As salacious and tantalizing, at least for some, that a picture of Steve Ortega’s hand on Veronica Escobar’s breast sounds this story is not about the picture rather it is about a process that seems at best to demonstrate the ineptitude of the city and at worst it showcases an attempt to corrupt the open records request. At this point I don’t know which, yet.
It started out as most searches for information start out, a rumor floating around the political undercurrent. “There is a picture of Ortega’s hand on Veronica’s boob” went the rumor. It varied a little but it always came back to Steve’s hand on an inappropriate location. According to the rumor the picture and others were found by either Limon or some of her support staff on the computers when she took over Steve’s former office.
Now I know most of you are thinking to yourselves “who cares it is just a picture, aren’t there more important things for you to concern yourself with”?
Those of you thinking this are correct. You see along with the rumor came additional information that seemed to indicate that Steve Ortega had also left images on his former office computers that showed his campaign material on the city computers. Thus I wondered was Steve Ortega using city property to run his campaign.
I don’t know and thus I started to search for information to prove one way or the other whether he had used city property improperly.
To be perfectly clear and unambiguous at this point I had not spoken to Eddie Holguin or Lily Limon about this image. I realize that one, or two of you will try to deflect the seriousness about this issue by wrapping this problem around the notion that either Holguin or Limon told me about the images. They did not.
What I had heard was a rumor that an image of Steve Ortega and Veronica Escobar existed among other images of Steve Ortega. As with most rumors the salaciousness of the image is what drove the rumor through the political undercurrent and as with most rumors it became even more salacious as it passed from one individual to the next. However as strange it might seem to some of you my interest was on the possible evidence of wrongdoing that might exist in the other images therefore I set out to get a copy of the images to see if they really existed or not.
I filed an open records request with the city on September 9, 2013 through the city’s online open records system. My request, number W001288-090913 asked the city to “provide any digital images, or photographs of any immediate-past city representative on any computer device currently in use by, or in any city representative’s office.”
Notice how I was specific to ask for “any digital images, or photographs of any immediate-past city representative” and being extra careful I added “on any computer device currently in use by, or in any city representative’s office”. Unless I’m wrong this request specifically asked for files located on each city representatives office computers that were in their offices at the time I made the request, regardless of who the computer was assigned to.
Think about how I worded my original request for a moment. A search for public records through an open records request should be a simple matter of asking for a record without having to play word acrobatics and or hiring an attorney to word the request for you if the government’s intent is to be transparent with the community.
However I am obviously jaded and I have no trust at all in the government. Therefore I carefully worded my request, or so I thought.
On September 18, 2013 I received a letter from the city that read, in part;
Please be informed that it is being estimated that there are approximately six (6) DVDs, and it is estimated that it will take 6.25 hours to locate the files and copy the records with the information you requested.
Due to the number of responsive documents, a deposit of $116.25 is required before duplication will be completed. Once the processing is complete, the City of El Paso will refund any portion of the deposit that exceeds the actual cost of providing the information. In the event that the actual personnel and duplication charges exceed this estimate, the City of El Paso will require the excess to be paid prior to release.
I mailed a money order and on October 2, 2013 I received a letter from the city via the electronic portal letting me know that they had received my “postal order for $116.25 in today’s mail”. The letter added that they could not accept my money order as payment. I have already written extensively about the money order debacle therefore I will not bore you with the details here, however if you are interested in more information you should read “Money Orders and the City of El Paso” and “Is The City Playing Games with Open Records?”
For the purposes of today’s blog post I will let you know that writing to me that money orders were not acceptable raised a lot of red flags for me. I felt something was up however a feeling does not make it so therefore I did what I like to do. I played along because it is my experience that the truth will ultimately reveal itself. I had three options here; I could easily have called up and given them a credit card, I could have mailed a check or I could have questioned the notion about money orders.
Although I already knew that them not accepting my money order was plain wrong I wanted them to go on the record.
And in case, you haven’t figured it out yet, this whole exercise is about creating a record that reveals that dots that ultimately connect.
After numerous electronic communications the city finally accepted my money orders for both the initial deposit and the final payment. In total I spent $266.25 on this open records request before I received the responsive documents.
It is important that I point out two things to you; first, in my opinion the “issue” with my money orders was a delay tactic or an opportunity to discourage me from pursuing my open records request. Obviously I cannot prove this but as I go through what has transpired it is the only thing that makes any sense. I believe the money order debacle was city manipulation; however the city will argue that it was nothing more than a “misunderstanding”. On October 28, 2013 I finally received acknowledgment that my August 9, 2013 request was finally being fulfilled. On that date I received, via the electronic portal four images labeled; “Ann_Lilli_2011.jpg”, “ann_lilly_picture.jpg”, “District_6._part_1.jpg” and “District_6._part_2.jpg”. All of the image files represent the two city representatives’ official city picture.
The letter also stated that the rest were being overnighted to me and I received them the following day.
It took 49 calendar days, from the time I requested the images until I finally received them, or if you accept the city’s con job of only working four days a week it took 28 days for them to send me what I had asked for.
Even then, what I had expected to receive is not what was sent to me. I know, I know some of you are thinking to yourselves just because you think it should be there doesn’t mean it is. However this is a chess game with many moves left to play.
Besides the images I have already referenced above I also received three Sony DVDs and one TDK DVD. The TDK DVD is hand-labeled “ORR Martin Paredes WOO1288 District 4”.
This DVD contains 206 digital JPG files, obviously District 4 related.
One of the Sony DVDs is hand-labeled “W001288 District 2”. This DVD contains 397 JPG files, including one PDF file. Most of these images show Susie Byrd on them.
The next Sony DVD in the series is also hand-labeled, this time “District 3&5”. This DVD contains seven digital folders, each containing at least one file. They are labeled; “CH-D03ASST”, “CH-D03ASST2”, “CH-D03REP”, “CH-D03SEC”, “CH-D05ASST”, “CH-D05REP” and “CH-D05SEC”. This DVD contains a total of 1,185 JPG files and one text file. The folder labeled “CH-D05SEV” has a text file, TXT for the computer nerds reading this, labeled “No Items Found”.
The final DVD in the set is labeled “District 7&8”. This DVD contains five digital folders labeled as follows. The first one is labeled “CH-D07ASST” followed by “CH-D07SEC”, “CH-D08ASST”, “CH-D08SEC” and “EPTREP001”. I’m not really sure what the folder labeled “EPTREP001” is supposed to identify, remember that I had already received the content of Ann Morgan Lilly’s computers via two digital files uploaded to the city’s open records portal. However the folder contains a text file labeled “No Items Found”.
The “CH-07ASST” folder also contains a text file labeled “No Items Found” while the “CH-D07SEC” contains three JPG files. Likewise, the folder labeled “CH-D08ASST” also contained a text file labeled “No Items Found” while the one labeled “CH-D08SEC” contains four files.
I assume that the “D” followed by a number signifies the city representative’s district number of the location where the files were found. Therefore I assume “CH-D08SEC” stands for Cortney Niland’s office and “SEC” signifies that the files came from a secretary’s computer in her office. The files in this folder are one image of Beto O’Rourke, one of Cortney Niland and two group images of citizens taken in city council chambers.
Notice that there are no folders labeled “REP” for either district seven or eight? Curiously District 7 only had three files instead of the “many” files that the rumors seemed to indicate that existed. Yes, I know a “rumor” does not make it “real”. However it is a red-flag for me that there were only three files where it was rumored that “many” existed.
I know most of you are probably wondering why so much minutia and why don’t I get to the point already. This is because I firmly believe that it is the lack of minutia that the city relies on for deflecting attention away from their games. Therefore I need to focus on the minutia in order to bring attention back to the issue at hand and that is the process itself.
So although some of you are looking forward to a picture of Steve Ortega’s hand on Veronica Escobar’s breast the truth is that I don’t have the picture. And although my original request was about looking for evidence of the possible misuse of city property by Steve Ortega, the city’s actions have now forced me to focus on one image.
By now you already know which picture it is so I won’t repeat it, but why this picture?
Notice how specific I was about my request to “provide any digital images, or photographs of any immediate-past city representative”. If there were images on Steve’s former computers then I should have received at least one such image. There were none. This didn’t prove anything however the rumor was clear about one thing, there was a picture of him and Veronica Escobar on Lily Limon’s computers.
Therefore I decided to ask around. Last Thursday, October 31, 2013 I called Eddie Holguin and asked him point blank; “have you ever seen a picture of Steve Ortega’s hand on Veronica Escobar’s breast” to which he replied; “yes”. After I asked him where, he told me that soon after Lily Limon had moved in they had come across “many images of Steve Ortega” and one of them included an image of Steve’s hand on Escobar’s breast.
Why is this important? Because the city seems to be playing a game of “well he didn’t ask for that” and therefore he didn’t get it. And more alarming to me, Holguin told me that Limon’s computers were recently “upgraded” as part of the city’s “refreshing” of computers.
The money order debacle and now this new revelation makes me feel like the city has been playing me for a fool.
Let’s clear up a few things that I expect will be the immediate response from the city and its supporting cast of useful idiots before I go on.
The only time Eddie Holguin got involved is when I called him and asked him point blank have you ever seen such an image. Before the call on October 31, 2013 I had not spoken to Eddie Holguin about my quest for those images. And to this date the only communications I have had with Lily Limon has been to send her two electronic communications via the city’s website. I’ll get to those in a moment.
The other thing for you to understand is that the picture of Steve Ortega and Veronica Escobar, as salacious as it sounds, was not the motive for filing my open records request on September 9, 2013 however the city’s own actions have now made it the focus of the whole exercise.
And finally, I want to be clear that if there are any political shenanigans going on I do not believe that Lily Limon or any of the staff members in her office or that of the city’s public relations department are involved. If anything, I believe that Lily Limon is fully complying with my opens records request. Also, to be clear, as of this morning, I have not seen the picture although it has been described to me by sources that it is an innocent picture of two people, one of whose hand is inadvertently touching another’s breast. So if you were looking for titillating sex I hate to disappoint you.
However if you care about transparency in government my experience should be an eye opener for you.
At this point I know the following. There is a picture that should have been delivered to me through my original open records request that was not delivered to me. I have been told by a reliable source, Eddie Holguin that the picture exists, and I trust Eddie Holguin to tell me the truth.
I also suspect, from both Holguin’s comments to me and another source that Lily Limon also saw the picture. And I also suspect that the “responsive documents” that were delivered to me were sanitized before being delivered to me.
I obviously have no proof of this and some of you will chalk it up as more “ranting” from a conspiracy nut. However I don’t give up easy. Therefore, last Thursday I sent an email to Lily Limon, another one on Friday, November 1, 2013 and also a certified return receipt requested letter addressed to Joyce Wilson.
Thursday’s electronic communication that I sent to Lily Limon via the city’s website asked her to “provide me with a copy of the image located within your computer, or any other computer within your office that depicts Steve Ortega and Veronica Escobar.” Apparently Limon forwarded my request to someone, I do not know who, because I promptly received an electronic confirmation of open records request number “W002031-103113” indicating that it had been filed on my behalf. As of this morning it has a status of “assigned”.
Friday morning, November 1, I sent another communication via the website to Limon’s office. This time I wanted to tie-up a few loose ends so I was more detailed.
I asked her to clarify the following six items:
“1. Have you seen the image that I have described to you on any of the computer devices assigned to your office at any time?
2. If you have seen this image, do you know on what computer device and approximately when you first became aware of the image?
3. If you are aware of the image, do you know if the image still exists on any computer device assigned to you by the city? If not, would you please let me know if you know of anyone that may have deleted that image from any device assigned to your office by the city?
4. As of today, November 1, 2013, do you know if any copy of this image still exists anywhere? If so, where can the image be found?
5. Do you currently have access to a copy of the digital image file I have described herein? If so, please describe where that file may be found.
6. To your knowledge, have the computers in your city office been “refreshed”, “updated” or “replaced” since you assumed office? If so would you provide me the dates and times of such occurrence, or occurrences and what you understand was done to your city issued computers.”
As city offices are closed on Fridays I do not expect to receive a reply until later today, at the earliest.
I also sent Joyce Wilson the following specific open records request via certified mail with return receipt requested.
I asked her for “A copy of a digital picture or image depicting former City Representative Steve Ortega’s hand on County Judge Veronica Escobar’s breast that upon information and belief exists or existed on City Representative Lily Limon’s city issued computer, or computers within her office between the periods of June 1, 2013 through October 31, 2013.”
I specifically sent this official request under the Texas Information Act because as a non-lawyer I believe that Joyce Wilson is the Public Information Officer for the City of El Paso and as such she is ultimately responsible to seeing that the law is adhered to. I’m sure that if I’m wrong about this there won’t be a shortage of lawyers to tell me that I’m wrong. Also notice how I worded the request.
This ties me directly into my problem with how my original request was handled. I shouldn’t have to retain an attorney, or write like one or even have to file multiple requests to force the city to provide me with the records that rightfully belong to the community. In fact, I shouldn’t feel like it doesn’t matter how I file an open records request because ultimately the city will play games with me and as such I cannot trust that the system works.
In fact, as of now, I am operating under the belief that the process of releasing open records to the community is flawed at best and completely corrupt at worst.
Therefore not only has this created more work for me trying to discern “rumor” from the “truth” it has now created a heavier burden on the taxpayers’ of El Paso because instead of one open records request I am now being forced to file multiple requests asking for the same information but wording each one slightly different so that I can pierce through the layers of fog in order to get to the truth.
Frankly the taxpayers of El Paso do not deserve this. As for me, they have just made my search for truth harder however I do not give up easily. If anything it reinforces my notion that any government that operates in El Paso is corrupt at all levels.
And here it comes, if you feel the system is corrupt then why don’t you file a complaint with the proper authorities? In short because frankly I don’t trust any of the “proper” authorities to investigate and much less enforce the law. There are various reasons why I think this and I’ll leave them for another day however the fact remains that filing a “complaint” won’t result in anything.
Remember that “complaints” were filed by various individuals for years against Lorenzo Garcia and NCED and the results were that it “was investigated” and “we didn’t find anything”.
Ultimately this issue rests squarely on the shoulders of the taxpayers of El Paso and the local news media who pretends to care about open government. I don’t expect much from the local news media because they’ve been more than happy to sit on the sidelines and let Stephanie Townsend Allala lead the fight for government transparency.
If anyone wants to pick up the gauntlet I have provided you a complete recount of what has transpired and I will keep you up to date as I receive more information. Of course, I will be more than happy to share all of my records with whoever asks for them. Better yet, file your own open records asking for all of the documents I have described here and we can compare their response with my actual copies. Ultimately the solution rests in the hands of the voters. Ask your representatives to prove their promise of government transparency by actions such as putting agenda items for public discussion and not just pay lip service to it.
Borrowing from another blogger, El Paso “deserves better”.