John Cook Answers Questions on Benefits Lawsuit and Ballpark

Picture courtesy of John F. Cook

Yesterday, July 23, 2013 I asked John Cook via email to answer twelve questions about his benefits’ referendum lawsuit and the demolition of city hall. He answered all of my questions. I am reproducing the original questions and his answers without editing or corrections, except for the following four edits I made for readability purposes.

In question 1, under the benefits referendum I capitalized the first “w” in his answer. In question number 1, under the ballpark section I changed “consistant” to “consistent” as I’m sure that is what he meant to type. In question 6, under the ballpark I changed “converstation” to “conversation”. I also inadvertently labeled two questions as five in the ballpark section so I made that correction. Other than that everything else is exactly as he responded.

These are the questions on the benefit’s referendum.

Question 1: At what point did you realize that allegedly the city attorney gave city council bad advice?

When the issue of the demolition of city hall came up we hired a Travis County attorney who advised us we did not have to put the question the people’s petition request on a ballot because the Charter only allowed Referendum for collective bargaining.  I asked the question of that attorney “then why did we have to put the traditional family values ordinance on the ballot.”  He responded that if it was overriding an ordinance or action of the Council it should not have.  The people had no such power under our Charter.

Question 2: On what do you base the allegation of bad advice, was it an attorney who stated this to you or was it the contradicting opinions proffered by the city attorney in regards to the ballpark?

I think my previous response covered this question.

Question 3: Would you be willing to provide the public a copy of the legal contract between yourself and your attorney(s) who represented you on this issue?

I am sure I can dig it up if I try hard enough.  My legal team has given me a pile of documents that is a foot and half high.  It is a standard contract that identifies the fees I agreed to pay for each discipline on the team and the legal representation they were committing to provide.

Editor’s note: John Cook provided a redacted copy of his engagement letter with his attorneys; Cox Smith, after I asked for it. The engagement letter is dated July 27, 2011. John Cook signed the letter on August 1, 2011. The letter is signed by Mark C. Walker. You can review it here.

Question 4: If you are not willing to provide a copy of your legal representation agreement would you let the public know what financial commitments you made with your attorneys in order to secure their representation?

I committed to pay them to represent me.  The contract laid out the fees and the services.

Question 5: Did anyone, at anytime, offer to help you pay for your attorney’s fees? And if so, at what point and how much was ultimately collected on your behalf? Were there any non-profits or PAC’s setup or offered to you to offset your attorney fees, and if so who offered them and what were their names? Did any other organization offer to or help you offset your legal expenses?

Unfortunately, that never happened.  No one has made any commitment.  I did hold several fundraisers and was able to raise a few thousand dollars.  The Texas Ethics Commission advised me that I would have to consider any financial assistance as a campaign contribution as they understood I was always acting in my official capacity as an office holder.  I reported all those contributions as required by law and they are available on the city’s webpage.

Question 6: Do you feel that it is your duty to represent the electorate as your conscious dictates or as the electorate declares? In other words, do you feel that an elected representative is a “trustee” who votes as to what they perceive is “right”, or as a “representative”, one who votes as the electorate demands?

The problem with of voting with what “the electorate demands” is that it is almost impossible to know what 600,000 people want you to do.  Often times a person in elected office has more access to information and facts than members of the public.  My personal belief is that an elected official should follow their own conscience and lead rather than following.  I also don’t believe elected officials should make their decisions based on how they might impact their chances for re-election.

These are the questions on the ballpark.

Question 1: In hindsight, do you believe that the demolition of city hall was the right thing to do?

I have been consistent in my opinion that the demolition of city hall was not in the best interests of the public.  There were questions regarding the value of city hall that my gut told me was being undervalued, but there were also professional opinions based on similar buildings that had recently changed hands that supported the lower appraised values.  I am not a professional appraiser and my arguments were quickly contradicted by the experts.

Question 2: In hindsight, do you believe that it was proper to keep the electorate from voting on the demolition of city hall?

I believe there are two questions that should be asked.  Should the people have been able to vote on the construction of the stadium? Yes.  Should they be asked to vote on what the City does with its assets? No.  The city just would not function if we needed to ask permission to acquire and dispose of assets. It is my belief that in a representative democracy the people have empowered their elected officials to make these decisions.  Texas law protects the taxpayer in that it is required that in order to use ad valorum tax dollars to construct a sports venue you must have voter approval.  The City Manager found other ways to fund the construction in order to avoid the necessity of getting voter approval.

Question 3: Were you ever told by the Hunts or Foster that your political future was dependent on how you voted on the most contentious issues during your private meetings with them?

No.  The Hunts and Fosters are not big supporters of John Cook.  They tolerated me.  Check the campaign finance reports over my political career and you will see they have not been behind me.  They are staunch Republicans and I am a Democrat.  I would have a heart attack if they helped in my race for Land Commissioner against George P. Bush!

Question 4: Did the Hunts or Foster ever offer to help you pay for your legal fees or to support you in your future political career if you voted in support of their issues?

I had a conversation with them on this subject and told them that I would not accept any campaign contributions from them because of the obvious conflict and perceptions it would create.  I also advised them not to contribute to any of the elected officials that were part of my administration for the same reasons.

Question 5: You have stated that you decided against the veto on the city hall referendum because you felt that Joyce Wilson, the Hunts and, or Foster were “smarter” then you. Would you clarify this? What exactly did you mean by this statement attributed to you?

My actual comment, made on talk radio this past Saturday was more like this:  If I vetoed the action it would mean that I was saying smarter than five city council representatives who had access to the same information and disagreed with me, smarter than the city manager, smarter than two successful businessmen who believed in the project, smarter than the Greater Chamber of Commerce and the Hispanic Chamber and smarter than the Paso del Norte Group.  I actually presented a well thought out statement and publicly released it when I made my decision.  It articulated the reasons for not using the power of the mayor’s veto.  I can look for that document if you think it would help you understand what was going on in my head and heart.

Question 6: Exactly and succinctly what did Hunt, Foster or Wilson tell you that made you decide to veto the city hall referendum?

I think you mean decided not to veto? In our conversation, which we had just before I left for Austin I told them I was contemplating stopping the project and had not made up my mind.  I told them I was going to think, pray and sleep on the issue and would not be communicating with anyone until I had made a decision.  Our meeting was brief, lasting less than five minutes.  I did most of the talking.

I have been very critical of John Cook on my blog. I appreciate that he took the time to answer the questions and not ignore them. He wrote that he does “not really follow blogs” and asked for a “short recap of how readers responded”. I have committed to sending him the recap he requested so please feel free to provide your comments or reactions here, on Twitter (please #elpasonews) or on Facebook. But please be mindful that John Cook answered my questions even though I have written scathing blog posts about him. I give him credit for doing so and I appreciate it.

John Cook also provided additional information about his lawsuit against the city. I will post it tomorrow.

4 thoughts on “John Cook Answers Questions on Benefits Lawsuit and Ballpark

  1. I feel sorry for Cook and always said he was overall a good Mayor. The Transcript of the Austin hearing when Judge asked both sides to suggest -draft the Judgment reveals a lot….the Judge did not want to go near the election issue. Denton asked Judge to rule no election need be held and that such election would be illegal and the Judge refused to rule that, after cases were cited saying courts should tread softly re elections. Also cited were secondary law from 10 states saying a initiative can act as a referendum….

    I agree with city not to pay Cook however cities have represented government actors when sued in both capacities and a few times when even in just individual capacity.

    As a side however re the emails…I would not hand private email accounts over without a court order.

    Finally, how is it that the city feels it can use funds directed for Montana rapid bus for city hall rehab? No doubt the fed funds were allocated based on city funds seed money allocation for the bus project.

    1. I agree that overall Mayor Cook was a good Mayor but he allowed events of the last year and a half get away from him… The issues he sought to establish his legacy went out the window with the ballpark and downtown development.

      But I disagree that the City shouldn’t pay his legal fees… his actions, more then the Councilmembers, were in support of Equal Rights and will be borne out in the near term as States are finally held to the Constitution.

      More importantly on the Montana Rapid Transit Center redistribution of funding… as each day goes by we learn more and more about how the City MIS-Manager, her CFO and the CLOWNcil pass budgets that are unrealistic and allows for the redistribution of funding… The City wants to take Transit funds, shift them over to their City Hall Relocation Fiasco and then make up the MILLIONS of dollars in transfers from over-budgeting from other City Capital Projects… Which kind of makes sense, doesn’t it?

      NO IT DOESN’T when the MIS-Manager, HER CFO and the PREVIOUS CLOWNcil IGNORED warnings from the El Paso CAD and underfunded the current budget year by $3M and NOW the MIS-Manager and HER CFO want to bump Property Taxes up to cover the shortfall… WHAT SHORTFALL? We have $4M from the Transit Project we can use to cover the shortfall and the City CLOWNCil can come to the Tax Payers and ask if we want to fund any more for PdNG Property improvements based on intentional UNDERestimates for the relocation costs!

  2. Thumbs up to you for doing the interview and to Cook for responding. I do not feel sorry for Cook. He says he voted to break the tie in favor of demolishing city hall because he just figured half of City Council, the City Manager, Hunt and Foster knew better than he did. Well, how about the other half of City Council, and the successful businessmen such as Francis and others who opposed demolition and the ballpark. There were just as many (maybe more) smart people opposed. Bottom line, Cook didn’t have the backbone to make his own decision, or at least doesn’t have the backbone to admit he agreed with the demolition/ballpark side. I am very pleased that City Council voted unanimously to deny Cook’s request to pay for his attorney fees. It is my personal opinion that Cook is one of the worst mayors we had in a long time. He goes whichever way the wind blows, that is his “personal” beliefs depend on what every around him is saying. He also gets passive-aggressive nasty with people he doesn’t like.

  3. My question to him would simply be what did he do for the least of his constituents? The sick, the poor, the uneducated? It seems to me this Mayor spoke in a tenderhearted voice about those issues, yet has done nothing that I am aware in terms of policy or spending to help. All kinds of monies have been made available for the PDNG, Hunt/Foster, High End Hotels, and an “upscale” mall. I guess satiating the rich was his priority.

    I log in to ask this only because nobody else will.

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