City of Alice releases personnel file as ordered by AG

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The City of Alice released the personnel file of former interim-city manager and human resources director Ruben Maldonado Friday, and detailed allegations that Maldonado attempted to defraud the city.

Maldonado was notified of his termination in a letter written by City Manager Albert Uresti on July 24. In that letter, Uresti alleged Maldonado had violated six separate sections of the City of Alice Personnel Manual.

Those allegations included "any conduct prohibited by Federal, State, or local law, City Charter, City Code, personnel policies and procedures or departmental rules; attempted fraud in securing appointment; insubordination, dishonesty, any conduct detrimental to the proper order, discipline or attitude toward the municipal service; and unauthorized use or disclosure of official information."

On Friday, Uresti said the day after the city council selected him over Maldonado as city manager, Maldonado came to him and attempted to have him approve a pay increase for Maldonado that would have doubled his salary.

The council voted to hire Uresti during a July 9 city council meeting.

Maldonado, who was also a finalist for the position, was relieved of his duties as interim-city manager at that time and was to return to his position as human resources director.

According to documents in his personnel file, on July 10, Maldonado prepared a personnel status form reducing his salary from the interim rate of $41.26 per hour to his previous rate of $17.84 per hour, a total of $37,100 per year.

He then allegedly filled out a second personnel status form indicating an additional title of "Director of Personnel" and increasing his salary to $36.05 per hour, a total of $74,000 per year. Under the comments portion of the form, the phrase, "as per council July 9, 2007 meeting" is written.

On Friday, Uresti said Maldonado brought the form to him for signature on the morning of July 10, Uresti's first day as city manager.

"When he presented it to me, I was taken aback by it, I was kind of flabbergasted by the increase of over doubling his salary," Uresti said. "I called the council members individually and asked if any of this had been approved, and they told me no."

Uresti said a check of the minutes of the meeting revealed the council had never indicated Maldonado should have a salary increase or should be appointed as director of personnel.

"As far as I know, there's never been (a director of personnel position), it's always been a human resources manager," Uresti said.

Also included in Maldonado's personnel file are statements from human resources employees JoAnn Ramon and Rosalinda Hinojosa written in July. Those statements indicate Maldonado seemed to be agitated by the council's appointment of Uresti to the position of city manager, and he was working to have the decision reversed.

Hinojosa wrote that on July 11, two days after the council's vote, Maldonado called former city council member Michael Esparza and asked him to research Uresti's background, and then called James Villarreal, the city's insurance agent, and asked him for assistance in researching Uresti's past.

"(Maldonado) also said to someone on a phone conversation that Mr. Uresti's (appointment) to the CM position was all politics," Hinojosa wrote. "(Maldonado) mentioned to someone during his phone conversations that (Maldonado) gave the council honesty and integrity…but apparently that is not what the council wanted."

Hinojosa and Ramon also wrote they saw Maldonado making copies of Uresti's application for employment.

"I am really concerned about Dr. Maldonado and his lack of confidentiality regarding Mr. Uresti's application, resume and personal information," Ramon wrote. "We are entrusted with very personal and confidential information. I feel that trust has been broken by Dr. Maldonado."

The personnel file also contains a printout of search results from Maldonado's computer, allegedly confirming he was researching Uresti on the Internet from his office computer.

Uresti said the city has not received any litigation from Maldonado regarding his termination, although the city is currently attempting to block a request for unemployment benefits Maldonado has filed with the Texas Workforce Commission.

According to information in Maldonado's file, the TWC investigated Maldonado's termination and determined he did qualify for unemployment benefits.

In a letter sent to Maldonado and the city Aug. 15, the TWC indicated, "Our investigation found your employer discharged you from your last work for a reason that is not misconduct connected with the work."

The city has filed an appeal to that ruling.