Palmview negotiating separation agreement with police chief

The Palmview City Council wants to negotiate a separation agreement with police Chief Chris Barrera.

City Attorney Gus Acevedo met with attorney Javier Peña, who represents Barrera, on Wednesday.

City of Palmview Logo“They’re both wanting to part ways and we’re trying to figure out how to do it in the most amicable way possible,” Peña said.

During the Wednesday afternoon meeting, the attorneys discussed how much sick and vacation time Palmview owed Barrera.

“We’re trying to figure out what he’s owed in terms of his vacation and sick days according to city policy,” Acevedo said, adding that he exchanged information with Peña about the issue.

Barrera joined the Palmview Police Department in July 1994 and earns $68,500 annually, according to the city budget. Compensating him for all remaining sick and vacation time could cost the city thousands.

The separation agreement would resolve an ugly, month-long showdown between Barrera and Interim City Manager Leo Olivares.

“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 Acevedo.

Three days later, Barrera filed a sexual harassment complaint against Olivares.

Barrera accused Olivares of sending him suggestive text messages. Olivares said he sent two innocuous texts by mistake and believed Barrera misinterpreted the third text message.

None of the text messages included explicit language or material. Barrera, though, apparently interpreted the messages as sexual harassment.

Palmview conducted an investigation, which determined the text messages and an in-person incident Barrera complained about didn’t constitute sexual harassment.

“Olivares is advised to demonstrate more care with his text (sic) to employees. He should apologize to Barrera for any misunderstandings,” according to the report.

“Finally, the City should update its sexual harassment policies, and all employees can benefit from additional training regarding sexual harassment.”

After the investigation concluded, Olivares addressed the allegations on Twitter.

“City found allegations without merit. Chief’s abuse of system disrespects victims w/ legitimate claims. Although a feeble attempt to obfuscate a personnel matter, I bare (sic) no animus,” Olivares tweeted. “However, I do reserve my rights against discrimination & defamation.”

After Barrera filed the sexual harassment complaint, Olivares finalized a five-page memo detailing management problems at the police department.

The memo included accusations that Barrera failed to properly supervise the spending of asset forfeiture money, promoted his private security business with city resources and had “a laissez-faire management style” that “resulted in sustained instances of mis-, mal, and non-feasance.”

After filing the complaint, Barrera took vacation and sick time. Palmview appointed Lt. Gilbert Zamora to the position of “interim police chief” during his absence.

Barrera returned to work on April 9, but didn’t stay long. Palmview placed him on administrative leave Monday morning.

Human Resources Director Gerardo Villarreal didn’t explain why Barrera had been placed on administrative leave or provide him with any paperwork documenting the decision.

“So I just got up and walked out,” Barrera said.

The decision to place Barrera on administrative leave rankled Peña.

“It’s interesting that a man who may or may not be under investigation for his possible involvement with illegal activity regarding a water plant in Weslaco and got the city to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on an illegal sewer system in the already cash-strapped city of Palmview is now breaking every law and procedure in a seemingly desperate quest to waste as much of the city taxpayers’ money as possible,” Peña said.

Olivares said he considered Peña’s comments unwarranted and inappropriate.

“I honored Javier Peña’s request to refrain from social media, yet he chose to comment on a personnel matter with obfuscation, invective and malice,” Olivares said. “I won’t resort to ad hominem attacks but rather wish him well. Again, I reserve my rights against discrimination and defamation.”

Both sides hope to cement the separation agreement by next week.

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