Ex-Las Vegas, N.M., public works director suing city
Lawsuit claims Gurulé-Giron wanted then-public works head to bypass hiring rules
The former public works director of Las Vegas, N.M., is suing the city government, claiming he was fired after he refused to illegally hire contractors that Mayor Tonita Gurulé-Giron wanted for certain city projects.
Plaintiff Martin Gonzales is seeking reimbursement for lost wages and benefits, and damages for emotional stress.
He claims that shortly after GuruléGiron was elected in 2016 she told him “to use a specific contractor for an upcoming public works construction project.” His suit does not identify the contractor.
Gonzales’ complaint states that he told the mayor he would have to seek competitive bids in accordance with state law.
He claims Gurulé-Giron told him to call the contractor she preferred and “let him know the quotes” on bids. Gonzales said he refused, telling the mayor this would be illegal.
Through a spokeswoman, GuruléGiron said she had just become aware of
the lawsuit, filed in May, and was awaiting a briefing on it before she could comment.
In May 2016, Gonzales’ suit states, Gurulé-Giron again approached him, this time to talk about a roofing project. Gonzales told her the city did not have enough money to initiate the project. Gonzales claims the mayor told him to “find the funds and to give the bid to a specific contractor.” Once more, Gonzales said, he refused.
On June 1, 2016, the city manager told Gonzales that his services were no longer needed.
Gonzales said he was a year away from retirement when he was fired.
Then, he said in the suit, the flooring contract went to the contractor he had been told to hire.
A recent state audit of the city found several problems with bid procedures in the Las Vegas government. “Almost every person interviewed expressed concern regarding the installation of hardwood flooring at the city,” the audit states. A drinking fountain in City Hall, which had been improperly installed, had caused a leak requiring carpet and flooring replacement.”
The city awarded that contract to a Las Vegas company called Gemini Construction, owned by Marvin Salazar, who worked on Gurulé-Giron’s 2016 campaign.
The city awarded a contract of $8,998 to Salazar’s company on the basis of a purported emergency. Then the scope of the project ballooned.
The city changed the contract to include installation of hardwood floors in undamaged offices.
These contract changes should not have occurred, auditors said. They determined that replacing the carpet with hardwood flooring was not necessary.
“The city improperly converted an emergency procurement in the amount of $10,000 for the replacement of carpet to a project costing approximately $94,000 for the cleanup of water and conversion of the city offices from carpet to hardwood,” the audit report stated. “The cost of this additional work was $84,204.”
Gonzales is asking for a jury trial. He is one of at least three former city officials suing the city over their terminations.
In April, the Las Vegas Optic reported that former City Attorney Dave Romero and former City Manager Elmer Martinez had filed lawsuits over their firings shortly after Gurulé-Giron took office.