There are a total of sixty pages of emails released to me under my open records request. It appears that the emails were gathered from Emma Acosta, Susie Byrd, John Cook and Joyce Wilson, some time ago. I surmise that they were voluntarily provided to the city when Stephanie Townsend Allala first filed her initial open records request. The three batches delivered to me were labeled; “Personal Emails Previously forwarded” but I do not know who and when they were “previously forwarded” to. One of Emma Acosta’s emails shows that it was forwarded from a blacked out email address, which I assume to be her private mailbox to her “District #3” city account. The email’s subject line is marked; “for the open records request; Baseball stadium lease concerns” and it was dated September 23, 2012.
In today’s post I am going to focus on an exchange between John Cook, Joyce Wilson and others where it become clear that there were questions about the need to rush the process through. Tomorrow’s post will cover some interesting exchanges between Emma Acosta, a proponent of the ballpark and Cortney Niland’s apparent interjection in a teleconference call between Emma Acosta and Doug Barrett. Steve Ortega’s emails were not included in the batch that I received but he obviously used his personal account to opine about the ballpark. In tomorrow’s post I’ll explore those emails further.
The complete set of emails will be made available by Stephanie Townsend Allala on her Chucoleaks website in the next few days.
But first let’s take a look at John Cook’s actions during the crucial period where the ballpark was voted on by city council. As you all know, on June 26, 2012 city council voted to tear down city hall. Those who voted to tear down city hall were Byrd, Niland, Noe and Ortega. On September 18, 2012, on a 4-3 vote, city council voted not to overturn the June 26 vote. Representatives Byrd, Lilly, Niland and Noe voted to reject the petition calling for halting the demolition of city hall. Steve Ortega was absent from this meeting.
Through all of this, John Cook was vacillating between supporting and not supporting the destruction of city hall. Recently he admitted on two different news outlets that the process had been designed to keep the electorate from voting.
On September 20, 2012, John Cook announced that he would not veto the city council’s action of September 18. During this crucial time line, up to the time that John Cook decided not to veto council’s decision, his emails show that he had reservations about the need to rush the process and not put the question to the voters in the upcoming November elections.
For some reason he changed his mind at the last minute. The only thing he has publicly stated is that Joyce Wilson and the ownership group were “smarter” than him.
In a July 9, 2012 email to Paul Foster, John Cook apologized “for the confusion that has resulted from my interview with the Inc.” He added that he had drafted a letter to Dan Barrett which he copied to Foster. In his email, Cook clarifies that what he meant was that he was against using Certificates of Obligations to fund the stadium. Cook goes on to write that he did “not oppose the council’s actions even though I personally think it is not in the best interest of El Paso taxpayers to demolish a perfectly good building and then have to acquire another home for municipal government.”
That needs to sink a little. John Cook had the opportunity to protect a “perfectly good building” when he had the opportunity to veto the council’s actions. He did not.
On August 13, 2012, John Cook received a copy of the El Paso Inc. article from August 12, 2012 where Larry Francis discusses the baseball field and the notion that former mayors did not invest in the city’s welfare. The article had been forwarded to Cook by Virginia Hooten.
On September 15, 2012 at 6:59am, Joyce Wilson sends an email to John Cook letting him know that she had stopped by his office “late last week to visit with you about the pending baseball project”. She added that she planned to visit with him prior to the agenda review on the following Monday. She writes that she had talked to the ownership group about “waiting until the vote on the hot tax”. She adds that the ownership group responded that “neither are options and would be considered substantial breaches of the terms sheet”.
On September 15, 2012 at 12:7pm, John Cook responds to Joyce Wilson with the subject line; “PowerPoint Presentations for Tuesday’s Council 09-18-12 DRAFTS”. In that email, John Cook writes; “I am not inclined to use my veto, but did want Council to know that they should get this to a 6 to 2 vote.” He adds, “I still see Emma as being the weak link and hope that the concessions the ownership group has made will win her over.” Cook then writes; “I just finished my conversation with Foster, Hunt and Barrett. I’ll meet with them again on Monday evening.”
On September 16, 2012; the following email exchange titled “Interesting article” took place between John Cook, Joyce Wilson and others that remain unidentified.
At 8:14am, John Cook writes the following to Joyce Wilson; “When I spoke to Mountain Star yesterday and asked if a November vote by the people was a deal killer the response was that right now we control our own destiny and waiting six weeks carried with it some risk. Interesting answer. Too bad we can’t talk to PCL or Moorad.”
In this email an article titled; “Moorad Near Deal To Sell Triple-A Tucson Padres for $20M; Club Would Move To El Paso” by Eric Fisher, Staff Writer for the SportsBusiness Journal was attached. According to the article dated September 6, 2012, Jeff Moorad’s sale of the Tucson Padres to MountainStar Sports Group for $20 million was not contingent on approval by El Paso to build a downtown ballpark.
Yes, I read that multiple times and even Googled the original article and it clearly states that the sale of the Tucson Padres was NOT contingent on El Paso taxpayer’s building a downtown ballpark for the incoming team. Moorad was quoted as stating that the deal was in the final stages, alluding that it had not been finalized yet. The article added that the agreement included a clause for the Tuscon Padres to play in Tucson in 2014, if needed.
At 10:41am, John Cook writes to Hayley Kappes; that “This article is not consistent with what I read in the Times nor with my conversation yesterday with Mountain Star Sports folks. When I asked if waiting until November I was told that today we control our destiny. Waiting six weeks would involve some risk that the deal could fall apart.”
At 10:48am, Joyce Wilson writes the following to unknown individuals; “I understand he’s under pressure to sell both by the league. MLB and AAA. Whether he’d start shopping immediately is hard to determine. Also don’t know if PCL would resurrect de eirher (sic) Up to us at this point I guess. Tuesday will tell.”
At 5:46pm, John Cook writes to Joyce Wilson; “It has taken Mountain Star a long time to get to this point. I doubt anyone could put something together in six weeks.”
At 6:02pm, Joyce Wilson responds to John Cook; “That’s probably true. I plan to reach PCL directly before Tuesday to try to confirm the issue with tying approval of HOT Tax in November. At this point it’s out of staff’s hands. We are working on amendments that the group provided us. In fact Paul Braden and my staff having been going (sic) back and forth with drafts all day today and reworking the proformas. Other than this Council and you will have to decide how this plays out on Tuesday.” She was replying to Cook’s 8:48am email.
It is important to note that the majority of this discussion transpired on Sunday, before the crucial vote on the following Tuesday. We all now know that John Cook decided not to veto the legislation that would have forced the issue on the November election ballot. What he discussed in the meetings he had with the ownership group has not been disclosed but obviously they convinced him not to veto. Why?