City Council Meeting June 10, 2014 Tidbits

city_cncl_tidbitsYesterday’s city council had lots of pontification by politicians looking for their next political gig. It also revealed how Ann Morgan Lilly feels about transparency in government. As expected, Lily Limon’s item also revealed an interesting issue that will be vetted in the next few months. Of course, in the end it was about how some elected officials posture for sound bites while doing the exact opposite of their rhetoric.

During the call to the public the pending lawsuit regarding the release of the emails being litigated by Stephanie Townsend Allala came up. The city attorney continues to argue that the case is ongoing because of the “technicality” of waiting for the court to dismiss the lawsuit. According to Sylvia Borunda Firth, the city has released all of the records in “its possession” and thus, according to her the city has complied.

The issue conveniently ignored by the city attorney is that the city’s position is that they have no mechanism by which to demand the emails from those that have refused to give them to the city. That is the key that the court is considering at the moment. The city wants to absolve itself of the responsibility of demanding its public records from Steve Ortega and others.

The first order of business was Joyce Wilson’s contract amendment allowing her to continue receiving her city salary while starting to work at the Upper Rio Grande Workforce Solutions. I won’t bore you with the details; suffice it to say that Joyce Wilson needs to stay on the city’s payroll until September 3, 2014 in order to be fully vested (corrected on June 11 at 2:02pm ET) in the city’s retirement program. If she were to leave sooner, her pension would be significantly impacted. Larry Romero is apparently feeling the heat from his constituency as he preached about how he could not support Joyce Wilson’s contract amendment. In the end, city council voted four to three to amend Wilson’s contract.

The next issue was Limon’s agenda item about the use of the city’s luxury box at the ballpark. Much of the discussion was veiled on unnamed individuals and thus it was hard to identify who was being targeted by Limon. Much was made about an incomplete list of attendees and email exchanges between the city representatives as a result of Lily Limon asking each for a list of those that have used the luxury box.

I filed an open records request asking for the list that Limon has compiled so far. When I receive it I will share it with you.

According to the discussion the list of attendees is incomplete because there has been lax record keeping and because at least one city representative refused to provide a list of those she has invited. Although Limon did not identify Ann Morgan Lilly as the individual that refused to provide her the list, Morgan Lilly, herself stated that it was she who refused to release her list.

According to Ann Morgan Lilly she refused to provide the list because she did not want to “hurt anyone’s feelings”. According to her monologue, Morgan Lilly stated that she invited members of a west side neighborhood association however she could not invite the entire membership because there were not enough tickets for all. Only 16 tickets are available for each game.

According to the presentation made by both Lily Limon and Edmundo Calderon, an internal auditor, the city’s luxury box is supposed to be used by city employees and board members as an incentive. Because there are over 6,000 employees it is understood that spouses should not be invited. The policy about spouses has not been officially adopted by the city. City representatives, as well as the mayor, are each allocated certain game nights for the use of the luxury box.

It is the city’s policy that the luxury box is supposed to be used by the city representatives and the mayor “for official city business purposes”. The mayor is allocated ten game days for “city business hosting” and the Economic Development Department is allocated five days for economic development hosting projects. The city representatives are each allocated 16 game day tickets. The rest are supposed to be used by city employees and boards as incentives.

During the discussion it was revealed that four employees have used the box twice, one has used it three times and at least one employee has invited their spouse and family members to the box. Although the discussion pointed out that it was inappropriate that city representatives invite family and friends, at least one city representative admitted to having her spouse at the game.

Emma Acosta stated that she brought along her “significant other because he is involved in the neighborhood associations”. Acosta added that “elected officials should not be policing each other…or demanding information from each other”.

City council ultimately voted to hold a LRC meeting of the whole to discuss clearing up the policy on what is the proper use of the city’s luxury box.

As I wrote earlier in my piece I have filed an open records request for the list of who has used the luxury box so far. As soon as I receive a response I will share it with you.

The last item of interest that city council voted on was to intervene through an amicus brief on a pending lawsuit before the Supreme Court between the State of Texas and the states of Colorado and New Mexico. The city will intervene on the side of Texas in the lawsuit. An amicus brief is also a “friend of the court” filing that basically asks the court to include El Paso with the Texas pleadings.

The lawsuit filed by Texas concerns the allegation that New Mexico is short changing Texas on water released through the Rio Grande. According to the discussion, New Mexico releases the water as required by a federal agreement; however it has issued over 4,000 water well permits along the route that effectively lowers the water supplies.

You might remember that in 2000, Woody Hunt entered into an agreement with the water utility to “explore various options for bringing water into El Paso”. Hunt later purchased about 2,000 acres of farmland near the Bone Springs Victorio Peak aquifer and other water-rich land in Dell City. Hunt told the news media that acquiring the water rights made it easier for the water utility to purchase land easier because instead of negotiating with multiple land owners the utility would only have to negotiate with Hunt and his investor partners.