Tomorrow’s city council agenda has an interesting agenda item up for discussion. In item 18.1, Emma Acosta is asking to have a “discussion and action to initiate policy/ordinance that any Open Records Request (ORR) by a City Representative, all such request(s) must be paid for and that the use of staff time spent in hours and salary costs on the ORR be disclosed at a regular City Council meeting and placed on the regular agenda.” Additionally, Acosta aded that the “1994 City of El Paso Open Records Resolution be updated in accordance with the Administrative Code, title 1, Chapter 70 and Government Code, Chapter 52.”
To be honest, I am puzzled by this agenda item. It seems to be targeting a specific city council representative. In the backup material provided by Acosta on the city’s agenda website, there is a memorandum from Kristen Hamilton-Karam to the mayor and city council. The memorandum is dated October 1, 2015 and is marked “Attorney Work Product Communication, Not intended for public dissemination.”
The memorandum lays out how fees are calculated in response to open records requests. It references the 1994 council resolution and adds that the fees are part of the city’s “annual budget.” The memorandum then adds, “currently, if any City Council Representative submits a request for information under the Act, our office applies the same rules governing the charges as with any member of the public.”
As I understand the reading of the request for posting of the agenda item by Emma Acosta and the city attorney’s memorandum, it appears that Emma Acosta is targeting one or more city elected officials with her request.
The city attorney clearly explained that elected officials pay the same fee as citizens. There appears to be no special treatment of the elected officials. Acosta’s posting suggests that Emma Acosta wants to have a discussion about having city representatives pay a higher fee for open records requests.
This begs the question – why?
Even if Emma Acosta were to somehow convince a majority of the city representatives to vote to raise their costs for open records requests, how will that force them to actually pay them?
Consider that in 2005, John Cook submitted an open records request to the city asking for “information for the period beginning June 1, 2003, and ending February 24, 2005, regarding the names of all outside law firms/lawyers that have been paid by the City of El Paso for legal services to include, the dollar amounts the forms have been paid, the billable hours the firms have been paid for, the billable hour rate the firms were paid for, the cases the firms have been working on for the city, the settlement amounts the City of El Paso has paid out during this period.”
After being informed of the cost to produce the request, John Cook withdrew his request and instead posted an agenda item for a city council meeting asking for the same information. Clearly, the city costs were the same, except that as a city council representative at the time, John Cook avoided the fees by using his office to receive the information he sought.
What is to stop other city representatives from doing the same thing again?
What John Cook did, not matter the reason, was an abuse of authority because he avoided paying a fee by using the authority of his office to attain it.
Now, Emma Acosta is asking to charge city representatives more than citizens for the same city service. A tax, on elected officials, if you will.
Yes, I know, the taxpayers are celebrating the notion that the elected officials could be made to pay more than a taxpayer would pay for the same thing.
However, that doesn’t seem to be the case. Rather it seems that Emma Acosta is using her official capacity to target one or more elected officials. That is not only a waste of taxpayer dollars but it borders on official abuse of her authority.