City Secretary Biatris “Susie” Vela retired abruptly on Tuesday, following several months of conflict between her and members of the Del Rio City Council.
The city on Wednesday posted the following on its Facebook page: “Notification: As of today, 02/27/2019, we will not be issuing birth/death certificates or vendor licenses until further notice. We apologize for the inconvenience. Thank you.”
In response to several comments asking for an explanation, the city responded, “This was due to recent changes in the city secretary’s office.”
Vela presented her retirement letter to Councilman Jim DeReus and Mayor Bruno “Ralphy” Lozano late Tuesday.
The council has for months been going back and forth with Vela over the completion and correction of minutes for city council meetings going back to the start of 2018.
On several occasions, members of the council, including Councilwoman Diana Bejarano Salgado and Councilman Alfredo “Fred” Carranza have discussed mistakes in the meeting minutes, though Vela maintains that no members of the council ever came to her office to discuss those problems with her in person.
Matters seemed to come to a head during the Jan. 16 council meeting, when, following a closed session described on the council agenda as “discussion of personnel matters – city secretary; possible action in open session regarding same. Deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, dismissal, resignation and/or no action.”
Following that meeting, Carranza said, “I have some directives that the council would like to provide to Mrs. Vela, the city secretary. We would like, concerning the minutes, Mrs. Vela, on the Feb. 5 meeting, we would like to have the minutes for January through April of 2018, which are the ones I believe you are currently working on, and also the minutes of January of 2019, the two meetings of this month.
“And then on the meeting of Feb. 26, which is the second one of February, we would want the meeting minutes for May through December of 2018 and then also the minutes from Feb. 5, 2019, because now we will be getting, every meeting, the minutes from the previous meeting, correct?” Carranza said.
“You’re going to get them 15 days after (the meeting),” Vela replied.
Carranza continued, “Also on the Feb. 5 meeting, the council would like to have you to provide your training schedule of what you feel like you need to attend, if you can give us what that schedule is going to be like, and that could include training on elections, training on open records requests, training on leadership and any others that you feel like you need to attend.”
“Also for the Feb. 5 meeting, we would like a plan of action for getting yourself and your staff up to task; that includes any training you feel like your staff needs to attend, we’d like a plan of action on the evaluation of your staff, and we’d also like to request a weekly report from the city secretary’s office that can include any work your staff has done, the number of birth certificates, death certificates and any other things your staff handles on a daily basis,” Carranza said.
“All right, sir,” Vela replied.
Carranza also told Vela that the mayor would give her a written copy of the directives.
Lozano said he believed the weekly report should also include any open records request made by the public.
“This is to ensure that you are given the proper measures for opportunity for growth and success within our organization, however, this also gives us a matrix for a future evaluation that we will be bringing back to the table as early as Feb. 5, so do expect us to have another item brought back regarding the position of city secretary,” Lozano said.
“Yes, sir. Thank you,” Vela said.
During Tuesday’s noon meeting of the council, Vela presented minutes for council meetings from Jan. 9, 2018, through Feb. 5.
In discussion on Tuesday, Carranza pointed out several mistakes he had found in the minutes, and Salgado enumerated a long list of mistakes she said she had found in the minutes Vela presented.
After additional discussion, Salgado said, “I would like to decline these minutes.”
Lozano then made a motion to decline the minutes, with Councilwoman Liz Elizalde de Calderon giving the second. Lozano’s motion passed unanimously on a 6-0 vote, with Councilman Raul C. Ojeda not present at the meeting.
During the council’s meeting Tuesday night, council members went into executive session at 7:48 p.m. to discuss several agenda items including the city secretary position.
About two-and-a-half hours later, Lozano emerged from the executive session and said he wanted to speak to Vela in his office.
Vela had been waiting with other city staffers in lobby outside the mayor’s and city manger’s offices.
She was in the mayor’s office only a few minutes, then emerged and walked out of City Hall. Another city staff member who was present when she left said Vela had announced she had retired.
Vela confirmed her retirement in an interview Thursday with the Del Rio News-Herald.
“I was asked to resign, and I told them I was not going to resign but retire, and I handed them a letter to that effect,” Vela said.
“Councilman Jim DeReus and Mayor Lozano met with me and told me the council had decided that because of the minutes that I wasn’t doing my job, and I had two options, they were going to fire me or I would resign. I was prepared; if they asked me to leave, I was going to retire,” she added.
Vela said she elaborated on her position in the letter.
“I told them I have felt in the past few months that I have not been happy in my job, and I felt that I was being bullied. Every time I went to a council meeting, I felt I was being bullied. The mayor stated he always wants communication, but there was no communication with the council,” Vela said.
Vela has served as city secretary since March 13, 2018. She had been deputy city secretary for about seven months prior to being appointed city secretary.
“I feel that they treated me unfairly because on Feb. 8, the mayor left me a letter telling me what the council wanted me to do, but with cyber attack (in early January) I had no computer, no internet, and the council wanted me to do 14 months of minutes with no computer. I’m not really sure how they expected me to get all of that done,” Vela said.