I recently filed several open records requests in order to conduct a test on how public officials are using technology and how it affects open records requests. The comments made by El Paso Police Chief Greg Allen, about the Black Lives Matter group gave me an opportunity to experiment. I will share with you more details about my experiment in tomorrow’s edition. However, today I wanted to share the results of one specific exchange between Claudia Ordaz and Veronica Escobar.
As a result of the Allen controversy I filed four open records requests asking for any emails that were sent or received from the private email addresses of Susie Byrd and Veronica Escobar and some city elected officials. The city officials I requested the records from were Oscar Leeser, Lily Limon, Claudia Ordaz, Peter Svarzbein and Jim Tolbert.
In my request asking for emails between Veronica Escobar and Claudia Ordaz, it seems that Escobar was disappointed in Ordaz’ statements to the news media about Greg Allen’s comments. In a text message thread released to me via my open records request, it seems that Veronica Escobar was “disappointed” that Ordaz did not condemn the police chief for his comments.
As a reminder, previous open records requests showed a close working relationship between Escobar and Ordaz. However, it soon became apparent that Vince Perez and Claudia Ordaz were somewhat distancing themselves. As you know, on July 9, 2016, a Saturday, Veronica Escobar released a letter asking city elected officials to “repudiate” the comments made by the police chief about Black Lives Matter.
Earlier that day, Veronica Escobar sent a text message (8:34am) to Claudia Ordaz giving her the “heads-up” about the letter they would be releasing later that day. In that text message, Escobar wrote “that several elected officials, myself, and other organizations were very upset” at the comments made by Allen.
Claudia Ordaz responded to Escobar that the comments by Greg Allen “put our community in a vulnerable position and our officers at risk.” Ordaz added that the “city isn’t helping matters by staying silent so we need to address it by condemning those comments but I also want to be careful that the actions and comments we make as leaders do not add more fuel to the fire because people are very upset.” Ordaz added that she was “going to have a conversation with Tommy about how we should come up with a statement from the mayor/council/and CM.”
On Sunday, the following morning, Veronica Escobar sent a text message to Claudia Ordaz at 11:08am. In it, Escobar wrote that “they have yet to even acknowledge my email.” They, are obviously city elected officials. Apparently Escobar and Ordaz intended to have a telephone conversation later in the day, but it seems that it never happened.
At 11:15pm, Veronica Escobar sent another text message to Ordaz. In it, Escobar wrote; “Your statement is disappointing. Sad day for all us.” [emphasis mine]
The following day, at 6:45am, Claudia Ordaz responded as follows:
“I’m sorry that you feel that way. I knew mostly everyone would be unhappy about my statement but it came from my heart. I did take time yesterday to reflect and I feel most all of the actions lately (the chief, the letter, the city’s silence) have really detracted from the real objective of the movement, the officers Dallas lost and has caused divisiveness in this community. As I said in the statement, the Chiefs [sic] comments are inexcusable, uniformed [sic], and hurtful and in my opinion, it is up to community leaders, the public and most importantly the chief to heal the wounds his statement has caused. Taking his head will only perpetuate the problem. Also, the fact that he and others in this community have those opinions is a real problem and it’s an opportunity to do our best to help him and this community better understand the issue. I feel the way to achieve that is through empathy, forgiveness, and active dialogue and engagement. There is an event today that I’m going to try and get the people from the city to, like the chief. I hope it will be the first step.”
As you digest this, notice something else. Did you notice that Vince Perez was not a signer of the Veronica Escobar letter asking city officials to condemn the police chief? As a matter of fact, Vince Perez has been uncharacteristically silent on this issue.
Nothing happens in a vacuum.
There are many links to this ongoing, and still developing issue. Yes, it is still developing as the various open records continue to trickle in. However, you might remember that both Vince Perez and Claudia Ordaz had an encounter with several El Paso police department officers at a Whataburger on September 6, 2015. (link) Although I filed several open records requests, some of the details of that night remain somewhat sketchy. I believe that there are still responsive records within the city that they have not released to me. Some of those records may be in police files. If that is true, keeping the police chief, Greg Allen friendly ensures that those files remain hidden from public scrutiny.
There have been several comments by various individuals suggesting that Veronica Escobar was using the Greg Allen controversy as a political ploy. Some believe that Veronica Escobar wants to exert control over the city.
Some recent developments and additional open records documents that I have seen seem to suggest that the Veronica Escobar letter was part of a political ploy. I am developing this further and will share more information with you in the next few days. In the meantime, tomorrow, I am going to give you a little insight on how I am attempting to prove that certain elected officials are using private emails and devices to circumvent the opens records laws.