Attorney: Palmview may be preparing to fire police chief

Palmview police Chief Chris Barrera returned to work Monday, but questions about how long he’ll actually run the department remain.

Interim City Manager Leo Olivares prepared a five-page memo last month detailing “multiple policy violations” and a “laissez-faire management style” at the Palmview Police Department.

City of Palmview Logo“I think it’s pretty obvious,” said attorney Javier Peña, who represents Barrera. “This is what certain employers do: They try to ‘paper files’ before they set someone up to try to terminate them. And that seems like what the city manager has been doing.”

City Attorney Gus Acevedo sent the memo — marked “confidential” — to Barrera and members of the City Council last week. A source provided the memo and other documents to the Progress Times on the condition of anonymity.

Asked about the memo, Olivares said he couldn’t comment
on personnel matters.

“I do look forward to, at the appropriate time, discussing what we can,” Olivares said.

The memo documents nine problems:

Poor supervision of asset forfeiture funds

The city didn’t properly manage federal asset forfeiture funds, according to the memo. Palmview borrowed against asset forfeiture funds, hired a third-party bookkeeper to handle the accounting and couldn’t find records approving the purchase of a 2015 Chevrolet Silverado.

Barrera actually approached the city manager with concerns about how Palmview managed the money, Peña said, adding that the city manager responded by blaming Barrera for the problems.

The Palmview Crime Control and Prevention District

The memo also blames Barrera for various problems with the Palmview Crime Control and Prevention District board, including failure to adopt a budget and improperly depositing funds. Members of the board also failed to secure bonds after being appointed.

Problems with the Criminal Interdiction Traffic Enforcement program

Barrera recommended the city purchase two vehicles at 12 percent interest, which wasn’t a good deal, according to the memo. The police department also failed to buy insurance for the vehicles.

The City Council terminated the program last week.

Failure to pay communication bills

Palmview failed to make annual payments to the Rio Grande Valley Communications Group, which handles the regional radio system.

“Annual payments for 2015, 2016, and 2017 (totaling $37,080) were not timely processed as contractually required, and became delinquent,” according to the memo.

Policy violations

The memo accuses Barrera of failing to request permission before starting a private security company.
After he started the company, Barrera hired two city employees — one Palmview Fire Department employee and one Palmview Police Department employee, according to the memo.

Misuse of city resources

Barrera promoted his private security company, DefenseCom, with city resources, according to the memo. Barrera disputes the allegation.

Failure to secure police files

The memo accuses Barrera of failing to secure records from a March 2004 internal affairs investigation on former police Capt. Saul Uvalle.

“Critical evidence in his file is now missing,” according to the memo, which doesn’t specify how missing records from the 14-year-old internal affairs case came to the
city’s attention.

Insubordination

The city manager told Barrera to start using the city time card system, but Barrera failed to follow instructions, according to the memo. Barrera also asked a police sergeant to clock him in and out.

Personnel matters

The memo accuses Barrera of failing to process a certification pay increase for a police department employee.

“These issues show a laissez-faire management style that has been in place for years,” according to the memo. “It has, over time, resulted in sustained instances of mis-, mal- and non-feasance.”

Peña said the memo includes many old, inaccurate claims and accusations that lack important context.

“We think this is more of a strategic memo than a substantive memo,” Peña said.

Barrera and Olivares talked about several parts of the draft memo during March.

“On March 16, Olivares and Barrera met to have an informal discussion regarding his performance, disciplinary issues, and his possible resignation,” according to a report prepared by the city attorney.

Barrera, though, didn’t resign. Three days later, he filed a sexual harassment complaint against Olivares.

After reviewing the allegations, the city attorney determined the behavior — three text messages and an in-person incident — didn’t constitute sexual harassment. Peña said the cursory investigation violated Barrera’s due process rights and may be part of a push to terminate him.

“I don’t know whether it’s the City Council or just Leo,” Peña said. “The evidence seems to say it’s just Leo.”

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