City Council Releases Emails and Asks Ortega For His Emails

taxes_up2013After an approximate one and a half hour executive session, city council voted unanimously to release the previously unreleased emails that were collected pursuant to Stephanie Townsend Allala’s open records request. They also voted to have the Public Information Officer formally request that those current, and immediate past city representatives that have not already given the city their emails pursuant to the Townsend Allala request turn them into the city so that they may be included in the release.

The executive session item stated;

1. That the city’s public information officer is to request from current and immediate-past city officials who have not done so already, to voluntarily turn in their emails that meet the criteria of the open records request that is in litigation to the city;

2. That the city’s public information officer is to prepare and publicly disclose;
A: A set of 15 emails previously undisclosed by the city,
B. A set of 168 emails previously undisclosed by the city,
C. Any set of responsive documents volunteered by existing and former city officials that are provided to the city.

3. Authorize the city attorney to offer this action as unilateral resolution to the suit against the Texas Attorney General’s office.

This is a partial win for those seeking transparency from the city. There are still two issues that need to be resolved. First, the action taken by city council yesterday makes no official commitment as to when the release will happen. Remember that the city’s action is also seeking to end the lawsuit against the State Attorney by releasing the documents. The action is not clear on whether the release of the documents is contingent on the Texas Attorney General accepting the release as the settlement to the case.

Regardless, it is probable that we will get to see the documents in the city’s possession soon.

Unfortunately that does not address the issue of those city officials who have refused to turn in their documents to the city. It is unclear who has complied, or not at this point but to my knowledge Steve Ortega has not complied. He has stated that it will take a court order to force him to release them.

And, there in lies the problem. Yesterday’s city council action “asks” Steve Ortega to “voluntarily” provide his emails. The action makes no mention as to what, if anything, the city would do to compel him to submit his documents.

If he does not comply, who would be the one to file suit to force him to comply?

As a sitting city representative, Cortney Niland would have a much more difficult time ignoring the request.

Other City Action

In other city council action, city council yesterday adopted a budget of $801.4 million on a four to five vote with a tax-rate of 0.6783 per 100 of valuation. Oscar Leeser voted to break the council tie. Representatives Emma Acosta, Eddie Holguin, Lilli Limon and Carl Robinson voted against the tax increase. Representatives Lilly, Niland, Noe, Romero and Oscar Leeser voted for the tax increase.

During the budget discussions, the following information about the city’s debt was presented.

The total city debt is currently at $1,123,841,233. This includes the so-called “Enterprise funds”, such as bridges and other city infrastructure.

The part of the debt that is directly supported by property taxes is: $893 million.

The annual payments to fund the debt in 2013 are $74 million and it is expected to be $77 to $78 million in 2014.

Although the tax rate increase is not comparatively high, the question remains is what costs could have been eliminated had city hall not been demolished? Would the savings have been sufficient to offset the tax increase?

Of course, at this point we haven’t even begun to discuss building a new city hall. I wonder how the taxpayers will fare once that budget starts to be created?

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