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City wants penalties for conducting public business on personal accounts

By Maria Garcia, MariaG@kvia.com.
Published On: Dec 24 2013 02:03:48 AM CST
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 11:00:24 PM CST

City of El Paso's open records policy

EL PASO, Texas -

The City of El Paso's Ethics Commission will evaluate how to penalize city officials and employees who conduct city business on personal electronic devices or accounts.

City Council on Tuesday passed a resolution that requires all City employees, volunteers and elected officials to forward any email, text message, or instant message to their city email, if they receive it on a personal account or device.

The resolution is an effort to comply to a new state law which says all communication about government business, no matter the device or account it's sent, contained, or stored is public record.

Any City staff who is communicating about public business,  must also respond to those emails via their city accounts. City Rep. Emma Acosta said a resolution is not enough.

"I don't know that a resolution really does anything. A resolution doesn't really have any substance to it. It's like a policy that you write and that's it. We need to impose sanctions on those individuals that maybe do not forward their emails to the City server," said Acosta.

City Council voted to take the resolution to the Ethics Commission, who has 30 days to review it and make suggestions on penalties for violator.

It's still unclear how the City will monitor or ever know if someone has violated the policy. Some government watchogs have said measures like this are often unenforceable, because there's no way the City can know if someone did not forward emails to their City account.

The new resolution doesn't force the city to release documents that were requested before it passed and the city has refused to turn over.  

Last September, ABC-7, El Diario, and government watchdog, Stephanie Townsend Allala, requested emails from the personal accounts of city representatives dealing with the baseball stadium.

The City released thousands of emails, but withheld others and is currently suing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, who in an opinion, said the City should release some of the withheld emails. The City is still refusing to release them and has spent about $7,000 on the litigation.

City Attorney Syliva Firth said the resolution is not retroactive.

"It would be effective once passed by mayor and council so it's just a forward document. It has nothing to do with what happened in the past," she said Tuesday.

It's unclear how the City will resolve the issue.

"Next week our outside counsel will be visiting and we'll be present to discuss the item with city council. We're still working and looking for a resolution," said Firth.

Officials said City stall will be trained on the new policy, including how to handle social media.

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