Federal Judge Orders COSA to Lift Ban on Disgruntled Ex-employee
Published: April 3, 2013
“He was asking for the times the mayor comes and goes,” he said. “I’m still concerned about what he plans to do.”
Cuellar explained he hoped to start a website called “corruptionsa.com” and wanted to see what, exactly, he could access under the Texas Public Information Act. “I’m not demanding them, I’m asking for them. What’s the harm? I figured it’s just an exercise in open records requests,” Cuellar said, before conceding, “In hindsight, yes, I can see how it looks.”
Outside the courtroom, Harrington said the lack of concrete policy for the City to determine if and when to ban someone is troubling.
Both Bernard and McManus said Fire Chief Charles Hood and a deputy chief approached them in late August asking that Cuellar be banned from certain public buildings, a full six months after he left the department.
“I don’t recall the exact details of the conversations,” was a phrase both men repeated. Neither could remember where or when, exactly, the meetings with Hood took place. Neither had any documentation explaining their reasons for issuing the ban — no threat assessments, no police reports. “Other than recount what transpired some six months earlier, no new information regarding Cuellar being a safety threat was provided,” Rodriguez wrote in his ruling.
Similarly, records released by the city show police never deemed Foddrill, the other citizen banned from City Hall who has filed his own suit in federal court, a threat. What’s more, records show the City has in the past dealt with a threatening worker and handled the case very differently.
According to a police report, in May 2010, Raymond Galvez, a maintenance worker with City Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities, threatened to “shoot and kill everyone” after a testy office exchange. Police responded to Galvez’s home, evaluated him, and charged him with terroristic threat. Records show that officials then banned Galvez from all Convention, Sports & Entertainment Facilities buildings, but not City Hall or Municipal Plaza.
Harrington called the campaign against Cuellar “character assassination,” and insists the City only took action after Cuellar began to file sensitive records requests in August that unearthed questionable practices at the fire department.
One such request was right on target. On August 20, Cuellar asked for records on Nim Kidd, the man now in charge of emergency management at the Texas Department of Public Safety, suspecting the former SAFD district chief was somehow still drawing income from the City. As first detailed by an Austin American-Statesman investigation months after Cuellar’s records request, Kidd, DPS’ most costly executive, has a highly unusual, roundabout pay deal that allows him to continue to earn credit toward his City firefighter’s pension, even though he works elsewhere.
Bernard insisted the timing of the records request and Cuellar’s criminal trespass ban, dated 11 days after Cuellar’s request, are “completely unrelated.” Bernard and McManus would only say their meeting with Chief Hood, in which he called Cuellar a threat and urged officials ban him from City Hall, happened in “late August.” Both claimed to forget the date and had no documentation of any meeting with Hood to discuss Cuellar.
In court, Harrington asked McManus why he signed Cuellar’s ban without ever speaking to him or sending an officer out to evaluate whether he was a threat. “When I hear of a complaint from the fire chief and the deputy fire chief, I don’t take it lightly,” McManus said.
Harrington pressed. Why not offer him the opportunity to explain himself before calling him a violent threat before the whole community?
“I’m not not offering it to him, nor am I offering it to him,” McManus replied.
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