As is typical with the local El Paso media, today’s reporting about the ongoing release of emails is incomplete and haphazard leaving the community with incomplete or erroneous information. As I am out of town I rely on the media’s online presence in order to remain informed of the ongoing political shenanigans in El Paso. And although I am out of town, today’s technology makes current and accurate news via online delivery not only important but necessary. Therefore there is no excuse in not having the most current and accurate report on one of the most controversial issues to the community online the day after the event.
The ongoing controversy over the release of private emails by the defunct city council driven by Byrd, Niland and Ortega not only involves the right to access and transparency in government affairs but it involves millions of dollars in taxpayer funds. To ignore and not report on city council’s actions yesterday can best be described as negligence in the mission of news delivery.
Here is what happened.
Item number 10, placed by Representative Emma Acosta asked city council to have a “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 soon as discussion on the item started, Mayor Leeser reported that about two and half or three weeks ago, he had asked the city attorney to drop the lawsuit. City attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth confirmed this by stating that, “the mayor did ask us to revisit the issue of the lawsuit.”
The city attorney added that “the council needs to be reminded that there has been a change in the public information act that in fact expanded the definition that would pull in emails”. She went on to add that at the time that the Texas legislation was expanding the open records act that the city lawsuit was “in the discovery phase”. The city attorney further stated that they are “currently working through our outside counsel with trying to bring a resolution to the issue as quickly as possible”.
According to the city attorney, the amount spent by the city on the lawsuit to keep the records secret was about $7,000.
During Representative Acosta’s presentation, the city attorney asked for three weeks to conclude the litigation but added that if they were to be finished earlier they would bring it back to council. As part of the closure to the litigation, they are working with the Texas Attorney General to come up with an agreed closure. They are also acknowledging the changes to the law and how they will be applied by the city in the future.
Representative Emma Acosta asked if city council should direct the city attorney to dismiss the lawsuit. Firth responded that she “would ask her not to make such a limiting” motion. Firth stated that she understood her direction, from the mayor, to be to “bring this to a closure very quickly”.
She added, “There are legal implications to dismissing the lawsuit. We were responding to a deadline in the open records act that required us to file a lawsuit within ten days, or possibly subject people to criminal liability. We need to be very careful.” Representative Robinson then moved for city council to go into Executive Session because he had a question with something Firth had stated. More than likely his question had to do with the issue of criminal liability upon certain individuals.
After about 20 minutes of executive session, city council resumed discussion of the item. Emma Acosta made the motion to postpone the item for three weeks. It was seconded by Robinson. The motion passed unanimously.
Now, here is how the media reported it.
KFOX had nothing to report.
KTSM/KDBC posted a token recap of the issue devoid of any specificity. Their “report”, if you can call it that essentially stated that the city has spent $7,000 and that the mayor had requested that city attorney bring the matter to a close quickly.
The El Paso Times, as usual, produced a very incomplete report of what transpired yesterday. Cindy Ramirez mentioned the $7,000 cost and the fact that the city attorney was working to end the lawsuit. She also mentioned the Texas legislation making city business on private devices subject to the Open Records Act. Nowhere did her report include the fact that Representative Emma Acosta put the measure on the agenda, or the fact that Mayor Leeser had requested that the city drop the lawsuit as quickly as possible two to three weeks earlier. These are two very important facts that the electorate needs to be aware of, but since it involves two people that the El Paso Times has shown a disdain for they completely ignore those facts.
KVIA, for its part, in between “reporting” on the popularity contest their anchors won and self-padding themselves on the back, because according to reporter María García, their news director asked the new city council if they intended to keep the case in court, García alludes that Emma Acosta put her agenda item on the city’s agenda after KVIA asked her if she would comply with the new law.
KVIA neglected to report on the $7,000 cost reported by the city attorney and on the fact that Oscar Leeser had already directed the city attorney to bring closure to the lawsuit. KVIA’s report was nothing more than an opportunity for them to proclaim how wonderful they are and in so doing neglected to present an accurate and complete report of what happened.
More importantly the English media ignored the point made by the city attorney that the lawsuit needs to be closed carefully because of possible “legal implications”.
On the other hand, the report by Karla Guevara Walton of the Diario de El Paso was very complete. She reported all of the mayor points, including that Mayor Leeser had already taken steps to safeguard taxpayer funds by asking the city attorney to look to bring closure to the lawsuit. She also added anecdotally that there may be a question as to whether some “former city representatives who are no longer in office” would release their personal emails. This notion was referenced by Emma Acosta during her monologue in regards to the item. Walton even went as far as to accurately and completely report on the recent Texas legislation that expanded the definition of what is considered public information regardless of the medium it is processed in.
It is important to note that the dismissal may result in criminal prosecution and therefore the city attorney is carefully looking for a way to bring closure to this latest city debacle.
I am a blogger and not a reporter yet I am sometimes forced to report on the ongoing shenanigans in El Paso because of the incompetence of the local media. Political shenanigans are allowed to happen in El Paso because the media generally fails to produce an accurate and complete record for future review.
There is potential that the emails, when finally released, might contain information that might shed light on the ballpark fiasco and other city government fiascos. Some of the actions might even border on criminality if not outright criminal activity. Without a complete time line of the actions of the city government it is impossible to connect the dots that may shed light on criminality by government officials.
For posterity sake and in order to hold government accountable there must be an accurate and clear record of what transpired in the community consciousness so that the electorate may make an informed decision at the ballot box. Except for El Diario de El Paso, and to a much lesser extent by KVIA the record presented by the media is incomplete, nonexistent or distorted.
There is something wrong in a community that must rely on bloggers and activists, such as Stephanie Townsend Allala, so that the electorate can make informed decisions.