David Almonte; More Hush Money?

almonte_out01As you likely know, on March 5, 2015 I alerted you that rumors were all over the place that David Almonte had left the city. The circumstances of his departure are murky. I have heard many opinions as to why and how he departed the city however; the city has only responded with the standard “we wish him the best” message to protect against litigation.

Almonte was one of the finalists for the city manager position. Tommy Gonzalez was appointed the city manager from that pool of finalists. David Almonte, a 20-year veteran of the city, is considered by many to be the last major official who worked under Joyce Wilson. On March 6, 2014, Diana Washington Valdez reported in the El Paso Times that Almonte was “retiring” at the end of the month.

According to Washington’s report, Almonte oversaw the police and fire contracts. Washington reported that in 2013, the El Paso Municipal Police Officers Association “filed a grievance following a miscalculation in police pay scales.” Washington added, “the city paid $1.2 million in back pay and benefits,” as a result of the controversy.

The ongoing Fire Department negotiations have led to allegations that the city has issued erroneous information about the reasons why there is an impasse between the fire department union and the city. During a recent city council meeting, discussing the need to go to the voters should a contract not be reached, several fire department officials criticized the city for allowing misleading information about the contract to enter the public realm.

According to the commentary, the city allowed the notion to perpetuate that fire officials were against drug testing within their ranks. Fire officials have retorted that the issue of drug testing was broached during the onset of the negotiations. The fire department was asking for a “second-chance option” where firefighters, who tested positive, could be referred to counseling and rehabilitation instead of immediate termination. That request was immediately dropped.

Currently, firefighters, who test positive, during drug testing, are terminated. The issue of drug testing, within the ranks, was not the impediment to reaching a contract agreement, yet the community was under the impression that the firefighters were against drug testing.

Whether David Almonte was instrumental in this notion has yet to be determined.

Although the city has officially stated that Almonte is set to retire at the end of the month, the ongoing controversy involving the firefighters’ negotiations raises questions about Almonte’s departure from the city. Tomorrow, city council will be discussing David Almonte in executive session.

It is unlikely that any action will be taken publicly and thus gleaning any new information about the contents of the discussions are next to impossible. Yet, the executive session item raises the question about whether Almonte’s departure from the city was voluntary. It also raises the question on whether some type of accommodation will be made under the guise of avoiding future litigation.

A previous, city deputy manager, also left under a cloud of suspicion and it was later learned by the community that a payout was made to Jane Shang by the city.

In the case of David Almonte, no one has been willing to go on the record as to why he was leaving the city. A source in the city, who asked to remain anonymous, has told me that David Almonte was “taking vacation to help his daughter move” but that he “was not expected to return to the city.”

The question remains, if David Almonte is retiring from the city then why the rush? Why was a previous announcement about an upcoming retirement not been made prior to Almonte’s vacation? Additionally, why is he apparently not returning to work again? This, for a 20-year high-level city official. More importantly, is the city embarking on another “hush” money payment to keep its skeleton’s in the closet?

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