EL PASO, Texas (CBS4) — A review of the City of El Paso's gas cards found taxpayer money covered "significant fuel usage" by two council members in 2022, according to the Internal Audit Office's review that was shared Wednesday.
Rep. Cassandra Hernandez of District 3 purchased the most fuel totaling 1,943.97 gallons of fuel in 112 transactions at a cost of $6,691.49, according to the review.
The review stated, "the data indicates 2 or more vehicles are being fueled. The amount of fuel purchased by District 3 for Calendar Year 2022 appears excessive."
District 6, which was represented at the time by former Rep. Claudia Rodriguez, purchased the second-highest amount of fuel totaling 1,458. 96 gallons of fuel in 86 transactions at a cost of $5,293.94.
The review stated, "Based on the amount of fuel being purchased, the frequency of fuel purchases on consecutive/same days, and the type of fuel purchased in Calendar Year 2022; the data indicates 2 or more vehicles are being fueled. The amount of fuel purchased by District 6 for Calendar Year 2022 appears excessive."
Both Hernandez and Rodriguez allegedly purchased gas on consecutive days.
Rodriguez also bought gas two times at a station in Van Horn, the review noted.
Mayor Oscar Leeser
District 1 Rep. Peter Svarzbein
District 2 Rep. Alexsandra Annello
District 3 Rep. Cassandra Hernandez
District 4 Rep. Joe Molinar
District 5 Rep. Isabel Salcido
District 6 Rep. Claudia Lizette Rodriguez
District 7 Rep. Henry Rivera
District 8 Rep. Cissy Lizarraga
Gas cards used by city staff are funded by the city and taxpayers. They are intended for work use only.
City Council members should be using gas cards to get to and from district and committee meetings, events in the community and other city functions.
Hernandez sent the following press release about the review:
As your elected representative, I am deeply concerned about recent actions taken by the Financial Oversight and Audit Committee. It has come to my attention that the committee is allegedly utilizing the internal auditor department to attack minority members of city council by cherry-picking gas card expenses. I strongly condemn these actions, which are not only woefully irresponsible but also cliquish and cornering. These are reasons why I am voting against Prop J.
It is surprising that the council has dedicated so much time dismantling the city's vision for community progress and has spent less time investigating credible sexual harassment complaints against sitting members of council. These unsubstantiated audits, which single out members of council, are being used as a political weapon to discredit our authorized business and legitimate expenses. This is both disingenuous and petty, and shows a lack of transparency.
I want to make it clear that the gas card expenses in question are observations, and the term "excessive" is an opinion relative to the work, or lack thereof, from other council offices. I have been present in my district, constantly communicating with constituents, neighborhood groups, business owners, and community leaders. In just four months this year, my office has hosted several district community meetings, given numerous presentations to neighborhood groups and at event presentations, gathered thousands of signatures to rename the police headquarters after the late Police Chief Allen, participated and hosted community cleanups, attended school celebrations and ribbon cuttings, was principal for the day, presented various proclamations and resolutions honoring the many efforts from our local organizations, held a discussion panel and online survey on the future of our city manager and police chief positions, organized and hosted a sensory-friendly Easter event for the all-ability community, and most recently launched an amazing city-wide tree planting initiative. I am prioritizing my district and urging the Mayor and Council to do the same.
I want to emphasize that there are no violations of any city ordinances or policies, and the report only demonstrates observations. I stand by my record and remain committed to serving our constituents and working towards a brighter future for our city. My team and I will not be deterred by these petty politics and will continue to fight for what is right.
CBS4 spoke to El Pasoans about the findings.
"Unwise spending in one area does make me suspicious about unwise spending in other areas. Makes you think that they may be looking at the perks of being on an office board than really helping the taxpayers," said Marcel Sanchez.
"If she's traveling and trying to promote herself then, that makes sense and it just depends where you gas up, it's expensive," said Yolanda Codina.
CBS4 Reporter Jennifer Cuevas will have a detailed look at the review's findings and how they compare coming up on CBS4 News at 10 p.m.
The Financial Oversight and Audit Committee will be meeting Thursday at 1 p.m. to go over the findings of the review.
On April 25, City Council directed the city manager to give each representative a monthly report on the city-issued funds for the transparent use of tax dollars and financial management.
CBS4 filed a public information request on April 25 for all notes and reports that were taken for the fuel card audit from City Council, the city manager, city manager staff and the El Paso Police Department.
The Office of the City Attorney responded by saying, "Please be advised that the current review has not been finalized. All "notes and reports taken” for both audits will be withheld under Texas Government Code Section 552.116, Audit Working Papers, as per your agreeing to redactions."
This is a developing story, check back for updates.
Thursday's meeting can be watched via the City’s website. http://www.elpasotexas.gov/videos, YouTube https://www.youtube.com/user/cityofelpasotx/videos and via television on City15.
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