The leaders of the University Medical Center of El Paso and El Paso Children’s Hospital use taxpayer-funded equipment and services to send and receive “voluminous… personal messages unrelated to official business,” according to documents recently reviewed by El Paso Politics. Are El Paso’s taxpayers well-served when a taxing entity’s leadership spends time exchanging “personal messages”?
The University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) is a taxing entity that reports to the El Paso County Commissioners Court. El Paso Politics was unable to locate a copy of the County’s policy on the use of computers and email accounts for personal use. However, a November 18, 2019 Personal Conduct and Affairs Policy memorandum addresses the use of social media. In it, County employees are discouraged from using “County-owned equipment, including computers, County-licensed software or other electronic equipment, facilities or County time, to conduct personal use of social media other than incidental use.” 
The City of El Paso seems to have a more robust policy on the use of City-owned property. The City’s 2021 Employee Handbook states that “access to the City’s E-mail system, Intranet and the Internet is limited to business use only, aside from incidental personal use.” 
The Texas Public Information Act provides the community access to government records allowing the public to understand how the government conducts business. Because email is sometimes subject to the open records laws, Texas officials have policies in place requiring government employees to use official email accounts to conduct government business.
The Texas open records laws may make personal email addresses subject to an open records request depending on the scope of the request, and thus public employees are encouraged to keep official business on official accounts. Likewise, personal communications should be kept on personal accounts and on personal time.
Notwithstanding the apparent lack of County policy on the use of County emails for personal use, the use of taxpayer-funded computers and resources raises the question of the ethical use of taxpayer resources for personal business.
Do government employees violate the community’s trust when using government-owned equipment for personal use? Do the taxpayers care how their taxes are used by government employees?
Why Is This Important?
On February 2, 2021, lawyers representing the University Medical Center of El Paso (UMC) told the Texas Attorney General that “a substantial and voluminous portion of communications” between the CEO’s of UMC and El Paso Children’s Hospital and some UMC board members are “personal messages unrelated to official business.” The lawyers’ letter to the attorney general adds that “much” of the communications “relates to family and personal matters”.
We assume that the personal communications are exchanged using government-owned equipment because the UMC response was related to an open records request.
Because of this, the question that El Paso’s taxpayers may wish to ask themselves is whether the stewardship of taxpayer resources by UMC and the children’s hospital is appropriate when “substantial and voluminous” amounts of communications between the UMC and children’s hospital leadership are “personal messages unrelated to official business.”
The issue is not whether the personal messages should be the public’s business, but whether it is appropriate that El Paso’s taxpayer-funded officials spend “voluminous” amounts of time and resources conducting personal business on the public’s dime.
- “Personal Conduct and Affairs Policy,” El Paso County Department of Human Resources,” November 18, 2019.
- City of El Paso Employee Handbook, April 2021.