During the city council meeting held on August 3, 2013, city council adopted a resolution recognizing that all city communications are open records. But the city attorney stated that this resolution is not retroactive and therefore does not apply to Stephanie Townsend Allala’s year-old quest for public records. Instead, the city attorney told city council that the attorneys handling the case for the city against the Texas Attorney General will be in town next week to “brief them” on the status, no doubt at the continued expense of the taxpayers’ of the community.
Oscar Leeser seems to think that the city’s legal action will soon come to a close. Unfortunately, there seems to be no indication that this is the case, rather the suit does not appear that it will be wound down soon. If the intent is to wind it down then why pay to fly in out-of-town high-priced lawyers to brief city council next week?
So what do we know about where the case is at this point?
Very little because in an ongoing litigation battle the parties are hampered about what they can say publicly. In an email that was shared with me, Townsend Allala’s attorney shares some information about what Stephanie is looking for in settling the case.
Stephanie Townsend Allala has been clear from the onset that for her, this issue is about getting the information she requested and not about a monetary settlement.
According to the email shared with me, Stephanie’s attorney clearly lays this out by stating that she “is not willing to give up on getting public disclosure of correspondence between the Mayor, City Council, and City Manager” that she had requested about a year ago.
He adds that asking “her to do so is not asking for a settlement, it’s asking her to surrender her quest for transparency”.
Bill Aleshire, Stephanie Townsend Allala’s attorney goes one to detail what exactly the city can do to ensure that the community has access to the records requested by Stephanie and to bring the lawsuit to an end.
The attorney is asking that each individual subject of the open records request that has submitted their personal records accompany them with a “sworn statement” attesting to them having submitted all of their records as requested.
He goes on to add, that anyone who is still refusing to turn in their records to the city be sued by the city to require them to turn over all “local government records in their possession”.
Keep in mind that it is a crime under Texas Law for government officials to refuse to turn over public records. Violators can both be fined and/or incarcerated.
What about monetary compensation for Stephanie Townsend Allala to end the lawsuit?
According to Aleshire, Stephanie Townsend Allala is looking only to ensure that her attorney fees are covered. The legal fees, according to the email are less than $3,000.
Basically, for Townsend Allala to drop her suit, the city should provide her with the documents the community is entitled to. If the city doesn’t have the documents then the city, as the custodian of government records, must force those withholding them to turn them in.
Very simple, yet the city is still stonewalling? Why?
Another question that should be asked is why hasn’t the El Paso Times, the self-proclaimed open-records advocates, not followed up on this issue by asking Townsend Allala or her attorney for their side of the issue?
The El Paso Times continuously proclaims how their “journalistic integrity” requires them to get both sides of the story in order to offer a balanced report, yet the major protagonist in this case, Stephanie Townsend Allala, or her attorney haven’t been contacted by them.
Could it be that the El Paso Times hasn’t gotten its marching orders from the City of El Paso, who coincidently just purchased their building? Or, is it possible that the city hasn’t issued a press release for the El Paso Times to just slap on a byline on it and call it an article?
I think the answer to those questions lies in who is leading the paper today; Bob Moore. He was recently challenged by another reporter about his journalistic ethics. I’ll be covering that tomorrow.
So maybe, just maybe the local paper just doesn’t want to fairly report on the issue and would rather just act as the city’s propaganda machine, yet again.
In regards to the ongoing email fiasco, two things are becoming abundantly clear to me.
The first is that it appears to me that Steve Ortega, and possibly Cortney Niland have not released their emails to the city as required under the notion that public records belong to the taxpayers regardless of where they reside. I can only speculate that they are refusing to comply under some theory that they have a right to privacy although they chose to run for office. Public records are just that, public. Elected officials understand that anything they do in regards to the office that they hold is public information.
If both are under the impression that they can circumvent the rights of the taxpayers by pretending that their private communications are theirs and no business of the community then what does that say about the rest of their responsibilities to act for the good of the community? What about their ethics?
The second thing is that for some reason the city is delaying the release of the emails. The question is why?
Finally, it is important to note that contrary to the blogosphere arm-chair quarterbacking by a useful idiot to the horde, there is a way to insure that the records that are released are complete and accurate. First, an accompanying statement, under oath, is being required. Sure, the person signing the oath, could lie but then their potential for conviction for a crime just went from a misdemeanor to a felony, or worse, a federal case.
As for those that think that they can pretend that they have no records to release, they would have to enter into a conspiracy with others. Electronic records leave tell-tale breadcrumbs that could eventually lead to the discovery of missing records.
For example, let’s say that individual one sent a text to individual two, who then replied to individual one and included individual three in the exchange. Let’s assume that individual three releases their records and after an examination by the community, the exchange between individual one and two is exposed. If both individual one and two had denied having the record they would be hard-pressed to explain why individual’s three record shows that they in fact got it. They would be facing questions about their disclosure, especially if they had submitted signed affidavits.
In order to avoid this scenario, individuals one and two would have to convince individual three to participate in the conspiracy or somehow look through every record they ever produced and somehow find only the ones that could get them in trouble, and release those. That would be extremely difficult to do.
There is a reason why many politicians are sitting in jail today for public corruption. Many of them were caught by electronic breadcrumbs.
However, we all know that those intent on committing a crime would still attempt to do so. Therefore we have to accept that it may be possible to hide information if anyone chooses to do so. Fortunately for us, the more information that is released the easier it is for us to discover any attempt to do so.
It is now more important than ever to force city hall into releasing the requested records. They belong to the community and therefore they need to be released. If the city continues to stonewall the release of the records then we can only reach one conclusion, that the city is hiding something, protecting someone, or both. Neither are good for democracy, especially in a corrupt-laden city like El Paso.