POSTED: Wednesday, December 12, 2012 - 10:47pm
UPDATED: Thursday, December 13, 2012 - 12:41pm
EL PASO — Controversy surrounding a new Triple A baseball stadium is heating up yet again, as the City of El Paso is refusing to make documents public as ordered by the Texas Attorney General. The dispute centers around personal emails and notes exchanged by council members and Mayor John Cook regarding a new stadium. Attorney General Greg Abbott ordered that those emails be made public, but the city is refusing to do so.
It all started with a public records request from El Paso lawyer Stephanie Townsend Allala, who has been an outspoken opponent of city council's plans to build a Triple A baseball stadium since day one. She's still fighting, now demanding that all emails and notes exchanged by city officials since January 1st be made public.
"The taxpayers of El Paso got tricked into barely supporting the stadium project. Now they should not get tricked again. They should demand elected officials release these records," said Allala's lawyer, Bill Aleshire.
Attorney General Greg Abbott agrees that those documents should be made public. However, the city is refusing to hand them over. At the center of the debate are emails sent from the personal accounts of the mayor and council representatives. Allala's lawyer speculates the mayor and council representatives may be using personal emails to communicate out of the public eye. That's illegal. A few years ago members of Austin's city council were found guilty of the same thing, and are now serving a probation as part of a plea deal.
"The district attorney of El Paso should immediately issue a subpoena for the records the city is trying to conceal in order to review them and see if its evidence that they've been communicating in a quorum in violation of the Open Meetings Act," said Aleshire.
City officials are not commenting on that, but they do argue personal emails are off limits, not subject to open records searches. In a statement to Newschannel 9, city officials say quote: "Those documents do not meet the statutory definition of public information." It goes on to say, "the City of El Paso does not collect, assemble, or maintain personal records of the elected officials or city staff. "
Allala and her attorney are not convinced.
"If it's about city business it doesn't matter if they use their personal account or not. Can you imagine what developments would occur to open records if every public official and public employee could just use their AOL account to conduct city business and keep it secret? That is not the law in Texas," said Aleshire.
The city's suit against the Attorney General should go to trial within the next year. If a judge rules against the city, they could also still appeal the ruling.