Where Are Steve Ortega’s Emails and Why Answer Tough Questions Verbally?

In reviewing the recently released emails I came across an exchange between John Cook and Joyce Wilson where the notion that the process needed to be rushed was questioned by both. I discussed that in yesterday’s post. Today, I focus on an exchange between Emma Acosta and Dan Barrett. This exchange provides an insight on how the horde was managing information about the ballpark. You will notice, after reviewing the exchange that Barrett seems to be hesitant to provide written responses to Acosta.

The question that begs to be asked, is why not respond to complex, well-formulated questions in written form?

As you may already know, Dan Barrett works for the Barrett Sports Group. Barrett Sports Group was one of two consultants hired by MountainStar Sports Group to negotiate the stadium deal with El Paso City Council. Coincidently, Barrett Sports Group was also hired by the University of Texas at El Paso “to evaluate renovation options for the Sun Bowl Stadium and to develop a financing plan”.

On September 10, 2012, Acosta asked eight very important questions of Barrett. She asked about the “fixed fee surcharge of 10 cents” as well as the “very low lease payment from the team owners for the next 25 years”. In her email, Acosta correctly points out that the ownership group will not be paying the ball players, uniforms, bats, balls, caps, etc., and therefore questions the low amount negotiated for the city.

In yesterday’s post, I pointed out how John Cook considered Emma Acosta the “weak link” in the votes against the destruction of city hall.

In her email, Acosta goes on to question the “100%” revenues for the concessions and advertising as well as the naming rights. She then asks about the non-compete clause in the original contract and the “disproportionate amount of contribution between the team owners and the City”. Emma Acosta concludes with her final question, in this email, by asking about the “$1.00 revenue contribution to the city for 300 parking spaces with the remainder of the proceeds designated to the team owners.”

After her initial email, in an email exchange between Emma Acosta and Dan Barrett between September 10 and September 12, 2012; Dan Barrett responds by trying to setup a conference call with Cortney Niland, Emma Acosta and himself. Joyce Wilson was included in the exchanges. Although I could find no emails by Niland asking questions, she somehow gets added to the teleconference call that Barrett is trying to organize to respond to Acosta’s questions. Why?

In Barrett’s response to Acosta on September 11, 2012 he states; “a number of your questions require a discussion rather than a written response”.

Notice how Dan Barrett would rather have a “discussion” rather than committing the responses in written form? Was he just too lazy to type the responses or was putting them down in written form something he wanted to avoid?

It appears that a teleconference call was finally arranged for September 13, 2012 but it is difficult to tell whether such a call actually happened. The conference call seems to have included Cortney Niland although I did not find any “concerns” she had articulated in the emails and therefore her inclusion at this point is mysterious.

In responding to Dan Barrett’s assertion that he had not received Acosta’s original questions, on September 11, 2012, Emma Acosta adds the following items to her original list of questions. She adds that she would like information from Barrett about his “failed effort to purchase the Portland Beavers” and she further asks him to provide information about the El Paso deal “in context with other deals in Triple A Baseball”. She goes on to ask that the questions be provided to her before Friday, September 14, 2012. Keep in mind that the crucial vote to keep the citizens from voting on the destruction of city hall was held the following Tuesday, on September 18, 2012.

To this email, Emma Acosta adds the following; “Ten weeks ago (June 26), We as a council were told that the baseball ‘deal’ had a short window of opportunity for this community and thus we had to act on this opportunity or loose the opportunity and thus we could not place the item on the quality of life bond election coming up on Nov 6th. This community is 7 weeks away from voting on a quality of life bond that includes an entertainment venue. Why the rush and why have we not heard whether the team will or will not be acquired by the Mountain Star Group?” Acosta further adds the following additional questions to her original list.

She asks about why “cap the revenue to the city at $75,000 on the 10 cent fee”. She also questions the “75% of the lease payment being placed in a fund for future improvements” and points out that her reviews of other cities’ lease contracts do not have such a stipulation. Acosta asks why is such a large amount is necessary when the construction is new. She also asks Barrett to find “other cities where 75% of the lease payment is reserved for improvements”. Emma Acosta then goes on to ask “What other ‘deals’ include tearing down of buildings and relocating personnel to build a Triple A baseball stadium”.

Emma Acosta then asks two very important questions that to my knowledge have yet to be answered by anyone. She first asks; “The team owners have indicated they will donate the profits from the baseball venture to nonprofit corporations, a very honorable gesture, however, when is the breakeven point of the lease? 5yrs, 10yrs.? In essence when do they recapture their investment and what year would they expect to be earning profits? What is the magnitude of those profits? Rather than donating any potential profits why not use the profits to pay off the city issued debt?”

Acosta goes on to ask about the expected economic impact in other cities that have invested in Triple-A baseball. She closes by writing that she is reviewing the contracts of Tacoma, Reno, Salt Lake, Round Rock, and Oklahoma City and asks Dan Barrett to suggest other cities that include some of the provisions like the El Paso contract has.

Somewhere in the email exchanges between Emma Acosta and Dan Barrett, Cortney Niland is somehow included in Barrett’s proposed teleconference call with Emma Acosta to “answer” her questions.

All of her questions were well thought out and well-articulated in writing.

What stood out the most for me was that, although Emma Acosta had asked her well-articulated questions in writing and it seems to me that the answers she was seeking required a thorough and detailed response she appears to have received a private meeting request from Dan as a response.

Why a private meeting? Why was it difficult for Dan Barrett to respond to Acosta’s questions in writing? I do not know but because of all of the political shenanigans all I can surmise is that a verbal exchange is difficult to prove where a written communication would be difficult to disprove.

Was keeping written communications to a minimum part of the subterfuge to keep the public record as sanitized as possible?

Notice how many surmised that back door dealings took place between the city manager and the ownership group but no one could prove anything? It wasn’t until John Cook publicly spoke out through The El Paso Inc., and KVIA that we finally had evidence to show that negotiations were designed to keep the process as secret as possible.

The question remains as to why Dan Barrett wanted to verbally answer Emma Acosta’s questions rather than responding to them in writing?

The other email that stood out for me was from Susie Byrd where Steve Ortega, from a blacked-out email address that seems to signify that the email came from his personal account, sent her a Power Point Presentation titled; “El Paso Ballpark”. The email, from September 20, 2012 seems to show that Steve Ortega participated in the ballpark discussion from his private email account and yet there were no emails from Steve Ortega’s private account in my open records request.

Stephanie Townsend Allala had previously pointed out to me that my open records request had requested emails in the possession of the city. The batch that I received seems to come from the private email boxes of city representatives that had forwarded the ballpark discussion emails from their personal accounts to the city’s servers. In fact, at least one email in Emma Acosta’s batch seems to indicate that she, in fact, forwarded it from her personal account to her city account because of open records requests.

Why are Steve Ortega’s emails not included?

On July 23, 2012, Steve Ortega forwarded an email to Susie Byrd from Elizabeth Tapp, his wife, dated July 19, 2012 with the subject line; “bring baseball downtown”. That email provided a link to a now defunct website titled; “Bring baseball downtown”.

Steve Ortega obviously participated in a public discussion with at least one other city representative from what appears to be a private email address. He even included Beto O’Rourke in this exchange.

Does Steve Ortega feel that he is exempt from open records requests? More importantly, now that he is out office, can the city compel him to produce his emails?

In the final set of emails, there are a number of emails from the city’s website contact form. In one, addressed to District 1, “Jake” who appears to be a police officer or firefighter complains about not getting a raise, “but raising property taxes” for baseball. In another from “David”, he asks; “the length of Triple A baseball FIELD (not including the stadium part) is 118 meters from home plate to the end of the outfield. That is bigger than Sun Bowl/UTEP football field length. UTEP field doesn’t fit in the City Hall area. How in the world are they going to fit a baseball field in area where a football field doesn’t fit?”

Juliet Lozano forwarded this message to Alan Shubert, Joyce Wilson and William Studer asking; “do we want to respond to this?” Joyce Wilson responded; “No”. Michael John submitted the following; “Typical El Paso! Build a Park after the Indians saved the Diablos and are trying to re-vamp the park. Even in the best of times, Jim Pauls (sic) “Diablos” struggled! FOOD FOR THOUGHT…There are 1000’s of Hotel rooms around ‘EP INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT’ (LOL international) with nothing to attract tourist or conventions. Way to go! The quality of life in ALBQ. NM blows EP off the map…I wonder why???? GOOD OLD BOY CLUB!”

Again, Juliet Lozano forwarded this online submission to Joyce Wilson and William Studer asking; “Pls (sic) advise if you want to respond to the comment below”. Joyce Wilson responded “NO”.

Of the 60 pages of released emails these were the items that stood out the most for me.

I’m sure that as others review the emails that will be released through Chukoleaks they will find other pieces of interesting information. For now, this latest batch reaffirms the notion that the ballpark deal was designed to keep the electorate out of the process. They also show to me that there was hesitancy to memorialize detailed answers to pertinent questions in writing. In my opinion this is part of the subterfuge of the process. Also, clearly Joyce Wilson would rather not answer constituent questions because she is not an elected official and therefore feels that “No” should be the answer to those “crazies” in the community that dare question the process.

And finally, where are Steve Ortega’s emails? Does he have something to hide?

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