WINDCREST — The city is asking a state district judge to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a censured councilman against its top elected officials and other administrators.
It’s the latest legal salvo in a dispute between Councilman Frank Archuleta and his colleagues, who voted in early February to censure Archuleta after reviewing claims he overstepped his authority.
“This whole situation is simply a vendetta. I do know where the dead bodies lay, and it will all come out,” Archuleta has said about the controversy.
Archuleta’s attorney, Courtney Hilliard, recently amended the suit, filed in December in 225th state District Court, that names fellow council members, Mayor Dan Reese, City Manager Rafael Castillo and City Attorney Ryan Henry as defendants.
According to Archuleta’s legal action, the city defamed his character while proceeding with a hearing on a charter-violation complaint Castillo submitted in October. The suit also contends council members acted without City Charter authority when voting to censure him.
During the Feb. 2 city hearing that led to Archuleta’s censure, council members said they based their actions on a charter clause that permits investigation, censure and removal of an elected official for incompetence or other misconduct in office; willful violation of charter prohibitions; and/or failure to carry out the duties of office.
Archuleta’s colleagues voted 3-1 to censure, but only after Mayor Pro Tem Joan Pedrotti’s motion to remove Archuleta from the dais did not pass unanimously.
Archuleta wants the censure dismissed or ruled invalid, according to his suit.
The city denies Archuleta’s claims and has moved to have the legal complaint thrown out. No ruling has been announced at this time.
Henry said the court should consider the matter moot because the council rendered a decision and has concluded the matter.
According to city officials, the lawsuit had incorrectly cited the 2015 version of the charter — not the current, amended version — and how it addresses the manner in which the city deals with complaints against elected leaders.
“Archuleta did not actually bring a claim which a court could hear as the law allows citizens, through the charter process, to adopt this type of process for handling complaints against council members,” Henry said.
The council hearing in early February offered tense exchanges among several participants.
Archuleta labeled Castillo’s complaint a politically motivated “vendetta” sparked by the councilman’s efforts to probe the actions of a previous city administration.
“It is incredibly difficult for citizens to want to be public servants when Windcrest citizens know the long history of years of dirty politics,” Archuleta told at the time.
Castillo said Archuleta repeatedly overstepped his bounds as an elected official in communications with him and other city staffers outside of council meetings.
Municipal officials said queries for information — even from a council member — should be channeled only through the city manager.
Castillo said Archuleta became “abusive and threatened” himself and City Secretary Rachel Dominguez whenever the councilman felt ignored requesting information or not getting enough correct data.
In one episode, according to Castillo, Archuleta emailed Dominguez to repeat a request for records the city manager had explained to the councilman couldn’t be released under a state attorney general’s ruling and the city attorney’s advice.
According to Castillo, there were occasions where Archuleta directly contacted other city staffers for information and records, including confidential documents. Castillo said he felt Archuleta was not following established procedures.
“In those emails, I include the mayor and mayor pro tem because of the hierarchy of leadership on those responses, and some of (Archuleta’s) responses to me were, ‘Why are you copying Pedrotti?’” Castillo said Feb. 2. “And even Henry responded because it’s a hierarchy, a chain of command, to make sure that in case anything like this were to ever happen, we are following the chain of command.”
Archuleta at the hearing offered his own list of grievances, saying he often got little or no information from Castillo when asking questions during open council sessions or afterward.
“He won’t give me the information,” Archuleta said, pointing at Castillo.
Archuleta also raised questions about the validity of Castillo’s arguments, claiming the city manager kept crucial information from the council and the public.
Three residents — former Councilwomen Kimberly Wright and Pam Dodson, and resident Hobson Cunningham — offered support for Archuleta during the city hearing, which also went into executive session for 30 minutes.
“Every organization, whether corporate or government, needs a devil’s advocate — an advocate who will question management or others in government,” Cunningham said.