Killeen City Manager Glenn Morrison on Thursday rejected a recommendation by the city employee grievance board to reinstate fired finance director Barbara Gonzales.
Gonzales was terminated Dec. 12 after a two-month internal investigation of the city’s Fleet Services Department revealed widespread theft at the city motor pool, which was under her purview at the time.
A city employee of 14 years, Gonzales was not accused of theft. However, during last week’s hearing, the former department head admitted to lying to investigators and interfering with the police investigation.
In a statement Thursday,
Morrison thanked the grievance board, but said he fired Gonzales based on observations during her time as finance director, “culminating in her actions related to the Fleet Services investigation.”
Morrison said Gonzales admitted to interfering with the police investigation, lying to police and violating a directive from City Hall not to contact other city employees while on administrative leave.
“There was no evidence presented during the hearing refuting any of these facts; therefore, I stand behind my original decision, and I am upholding her termination,” Morrison said.
Since the April 24 hearing, political leaders on both sides of the case have criticized the city’s employee hearing process, which was tested with the unique circumstances of Gonzales’ case.
Gonzales is the first city department head to be fired, and Morrison — who has the final decision in the case — testified against her during the hearing.
The panel’s findings, which were released by the city Thursday, were welcomed by Gonzales’ attorney, Bill Aleshire of Austin.
“Even with a grievance system that is stacked against the employee, Barbara Gonzales was today partially vindicated by the board’s unanimous decision that she should be rehired,” Aleshire said.
“This should be a wake-up call to city officials, that the injustice done to Barbara Gonzales can still be seen through all of the city’s chatter and cover-up excuses,” Aleshire said.
Gonzales also sued the city under the Texas Whistleblower Act. Her trial is expected to start early next year.
Both Killeen Mayor Dan Corbin and Mayor Pro Tem Michael Lower said Thursday that the board’s ruling in favor of Gonzales would not affect their stance against negotiating a settlement with the former finance director.
Councilman Jonathan Okray said he did not have enough information to comment on the lawsuit, but he said the opinion of the employee grievance panel should not be ignored.
“The decision of the review board, if it serves a purpose, should have some weight,” Okray said. “If not, what is the point of having it?”