As you know, I have been following the Margarita Cabrera artwork issue ever since Miguel Juárez broke the story on Newsies that Cabrera was threatening to sue the city for the removal of her sculpture from the Westside. As part of my research, I submitted numerous open records requests to the city asking for documents. I have received the last batch of the open records documents and have reviewed them.
In one particular open records request about this issue, I asked for any emails from Cortney Niland’s email account at the city that included the reference Margarita Cabrera. I limited the scope to January 1, 2013 through April 24, 2015.
The response included an email from Ricardo Mora dated March 16, 2015 to Cortney Niland. In the email, Mora writes that he lives “accross [sic] roundabout on Country Club and Memory.” He adds that he had been approached by Margarita Cabrera “about five weeks ago” asking him if he could “safeguard pieces of the sculpture” on his property.
Ricardo Mora writes; “Last Friday March the 13th, we noticed some people that did not look like Mrs. Cabrera’s employees inside my property removing the sculpture pieces and when my ground keeper approached them, they said, ‘we are taking down the sculpture because it belongs to the city.’”
Mora concludes his email; “I don’t understand what exactly these people were thinking, but its [sic] clear that they were trespassing on private property. As a neighbor and a citizen, it frustrates me to have someone barge into my property and do whatever they like. Im [sic] sorry but, I feel very discontent because I could not safeguard the sculpture pieces that were left in my care.”
From the open records request packet I received the only response that Mora has received from the city so far is that his email is in the hands of the legal department.
As I have written previously it is very difficult to ascertain what is going on with this issue because the city has been silent about the issue and the only verifiable information we have on hand is the information provided by the artist.
We do not have the city’s side on this issue although we have much rumormongering about it.
I, like many others, have relied on the artist’s comments and documents released by her to attempt to begin the public discussion. It is an important discussion to have because it involves taxpayer monies, an allegation of censorship as well as an allegation of the destruction of the art.
There are those that question why is it that we don’t wait and allow the process to work.
My answer to that challenge is that the bankruptcy of the El Paso Children’s Hospital clearly shows that closed-door meetings under the guise of legalese perpetuates the rumormongering and in the end the community is ill informed about how its taxpayer monies are spent. The only fact we know, at this point about the El Paso Children’s Hospital, is that the taxpayers have made a major investment and at this point, that investment may be lost through the legal process.
Returning to the issue of Margarita Cabrera’s artwork it has been alleged that the city illegally removed the property. As you can tell, from the open records request I shared with you above, a taxpayer property owner has also alleged that the city entered his property without his permission and removed several items from his property.
Additionally, Nidia Holguin, the studio manager at Cabrera’s studio, issued a press release on Sunday May 24, 2015 alleging that the city has refused the artist’s request to return the artwork to her or even allowed her to review the condition the art.
Cabrera, in her manager’s press release also alleges that the city has attempted to pay her the balance due on the artwork.
This is important because one of the allegations is that the artwork is still the property of the artist until the city makes the final payment to her. If this proves to be the case then the city is trying to pay to keep its malfeasance a secret. Any monies already paid to the artist and any other monies to be paid in the future are taxpayer funds.
That fact is not debatable.
My problem with the city’s secrecy is that when it operates in the dark, behind closed-door meetings labeled “executive session” on an issue such this one, not only does this magnify the rumormongering but it also allows for the expenditure of the taxpayers monies without community imput.
If the city had acted appropriately as per the contract then regardless of the legal liability releasing factual information clearly outlining that the actions it took were consistent with the law and for the benefit of the city, would not have legal consequences that do not already exist. Using legal impediments as an excuse is just that, an excuse.
Consider the following, the city has allowed the notion to manifest itself that it removed the artwork because the provisions of the contract had been violated by the artist.
The problem with this notion is that the contract has a built-in mechanism for addressing a possible failure by the artist in following it and those mechanisms have a built in communication process. The abrupt removal of the artwork does not fall within these guidelines. This gives the rumors a basis on what are the facts.
More importantly, had the issue been the removal of a dangerous nuisance then that does not address the allegation that the city crews entered a private property to remove items that were not installed on the actual artwork.
Without the artist accepting the final payment for her artwork, it forces the city to address whether it had the legal authority to remove the artwork. That is where the true liability lies.
As you clearly see, the public discussion is impossible when the city continues to hide behind the excuse of legal liability.
As the process is proceeding right now, it looks like the city is spending your money without giving you the opportunity to hold a public and important public discussion about it. Now add to that the allegation that the artwork has been censored, I believe you can clearly see how this public discussion is imperative that it be held in public instead of behind closed doors.
This leaves us with the most important question about the whole issue, why does the city continue to insist on discussing this issue behind closed doors?