'This is a witch hunt,' embattled councilman complains as judge sides with Leon Valley

Hearing into sexual harassment complaints to move forward

By Dillon Collier - Investigative Reporter, Josh Saunders - Photojournalist

SAN ANTONIO - A Bexar County district judge on Friday allowed the city of Leon Valley to move forward with a hearing on allegations that one of its council members sexually harassed a fellow council member and a public works employee during a series of unrelated incidents last year.

Judge Karen Pozza denied a request for a temporary injunction filed by attorneys representing Councilman Benny Martinez after the hourlong hearing.

Pozza allowed cameras to record video of the proceedings but ordered that no audio be recorded inside her courtroom.

Martinez's attorney, Edward Cano, argued that the city cannot move forward with a so-called 3.12 hearing because it has not passed procedures that would guide how the hearing takes place.

Cano also said that Martinez, who has served Leon Valley since 2014, has not been given proper notice to defend himself against some of the complaints.

Ryan Henry, an attorney representing Leon Valley who also conducted the independent investigation into the sexual harassment and hostile work environment complaints against Martinez, said proper procedures to conduct the hearing already are in place.

Henry said the council as early as next week could pass an ordinance pertaining to removing an officer holder from his or her position.

He said Martinez's attempts to block, or at least delay the hearing, were stopping city employees and the councilwoman from having their grievances heard.

Henry's law firm was hired in February to investigate allegations against Martinez, ranging from sexual harassment to sexual misconduct and bullying of city staff.

The subsequent investigation determined that Martinez may have created a hostile work environment, and the report recommended that two of the complaints be taken up by the council for possible action against Martinez.

One of the those complaints came from a Public Works Department employee, who said that on two occasions Martinez tried to look down her shirt.

In the report, her interaction with Martinez was described as him making "a constant visual inspection of her body in an obvious manner."

Martinez is also accused of acting and speaking to Councilwoman Catherine Rodriguez in a sexually suggestive manner.

Rodriguez's complaint includes an allegation that Martinez asked her during a National Night Out event "in a deep luring voice" if she wanted to take a bath.

The same complaint states that two months later, while a picture was being taken during a tree lighting ceremony, Martinez "thrust his crotch forward" until it rubbed against the backside of Rodriguez.

Rodriguez said in an interview last week that Martinez was subtle with his comments and actions.

"It's done in a situation when he can control the situation, where I can't lash out or say, 'Hey, what are you doing?' It's one of those where I have to stay quiet and walk away," Rodriguez said.

Martinez at first declined to comment after the hearing ended, but then agreed to a brief interview.

"When are you going to start investigating the city manager? She's done a lot of things wrong," said Martinez, referring to City Manager Kelly Kuenstler, who did not attend the hearing.

"This is a witch hunt conducted by her," said Martinez, who also criticized the media for not reporting the contents of emails sent to and from him.

The KSAT 12 Defenders in February asked for all of Martinez's emails dating back more than two years.

The city secretary for Leon Valley said the open records request generated more than 10,000 emails.

At last check, city staff members were still redacting confidential information in preparing the emails for the Defenders.

Martinez said he may lose his seat on the council as a result of the investigation.

"It's very well possible. If that's the case, I may consider suing the city of Leon Valley for that," Martinez said.

Reached by email, Kuenstler released the following statement Friday afternoon:

Mr. Collier, I am out of state and was not even part of this hearing. With that said, one of my duties as a city manager is to protect the taxpayers of Leon Valley from liability. I received 6 complaints on Councilor Martinez, all very serious. By hiring an investigator to conduct a pre litigation hearing for the city, I am hopeful that a thorough analysis of the allegations is conducted so that Councilor Martinez and the accusers are given due process. I am also hopeful that my actions of getting this matter investigated prevent the Leon Valley taxpayer from bearing liability. It is the taxpayer who pays my salary and I will always have their best interest in mind, it is ethical and should be expected from any city manager.

Outside of court, Henry denied Martinez's claim that the investigation has been a "witch hunt."

"The city didn't go out looking for complaints. The complaints came in. It was the intake of complaints that triggered this whole process," Henry said.

"The city has tried from the beginning to make sure he is informed and in the loop and has had enough notice and the opportunity to respond," Henry said.

As Martinez walked away from court he repeatedly told members of the media to turn off their cameras.

A woman who sat behind Martinez in court called a KSAT 12 photographer a "loser" as she got onto the elevator with Martinez.

She then shook her hands at the camera while making noise and said, "They pissed me off," as Martinez's attorney motioned for her to stop.

The hearing itself could be slow to get scheduled as a recount related to the recent city elections is scheduled for late next week.

The recount was requested by council members David Edwards and David Jordan.

Edwards lost to Donna Charles by one vote, and Jordan lost to Will Bradshaw by 18 votes.

Copyright 2019 by KSAT - All rights reserved.