Update on Email Gate

Yesterday, city council discussed the ongoing withholding of emails in executive session.

As you may remember, the city, under the John Cook administration decided to sue the Texas Attorney General’s office because the State Attorney had directed the city to release the emails under the open records law as requested by Stephanie Townsend Allala. For more information on this ongoing item you can visit my previous post on this issue here.

On July 16, 2013, city council tasked the city attorney’s office to bring this matter to a closure as quickly as possible. After city council exited Executive Session discussing Emma Acosta’s agenda item, Acosta made a motion to postpone the item for three weeks. The motion passed unanimously. For more information on this action you can read my report here.

Yesterday’s meeting was the three week deadline.

To my knowledge there are two individuals who have refused to release the emails that involve the ballpark fiasco. They are Cortney Niland and Steve Ortega.

The community has learned many details and some answers have emerged in regards to the way the ballpark fiasco has been handled by the emails that have already been released. It is also clear that the requested emails belong to the community. Yet, the city continues to stonewall the release of the emails.

There are still numerous questions that may be answered by the release of the remaining emails.

Yesterday’s city council action, after Executive Session, was to direct the city attorney to basically bring back a plan on how the city will comply with the State’s new legislation. The motion, made by Cortney Niland made no mention of when or how the city would comply with the request to release the emails Townsend Allala and others have requested and the community is entitled to. The motion passed unanimously.

There were five items on the Executive Session portion of the city’s agenda. The first four items were collection claims by the city against individuals. Not knowing what was discussed in Executive Session I can only speculate.

City council retired into Executive Session twice, the first time for approximately 45 minutes and the second time, after the call to the public it remained in Executive Session for about 1 hour and ten minutes. I can only assume that the majority of the time was spent discussing the email issue.

After Niland read the motion into the record, public comment was taken.

The first speaker, Jesus Ochoa stated that the request made by city council during the July 16 meeting was not being honored. He also added that the motion read into the record by Niland was “non-responsive to the settlement request by Stephanie Townsend Allala”.

The next speaker, Lisa Turner asked pointedly if the matter was going to be settled. Oscar Leeser asked the city attorney to clarify and she stated that they were working in that direction. The city attorney added that they were still in negotiations with Stephanie Townsend Allala’s attorney and that this was the “first step” in the process.

During the July 16 meeting the city attorney had commented that there were legal ramifications that needed to be addressed in order to settle the case. Some of the legal issues most likely involve possible criminal ramifications because the open records statue is very clear about liability for refusing or delaying the release of public records.

What is disconcerting at this point, and Jesus Ochoa pointed it out during his monologue to city council is that the emails have yet to be released and there appears no concrete movement to do so at this point. City council gave the city attorney a clear mandate to wrap up the lawsuit as quickly as possible, yet what the community of El Paso got yesterday was nothing more than more delays.

Why is it that the city refuses to release the emails? What is it that they are hiding?

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