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Socorro Council Members/City Manager React to Investigation

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POSTED: Friday, April 2, 2010 - 6:44pm

UPDATED: Friday, April 2, 2010 - 6:46pm

SOCORRO--- A political ploy. That's what some of the accused Council Members and City Manager say is behind an investigation into an alleged Open Meetings Act violation.

El Paso County Sheriff's deputies are investigating three Socorro City Council members and City Manager after a report was filed with Socorro Police.

"The case just barely fell in our laps. We are talking to people (Friday), and we are in the early stages of the investigation," said Dep. Jesse Tovar Thursday afternoon.

A video posted on YouTube Thursday shows what's behind the allegations, which were filed by fellow council member Jesse Gandara, Jr.

It was regarding an agenda item allowing for the Human Resources director to have overtime, and hours extended from 25 to 35 hours a week.

"There was an admission by the City Manager that she polled three city council members and then she went on to state who those council members were individually," said Gandara.

Those council members, Sergio Cox, Tommy Faulkner, and Jose Hernandez, appear to admit they discussed a decision on the topic with Fraire prior to the meeting.

If true, that may be against the Open Meeting Act, which prohibits the majority of Council Members to discuss City matters and make decisions outside of a named public venue.

In the video, Fraire tells council members, "I did speak with some of the council members in reference... regards to have her work at that time that we needed her. They expressed their opinion and said 'yes.' "

Fraire hadn't heard of the allegations yet, though deputies began questioning those involved Friday.

She did admit to us she made a mistake.

"All I want to say is that I apologize for using the wrong word 'yes' when I should have elaborated in saying exactly what they said," said Fraire.

Fraire claims she had asked council members whether she should put the issue on the ballot; she denies asking permission for approval of overtime.

We also showed Gandara's video to fellow accused council member Sergio Cox.

"All this petty stuff with Jesse Gandara, Jr. that he's thrown at us and everybody else is just because he's in the minority. And he doesn't like it," said Cox.

If Sheriff's investigators find the four to be at fault, they all could face jail time or a fine.

But Gandara says he hopes the case is wrapped up before election time, so the public can make an informed decision guilty or not.

We called every council member involved in the investigation.

Joe Hernandez did not return our phone call.
Tommy Faulkner did not want to go on camera, but says Fraire only asked his opinion about putting the item on the agenda.

The case will be investigated by the Sheriff's Office White Collar Crime Team.

This investigation falls ust a month before the City of Socorro will elect new City Council members May 8.

All members, with the exception of Joe Hernandez, are running to hold their seat.

We also asked Gandara why he waited nearly two months to file the complaint.

He said he needed to research the law before doing so.

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