The termination of Killeen Finance Director Barbara Gonzales has become a politically divisive issue this week, splitting local officials over how far the city manager’s power should reach.
After hearing nearly six hours of testimony from five city employees last week, the Killeen Civilian Personnel Hearing Board recommended Tuesday that Gonzales be reinstated.
Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison announced his much-anticipated rejection of the board’s nonbinding decision Thursday, upholding his December decision to fire Gonzales.
In a public statement, Morrison said his chief reasons for firing Gonzales were that she interfered with a police investigation, violated a city-mandated gag order and lied to investigators.
Board chairman Frederick Bee said the board weighed a separate set of facts in its decision.
At the top of the board’s findings was that neither Morrison, nor any previous city manager, had documented “counseling” or reprimands given to Gonzales before her administrative leave in October.
“We as a committee felt that the city failed to follow proper procedure in that she was never counseled,” Bee said. “By (Morrison’s) own admission, she was a good employee up to that time.”
Board member Rosa Hereford said she was not surprised by Morrison’s rejection but defended the board’s decision and process.
“This was a tough one,” Hereford said. “We looked at what had happened with other divisions and departments over the years and we just thought that this was the most extreme action the city manager had taken, for her to be terminated.”
The panel’s official ruling was that Gonzales’ termination was a “disproportionate penalty” based on her infractions.
Board member Valerie Jordan said she thought the employee grievance process for this case treated the employee unfairly, since Morrison was a witness against Gonzales at her hearing.
“I believe there is a conflict of interest,” Jordan said. “Whenever the city manager is involved, I think that the city council should make the final decision.”
Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin said Thursday that he thought the board was biased and said he supported the city manager’s rejection of its ruling.
“The board’s decision was readily apparent and obvious in the first few minutes of the hearing,” Corbin said. “They are entitled to their opinion and (Morrison) is entitled to his.”
Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lower also disagreed with the board’s ruling.
“I would like to know what they were thinking,” Lower said. “The information in the hearing had nothing to do with the reason that she was fired. (Morrison) did exactly what any executive officer would do.”