Every citizen of El Paso should be troubled by the City’s actions, and inactions, concerning the “secret” emails demanded by Stephanie Townsend Allala in an effort to shine daylight on the process through which the City erected a ballpark on the site of City Hall.
Let me bring you up to speed, in case you’ve only been reading the El Paso Times, which, for reasons known only to its editorial board, refuses to cover the issue.
Currently the City is fighting to absolve itself of the responsibility of presenting public records demanded through a FOIA request. (The courts have previously ruled that emails sent from private email accounts that deal with city business are public records.) The City maintains that it has done all it could to present emails from personal accounts of City Council and City Staff. Susie Byrd, Cortney Niland, and Joyce Wilson all turned in what they claimed were all the relevant emails, but they’re fighting a deposition to swear to it. Steve Ortega hasn’t, and he says he won’t without a court order. Which seems to imply that he will if he receives a court order.
But the only entity that can get a court order is the City, which legally owns the emails that concern City business, which are public documents no matter which email accounts they originated from.
All of the legal issues are pretty well established by case law. El Paso isn’t the first city to have a city council discussing issues “off the books,” so to speak.
But instead of demanding the emails from Mr. Ortega, which is the prudent and efficient thing to do, the City is going to court to claim that it has done all it can to present the emails in question. Which is a lie, because the City hasn’t sought the court order to compel Mr. Ortega to surrender his emails.
Why doesn’t the City want the emails that Mr. Ortega is holding onto? I submit that perhaps Ms. Byrd, Ms. Niland, and Ms. Wilson deleted some relevant emails before they turned them in. That’s why they’re not willing to submit to depositions regarding the emails, as requested by Ms. Allala and ordered by the court. And that Mr. Ortega’s emails will corroborate that fact.
Ms. Allala has a top-notch lawyer who specializes in open records cases. He won’t fumble this one. So apparently the City is only stalling for time. Why?
Is it because if City Manager Joyce Wilson is fired for cause, like violating the Texas Public Information Act, she won’t receive her $60,000 a year pension? Is it because the emails reveal things worse than walking quorums? Will the emails show that El Paso’s city government is comprised entirely of lizard people preparing the earth for an intergalactic invasion? Or engaged in baby trafficking? Or in league with the cartels?
The contents of the emails are interesting and important, but an equally pressing concern is why the current administration, which presumably has nothing to hide, is fighting their release? Are they, somehow, culpable in a similar situation? Is Mayor Leeser just the latest edition of the same Good Ol’ Boy network that’s been afflicting El Paso since forever?
Does the City have so much extra legal capacity that it can afford to devote lawyers’ time to this frivolous project? Or, is their contempt for the democratic process so complete that they’re willing to spend more of our money to keep us from the truth?