Open Records Confusion and is the City About to Release the Private Emails?

Later today, city council is expected to discuss the status of the lawsuit the City of El Paso filed against the Texas Attorney General’s Office after it opined that the city should release the private emails requested by Stephanie Townsend Allala and others. There is no question that the Chucoleaks website has provided enlightening information about the process that led to the destruction of City Hall. As instructive as the released emails have been there are still many questions that remain unanswered as to how the process to fund the ballpark played out. John Cook, for his part, added to the questions when he publically stated on two different media outlets that Joyce Wilson, Susie Byrd, Cortney Niland and Steve Ortega purposely kept information from the people of El Paso. Cook added that the stadium deal was planned to keep information secret from the voters.

The city, instead of being transparent as it should has decided that it needs to spend millions of taxpayer monies to keep emails between Foster-Hunt and the city representatives, who along with Joyce Wilson are pillaging the taxpayers’ monies to fund a playground for the well-healed of the community to the tune of $62 million, from being examined by the community.

Today that may be about to change. In today’s City Council Agenda, under item ten, City Representative Emma Acosta has requested “Discussion and action on the status of the Texas Attorney General’s opinion on the release of personal emails that pertain to official city business by various members of city council and staff and the cost to date, on hiring outside legal counsel acquired by the city to challenge the AG’s opinion.”

As is typical with the city lawyers I fully expect them to go into Executive Session for this item. The question about the costs incurred by the city is a matter for public record so we should get an idea as to how much the city has spent to keep its secrets. What client privileged information the attorney’s share with the city representatives will remain between them but there are indications that the opposition to releasing the emails will end.

On June 17, 2013, I submitted an Open Records Request to the city via their new online open records request portal on their website. The request I submitted was; “Please provide copies of the text messages, and/or emails that discuss the downtown ballpark from:  the personal email account, and or personal cellular service of City Representatives: Susie Byrd, Ann Morgan Lilly, Steve Ortega, Cortney Niland, As well as City Manager Joyce Wilson, and Mayor John Cook;  between themselves and/or the following individuals or entities:  MountainStar Sports Group, Paso del Norte Group Paul Foster, Myrna Deckert Alejandra De La Vega Josh Hunt, Woody Hunt.”

On June 24, I received an electronic request asking me to clarify the dates I was looking for. I subsequently also received a Certified Copy of the clarification request letter via the post office. That same day, June 24, I clarified that I was looking for communications between the parties in 2011 and 2012.

And then the confusion started. On July 1, 2013 I received an electronic letter from Irma Lopez, the Public Records Coordinator for the City, advising me that “there are no responsive documents pertaining to your request”. The letter stated that the matter had been closed.

As I thought about how to proceed I received another electronic letter on July 11. This time the letter stated that “the relevant information has been collected”. The letter went on to state that it “took approximately one (1) hour to locate the files” and requested payment in  order to receive them.

On July 12, I mailed the payment to the city.

As of yesterday, July 14, I have not heard back from the city and I am still waiting for the documents. At this point it is unclear as to what documents I will be receiving, although my request was very clear.

On one hand, the city has been litigating the release of the documents and I was sent a letter telling me that the documents I had requested did not exist. And before I was able to decide how to challenge that assertion I receive another letter telling me that the documents have been collected.

And today, the city representatives are expected to get a cost report and a status on the litigation initiated by the city. Presumably my request is being fulfilled. Therefore my assumption is that the city has finally decided to finally release the emails as they should have done months ago.

We will see if my assumption is correct.