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Palmview fires police chief after settlement negotiations sputter

The Palmview City Council abruptly fired police Chief Chris Barrera on Monday after settlement negotiations sputtered and new allegations emerged against him.

What, exactly, emerged Monday remains a mystery.

City of Palmview LogoThe City Council held a closed-door meeting for roughly 25 minutes Monday night. When they emerged from executive session, Interim City Manager Leo Olivares and City Attorney Gus Acevedo recommended firing Barrera.

Without any discussion, the City Council unanimously accepted the recommendation and adjourned the meeting.

“Things have come to light that you can’t ignore,” said City Councilwoman Linda Sarabia, who declined to detail the new allegations. “And it just kept piling up.”

Mayor Jerry Perez and City Councilman Joel Garcia remained similarly tight-lipped after the meeting, refusing to discuss the new allegations.

Attorney Javier Peña of Edinburg, who represents Barrera, said Palmview made a big mistake.

“It’s sad to see that the city is making decisions that are only going to lead to the spending of more tax dollars to defend it. They’ve done everything wrong,” Peña said, adding later: “But I guess that’s the norm in Palmview.”

Barrera joined the Palmview Police Department in July 1994, according to Texas Commission on Law Enforcement records. Just four years later, the City Council promoted him to police chief.

What started as a seven-man department gradually expanded. Barrera eventually supervised more than 30 employees.

Palmview also created a regional communications center, which dispatches calls for neighboring cities.

“We went out there and tried to give Palmview a positive image,” Barrera said, adding that the department focused on community policing and created a Crime Stoppers program.

November 2016 marked the beginning of the end for Barrera.

The Progress for Palmview candidates — Linda Sarabia, Joel Garcia and Javier Ramirez — took control of the City Council and started replacing the management team.

Assistant City Manager David Nacianceno quit. City Attorney Rick Perez resigned. The City Council fired City Manager Ramon Segovia. And City Secretary Bertha Garza followed.

The police department also went through a management shakeup.

Police Cmdr. Lenny Sanchez left for the Hidalgo County District Attorney’s Office and the city terminated police Capt. Saul Uvalle to save money.

Just a year after the election, Barrera found himself the last top-level manager from the prior administration.

“This is not political,” Sarabia said. “If it would have been political, it would have been done the first month.”

Major problems between Barrera and the interim city manager, Leo Olivares, started during March.

“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.

Hours later, Barrera accused Olivares of sexual harassment. City Attorney Gus Acevedo, though, cleared Olivares.

The problems they discussed during mid-March became the basis for a five-page memo, which documented management problems at the police department.

Palmview placed Barrera on administrative leave and attorneys started negotiating a severance agreement.

The city offered to compensate Barrera for any remaining sick and vacation time, which totaled roughly $30,000, Acevedo said.

Barrera wanted roughly $90,000, based on a different calculation of remaining sick and vacation time, Peña said. He also wanted compensation for extra work.

Neither Peña nor Acevedo had the exact numbers handy Monday night and relied on their recollections of the negotiations.

Concerned about the new, unspecified allegations, the City Council rejected the settlement and fired Barrera.

“It is what it is, you know,” said Mayor Jerry Perez, who wouldn’t say whether or not he supported the decision.
“That’s pretty much what they recommended. We have to live with it and move on.”

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