Two former city of Española executives have filed a retaliatory termination complaint against Mayor Alice Lucero, claiming she fired them for refusing to go along with her political cronyism.
Former City Manager Kelly Duran and former Planning Director Patrick Nicholson say in their state District Court lawsuit that Lucero frequently made decisions based on political favoritism or vendettas and became “angry or annoyed” when her subordinates tried to inform her of legal requirements or policies that prevented her from doing as she pleased.
Duran — who was hired in 2014 and terminated in 2016 by a City Council vote of 5-4 in which Lucero cast the tiebreaking vote — says in the complaint that Lucero condoned the “fixing” of past-due utility bills and the city-funded grading of private driveways, among other things. And that when he protested, “he was routinely told that this is how things had been done for many years.”
According to the complaint, Lucero also turned a blind eye when a previous city department director used his position for personal gain by negotiating with Verizon to have a cellphone tower placed on his private property, sought to have a political opponent fired, and allowed no-bid contracts to be awarded to supporters, which resulted in deals that were fiscally detrimental to the city.
The lawsuit says Lucero even interfered in an internal investigation involving a favored employee.
“Lucero went so far as to contact the female complainant and question whether she could have been insulted or harassed by the comments in an effort to minimize the harassment,” according to the complaint.
When Duran chose to hire Nicholson as director of planning and land use in 2016, the complaint says, Lucero questioned Duran about why he hired “a white guy that wasn’t from here.”
“Like Duran,” the complaint says, “Nicholson opposed unethical and politically motivated practices within the City of Española,” which did not endear him to Lucero.
“Nicholson was repeatedly told that he was not from Española and that he didn’t know how things were done in Española,” the complaint says.
Lucero forbade Nicholson from issuing code violations to two “influential persons” who supported her, according to the lawsuit, which says she also pressured him to drop a violation he had issued to a “strong political ally” of hers and moved to fire him after he refused.
Lucero said Thursday she hadn’t seen the complaint but that the allegations in it were “just allegations” and that the two former executives “were both at-will, exempt employees … and they have no recourse.”
Duran and Nicholson claim they should qualify for protections and compensation for damages under the state Whistleblower Protection Act because they were fired for their reporting of and opposition to “illegal and improper acts and failures to act.”
Contact Phaedra Haywood at 505-986-3068 or email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @phaedraann.