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City Hall Overwhelmed by Open Records Request

By Matt Dougherty
Published On: Oct 09 2012 11:38:43 AM CDT
Updated On: Jan 14 2014 06:21:04 PM CST

Personal and Private Emails Requested from City Officials

EL PASO, Texas -

The City of El Paso has contracted an Austin-based law firm to manage a single open-records request, now totaling more than 8,000 documents.

Denton, Navarro, Rocha & Bernal has been hired by the city a "couple of times" in the past, Laura Gordon with the city attorney's office said.

The scope of the request is broad -- extending into the personal email accounts of El Paso's elected officials.

The attorney representing ballpark opponent Stephanie Townsend-Allala says the records are public information, and his client initiated the request after suspicions the ballpark deal had been made long before the public knew.

"They're saying there's 8,000 pages." attorney Bill Aleshire said. "Our response to that would be that if since January the council had 8,000 pages of emails with each other about city business, that's a whole lot of talking outside of posted, open meetings, where the public can see what they're talking about."

The request is for information pursuant to the Texas Public Information Act, seeking emails (including emails written using personal email accounts), letters, memoranda, notes and other forms of written communications regarding public business concerning the ballpark deal.

The request is also seeking text message correspondance.

All city council representatives, the mayor, city manager Joyce Wilson and city spokeswoman Juli Lozano have been asked to produce their records.

The records requested are limited to conversations and discussions among city officials, and with correspondance each had with Paul Foster, Scott Weaver, Joshua Hunt and H.L. Hunt.

"The reason it's taking so long is because the scope is so broad," the attorney contracted by the city, George Hyde said. "We're doing it according to the law, as promptly as possible."

Hyde takes exemption with the request for emails written using personal email accounts.

He says even though they are public individuals, their personal emails are still private.

City representatives contacted by ABC7 say they complied with the request for records and turned over their correspondance to city attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth.

"If they've turned over all of the emails, then why haven't we seen any?" Aleshire said. "Not a one."

The case has moved to the Texas Attorney General's office for a ruling on whether or not private emails, written by elected officials, concerning public business, should be required to be released.

City officials say the single request has taken a tremendous amount of man hours to accommodate and will end up costing the city a large amount of money.

 

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