Every day I get three to four emails with leads about political issues at the city that readers want me to address on my blog. Some of the leads provide detailed information and some give me just the basics. Each are welcome and each requests gets my attention. Sometimes I do not write a blog on the issue because basically there is nothing to write about the subject. It is either a misunderstanding, misinformation or the topic has been well vetted by other sources. Sometimes it takes me weeks to follow up because of the research I have to conduct. Sometimes I have to file an open records request and it takes time for the responses to get to me.
On September 15, 2014, I received an email from “Ms. Silence Dogooder”. This is obviously a pseudonym for someone. In the email, the sender wrote “I have evidence Representative Limon and Robinson are hosting private parties for city employees”. The included a copy of the flyer, along with a picture of the event and they posed three questions that “need asking”.
The first question asked whether the taxpayers are paying for the parties. The second question asked whether the representatives’ staff members were being paid while they host the party. Finally, the third question asked was why “has the El Paso bureaucracy been evading” the writer’s questions. Apparently, from the email, I understood that the writer was unable to get an answer from the city as to the parties. I can’t address why the writer was unable to get an answer but I can let you know that as a response to the writer’s lead I filed an open records request with the city.
In the open records request I filed on September 16, I asked the city to “provide a list of expenses and sources of funds paid to hold the August 21, 2014 ‘Employee Appreciation BBQ Bash for City 1’ hosted by City Representatives Carl Robinson and Lily Limon.” I also asked the city to “include a list of attendees to the party”, if one existed. On October 1, 2014, I received a response to my open records request.
The city wrote in their response “Robinson and Limon personally paid for the expenses” for the event. The city also added that there were no responsive documents to my request. Had this been any other city representative the matter would have ended there.
However, much to my surprise, the open records response included additional information. The response to my request included the following:
“In the interest of transparency and out of desire to personally respond to your request, they [Limon and Robinson] are providing copies of the receipts that they personally have in their possession. Additionally they have responded as follows:
‘The food and drink expenses were divided among the hosts: Representative Carl Robinson, Representative Lily Limón and their staff. The expenses were paid through our personal bank/credit accounts to show appreciation for the work done by the employees and to build goodwill among our colleagues. Everyone working in City 1 was invited. No attendance was taken at the event.’”
Additionally, as promised, the receipts for the food and other party items were included. The three receipts from Sam’s Club shows that Carl Robinson spent about $150 of his personal funds for the party.
It is important to note that the city’s response to my open records request did not require Limon or Robinson to include the copies of the receipts or the additional information. However, the fact that they did gives much credibility to their assertion that the party was for appreciating the employees that work for the city. It also shows that they paid for the party out of personal funds.
I am used to getting the run-around by government officials when requesting public information. I have written previously about how I feel the city, under Joyce Wilson, deliberately stymied my access to public information. Steve Ortega continues to hide public information in his possession. Because of this, it is very refreshing to see that Lily Limon and Carl Robinson not only celebrate the city’s employees but also willingly answer questions about issues the public has a right to know. Not only did they provide the required information, they also went beyond by making their personal copies of their receipts public for you to review.
Limon and Robinson demonstrated how government officials interested in open and transparent government should be conducting themselves.