Late last week, the city attorney notified Barbara Carrasco that the City was rejecting her ethics complaint against Claudia Ordaz. As I reported on January 28, 2016, Barbara Carrasco filed an ethics complaint against Claudia Ordaz on January 26, 2016.
In her complaint, Carrasco accused Claudia Ordaz of unlawfully disclosing executive session information to Veronica Escobar. The complaint was derived from the text messages between Jose Landeros and Claudia Ordaz that were made public via an open records request filed by Ali Razavi.
In the response to Barbara Carrasco, the city attorney’s office rejected the complaint based on the fact that Ordaz has not been convicted of a Class B misdemeanor. The city attorney’s office wrote; “You [Carrasco] have alleged Ms. Ordaz has violated Section 551.146 of the Texas Government Codes (a Class B misdemeanor) and have provided documentation to support the allegation.”
The city attorney’s response adds; “You [Carrasco] have not provided evidence Ms. Ordaz has been convicted of a Class B misdemeanor and the Ethics Commission does not have the authority to make such a determination.”
The City Attorney’s response points out that the alleged violation is a violation of Texas law. It adds that the Ethics Commission is tasked with investigating violations of the El Paso Municipal Code, specifically Chapter 2.92. Chapter 2.92 does not address disclosing executive session material although it addresses the conviction of a city official. As Claudia Ordaz has not been convicted, it is the city attorney’s opinion that the Ethics Commission cannot investigate the allegation.
Currently, the city’s Ethics Commission can only investigate complaints that have been forwarded to them by the city attorney’s office. Citizens are not allowed to file complaints against city officials directly to the Ethics Commission. The complaints must be first vetted by the city attorney’s office.
When asked about the city attorney declining the complaint, Carrasco stated that the city attorney, in essence, is telling her that she should have “first charged her [Ordaz] and found her guilty of the misdemeanor” before filing the ethics complaint. Carrasco added that to take that position “ignores that an ethics violation may have occurred” because it “severely limits” the scope of the Ethics Commission when investigating wrongdoing in their government. Carrasco is currently investigating how she might proceed, in light of the city attorney’s rejection of her complaint.
It is important to note that the city attorney did not exonerate Claudia Ordaz, but instead opined that the city’s Ethics Commission did not have the authority to investigate the allegation because Ordaz had not been found guilty of the Class B Misdemeanor. Should Carrasco, or any other voter, elect to file a criminal complaint with the proper authorities then upon a conviction, the Ethics Commission would have the opportunity to review the complaint.