Rio Grande City terminates city secretary

Rio Grande City commissioners terminated City Secretary Lyzette Peña last week, months after placing her on administrative leave following her arrest in January on accusations she illegally recorded other city employees.

On Thursday, city commissioners voted 4-1 to terminate Peña, effective immediately. Commissioner Alberto Escobedo was the sole vote against firing her.

In her place, the commissioners appointed the interim city secretary, Melissa Garza, to the permanent position.

Garza had been filling the role since Peña’s arrest in January for unlawful interception, use or disclosure of wire, oral, or electronic communications. The charge stems from allegations that she placed a recording device in the office of the city’s human resources director, Valerie Brown, on Sept. 6, 2019.

Brown allegedly discovered the recording device under her desk and later reported it to the city manager.

Last month, a grand jury indicted Peña on three counts of unlawful interception, one of those counts for the recording of Brown. The other two were for the recording of police Chief Noe Castillo and police officer Juan Perez — both of whom were also heard on the recording. They both stated they did not consent to being recorded and provided affidavits for the investigation.

Before the indictment on Nov. 6, though, the commissioners had already considered firing Peña.

A city commission meeting in August included discussion and possible action on her termination listed on the meeting agenda.

Ultimately, the commissioners were prevented in going through with it as Peña’s attorney, Juan Sonny Palacios Jr., filed a temporary restraining order against the city.

The petition for the restraining order argued the commissioners were attempting to fire Peña in retaliation for a grievance she filed against then-City Commissioner Dave “Chachi” Jones.

During a hearing last week, on Nov. 30, presiding Judge Federico “Fred” Hinojosa dismissed Peña’s case against the city, clearing the way for the commissioners to terminate her.

Neither Peña nor Palacios, her attorney, returned requests for comment.