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Ethics Review Commission reprimands City Rep. Romero

The City of El Paso’s Ethics Review Commission on Wednesday reprimanded City Representative Larry Romero after concluding he used his position to repave streets to his own benefit.

Romero faced ethics complaints filed by community activist Jim Tolbert, who was Romero’s opponent in the District 2 race back in 2013. Tolbert is now running for the District 2 seat vacated by Romero when he resigned in February citing health issues.

The city Ethics Review Commission investigated three allegations against Romero.

The first was his involvement with City Manager Tommy Gonzalez and the search for a new financial adviser without council’s approval last April. The process would have forced the termination of the current financial adviser before the contract expired. During the vetting process, Romero failed to disclose he had worked with one of the principals of the firm he recommended, Estrada Hinojosa.

The second allegation was his involvement in the installation of speed humps on Stanton Street across from his alma mater, Cathedral High School, without going through the proper channels. The speed-reducing humps did not meet city criteria for installation on that street.

The third complaint alleged Romero repaved streets used by two campaign contributors and used city resources for his own benefit. Romero admitted he added streets to the Capital Improvements Plan approved by the previous council. Romero has said he didn’t know he had an obligation to have the entire council approve any changes to the plan and said it hadn’t been done in the two-plus years he’d been on council and he wasn’t the only city rep who had made changes to the plan.

The ethics review commission concluded there was only enough evidence to reprimand Romero for his involvement in the repaving of roads and using city resources for his own benefit.

Romero, who was present during Wednesday night’s meeting, agreed to the findings and signed the letter of reprimand. As a city representative, he could have lost his job.

For months, the city representative refused to answer questions posed by the commission’s investigator, Ross Fischer. It wasn’t until council directed Mayor Oscar Leeser to write Romero a letter asking that he answer the questions regarding the aborted search for a new financial adviser, the street repaving, his connection to City Manager Gonzalez and the placement of speed humps near Cathedral.

Even though Romero resigned, state law mandates he remain on holdover status until his seat is filled, meaning he’s still receiving his paycheck even when he hasn’t served his constituents since December. Because of that, members of the Ethics Commission decided to continue their investigation into Romero even after he resigned.

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