-to-bottom review of city business.

During the review, Olivares and Finance Director Rachel Chapa developed serious concerns about how Barrera managed the police department.

Olivares drafted a five-page memo, which detailed problems with how Palmview spent asset forfeiture funds and warned about potential conflicts between Barrera’s private security business, DefenseCom, and the city.

During a meeting on March 16, they discussed the draft memo. Olivares suggested retirement or resignation would allow Barrera to avoid a potentially messy and public termination.

Three days later, Barrera accused Olivares of sexual harassment. After contacting Mayor Jerry Perez about the situation, Barrera submitted a two-page affidavit dated March 28.

The complaint includes three text messages and an incident during mid-March:

> In April 2017, Olivares sent Barrera an invitation to Splash, the annual gay pride event on South Padre Island.

Olivares assured the City Council he sent the information to Barrera by mistake and told the police chief to disregard the invitation, according to two people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

> In July 2017, Olivares sent Barrera an invitation to stop by the house.

Olivares said he sent the message by mistake and quickly told Barrera to disregard, according to two people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

> In February 2018, Olivares sent Barrera a message asking him to “go by.”

The context of the message remains unclear. Barrera apparently interpreted the message as inappropriate, according to two people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

> The in-person incident happened in March 2018.

Barrera accused Olivares of leaving the private bathroom in the city manager’s office and zipping up his pants in public.

During private conversations with members of the City Council, Olivares said the bathroom incident never happened, according to two people familiar with the investigation who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

The City Council discussed Barrera during executive session on Tuesday night but adjourned without taking any action.

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