The Cone of Silence

At Tuesdays City Council meeting, you will recall, our elected officials decided, in Executive Session, to give the City Manager a blank check to enter into contracts to realize the downtown arena.

From the El Paso Times:

City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said that currently Gonzalez has a cap of $50,000 that he can spend without having to go before the City Council for approval for other projects.

She said that Tuesday’s action allows Gonzalez to sign contracts with appraisers, surveyors and other experts without having to wait for the City Council to meet.

According to the City’s website

The City Council of the City of El Paso may retire into EXECUTIVE SESSION pursuant to Section 3.5A of the El Paso City Charter and the Texas Government Code, Chapter 551, Subchapter D, to discuss any of the following: (The items listed below are matters of the sort routinely discussed in Executive Session, but the City Council of the City of El Paso may move to Executive Session any of the items on this agenda, consistent with the terms of the Open Meetings Act and the Rules of City Council.) The City Council will return to open session to take any final action and may also, at any time during the meeting, bring forward any of the following items for public discussion, as appropriate.

Section 551.071

Section 551.072

Section 551.073

Section 551.074

Section 551.076

Section 551.087

Now I reckon Sylvia “Loophole” Borunda Firth can shoehorn giving Mr. Gonzalez authority to sign contracts with appraisers into one of these categories, but I reckon it’s a tight fit. Like maybe here, in the Ethics portion of the Texas Government Code, the part dealing with Open Government:

Sec. 551.072. DELIBERATION REGARDING REAL PROPERTY; CLOSED MEETING. A governmental body may conduct a closed meeting to deliberate the purchase, exchange, lease, or value of real property if deliberation in an open meeting would have a detrimental effect on the position of the governmental body in negotiations with a third person.

No, we haven’t even selected a piece of property, so that won’t work.

Well then this:

Sec. 551.087. DELIBERATION REGARDING ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT NEGOTIATIONS; CLOSED MEETING. This chapter does not require a governmental body to conduct an open meeting:
(1) to discuss or deliberate regarding commercial or financial information that the governmental body has received from a business prospect that the governmental body seeks to have locate, stay, or expand in or near the territory of the governmental body and with which the governmental body is conducting economic development negotiations; or
(2) to deliberate the offer of a financial or other incentive to a business prospect described by Subdivision (1).

Building an arena downtown doesn’t qualify there, either.

Maybe our City Attorney isn’t familiar with the Ethics part of the Texas Government Code. Apparently neither are any of our elected officials.

One comment

  1. I agree this item should have been discussed with transparency, for the benefit of the public, but there is a big loophole you omit from your list. That is, the “advice of legal counsel” exemption that allows the Council to get and receive legal advice in private. This should not be used as a sham to hide discussion from the public

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *