After hearing nearly six hours of testimony Wednesday, a four-member panel has five days to decide whether former Killeen finance director Barbara Gonzales was treated unfairly when she was fired in December.
The Killeen Personnel Hearing Board’s nonbinding decision is not likely to change the mind of City Manager Glenn Morrison, who fired Gonzales on Dec. 12. However, a recommendation for reinstatement could provide legal support for her lawsuit against the city filed under the Texas Whistleblower Act in March.
Gonzales is seeking between $200,000 and $1 million in damages or reinstatement in the lawsuit, which is expected to be tried in Bell County District Court early next year.
Although Gonzales admitted to lying to investigators and breaking the city’s gag order, city attorneys struggled Wednesday to establish her role in the widespread theft at the city’s fleet services division, which led to her termination.
Personnel board members — Rosa Hereford, Valerie Jordan, Brockley Moore and Chairman Fredrick Bee — have five business days to recommend a reversal of the termination to Morrison.
Morrison will have 30 days to decide whether to reverse his decision to fire Gonzales, who was terminated after a two-month police investigation and internal audit, which revealed gross mismanagement of fleet services.
City Auditor Amanda Wallace said the audit of fleet services — the city’s motor pool — identified various items missing from inventory, including 48 tires, vehicle parts, engines, tools and 2,730 gallons of diesel fuel valued at $7,819.
Wallace also said 23 “disposed” city vehicles were unaccounted for, and it’s unclear where the vehicles went.
Three fleet services employees lost their jobs in the wake of the scandal, which was investigated by Killeen police beginning in September.
During Wednesday’s appeal hearing, the board tried to establish why Morrison chose to fire Gonzales, who was not accused of theft.
For two years, Gonzales was the direct supervisor of the fleet services director, Kim Randall, who resigned after the investigation.
When questioned during Wednesday’s hearing, Morrison said Gonzales disobeyed instructions, interfered with the police investigation and showed a “lack of oversight and direction in her department.”
The police report said Gonzales knowingly disobeyed Killeen Police Chief Dennis Baldwin’s orders to stay away from the fleet services barn and to refrain from speaking to any city employees other than police investigators during the investigation.
On one occasion, Gonzales called the police investigator from a fleet services phone, according to police.
Assistant City Attorney Jerris Mapes played recordings of several voicemails Gonzales left on a city finance employee’s cellphone, trying to persuade him to speak with her after the investigation began.
“They can’t tap your phones because that’s illegal,” Gonzales said in the recording. “We’re setting precedence with this. It’s a bunch of nonsense.”
Gonzales said she disobeyed the police orders because she “wanted to be with her people.”
The city’s case lacked documentation that Gonzales’ misconduct began before she was placed on administrative leave in October.
Her personnel file, which spans her 14 years with the city, contains virtually no written complaints from Morrison or other supervisors.
Morrison testified her “attendance was atrocious,” but could not present documentation of reprimands before October, although he said he had counseled her many times verbally over her performance.
“If they were important to you, you would get down and get supporting documentation,” Jordan said.
According to the Killeen Employee Policies and Rules, the personnel board may recommend reversal only if the employee is discriminated against for race, age or gender or given a “disproportionate penalty based on the infraction.”
As part of her testimony, Gonzales’ counsel presented eight examples of recent malfeasance in city departments, in which the department heads were not fired.
Gonzales is the first department head to be fired, according to the city.
Among the cases presented by Gonzales’ lawyer were thefts of a safe and a money bag containing $1,200 from the Parks and Recreation Department.
What seemed to set Gonzales’ case apart from other examples of city mismanagement were her actions after the police chief placed her on administrative leave.
The city suggested she interfered with the investigation, but Lt. Jeff Donohue, who lead the probe, testified Gonzales’ visits did not change the outcome of his investigation.