The complaint alleges that Claudia Ordaz disclosed executive session information to Veronica Escobar. The unlawful disclosure of executive session information, without authority, is a Class B misdemeanor (551.146b) in Texas.
According to the complaint; “On June 1, 2015 during an executive closed door agenda-review meeting. Ms Ordaz texted the status of economic incentive negotiations, Executive Items 6 and 7, regarding Sun City’s desire to locate facilities on the east and west side of El Paso, to a member of the public.”
The complaint then adds; “In addition, Ms Ordaz repeated a comment made by another councilman during the executive closed door-review meeting.”
Claudia Ordaz was informing Veronica Escobar about what was being discussed in executive session while the meeting was in progress. It is likely that Ordaz will argue that the information was not privileged or that city council, on occasion, has voted to release executive session material to the public.
The most recent example of city council agreeing to release executive session material is when they released the Norton Rose Fulbright report in December of last year. In that instance, city council voted to release the document to the public. City council rarely agrees to release executive session materials because of the many legal ramifications the releases cause for the city. As a matter of fact, the city is often reluctant to release executive session material to the community
A precedent to this has already taken place and it was fully adjudicated when Melina Castro was the northeast city representative. On November 10, 2009, Castro and 2 other city council members received a letter from Assistant City Attorney John R. Batoon regarding a settlement to a lawsuit that council discussed in executive session. Castro responded with a letter of her own, alleging that Batoon’s boss, City Attorney Charles McNabb, had committed various ethical violations in the handling of the age discrimination lawsuit filed against the city by McNabb’s friend, Rita Rodriguez. Rodriguez had been the city attorney before she was asked to resign by former Mayor Joe Wardy. The suit was settled, based on McNabb’s recommendation to the mayor and council, for a sum of $500,000, an astronomical settlement to a wrongful termination lawsuit in Texas, which is a right to work state.
As a result of the back-and-forth that between Melina Castro, the city and Charles McNabb over the Rodriguez controversy, Castro filed a lawsuit demanding that she, and her attorney, be allowed to see all of the legal documents in the Rodriguez case. The city had argued that Castro, as a city official could see the documents in executive session but absent a vote from city council authorizing the release of the documents to the public, no one outside of the city representatives, the mayor and the city attorney’s office could see them.
Castro lost the lawsuit demanding that she be allowed to share the documents with her private attorney. After appealing the case she paid the city $30,000 in 2009 for legal fees the city incurred. In essence, the court ruled that executive session material could not be released to any third party without the expressed authority of city council.
City council did not vote to allow Claudia Ordaz to disclose information about Sun City’s request for economic incentives. Yet, Ordaz revealed the results of the executive session deliberations about the incentives to Veronica Escobar, who is not a member of city council. According to Texas law, the unlawful disclosure of executive session information is a Class B misdemeanor.
Barbara Carrasco announced the filing during the call to the public on Tuesday’s city council meeting. CBS4 and KFOX were the only news media outlet to report the filing of the ethics complaint on Tuesday, January 26, 2016. When CBS4 and KFOX asked Ordaz about the filing, Ordaz responded that she did not believe there was an “actual ethic complaint” filed because “council receives copies of those” and she hadn’t received “any indication that anything was filed.” Ordaz added, “I would have received notice right away.”
Obviously, Ordaz was misinformed because as you can see from the city’s date stamp, the complaint was filed on Tuesday morning.
Barbara Carrasco kindly provided me a copy of the complaint. You can view it here. When I asked Carrasco about the filing, she replied that what Ordaz did was “grossly negligent.”
Now that Carrasco has filed the ethics complaint, the city attorney must review and it, and if it is found that the filing meets the legal requirements, it will be forwarded to the city’s ethics commission. However, the complaint alleges that Claudia Ordaz committed a Class B misdemeanor and thus she faces a criminal investigation in addition to the ethics complaint. The question is whether a complaint will be forwarded to local law enforcement, and if so, will the local prosecutor, Jaime Esparza, actually allow it to be adjudicated.