Attorney General says city of El Paso can release the why behind huge salaries for two city executives, city declines

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez is set to earn nearly $400,000 after increases to his pay in 2022 based-off evaluations conducted by Mayor Oscar Leeser and the City Council.

Karla Nieman, the city attorney, is also set to earn more next year with a 2-percent increase that will put her pay at approximately $266,641. But the documents explaining why the city’s two highest-paid executives are getting increases won’t be released to the public.

The city of El Paso has opted to withhold individual evaluations scored by the mayor and eight representatives on the City Council, even though the Texas Attorney General says the documents can be released.

In July, the city only elected to release an aggregated score of the city manager and city attorney’s evaluations but wanted an opinion from the Texas Attorney General to see if individual evaluations could be withheld.

Similar documents have been released to the public the last several years and the city has not produced a clear reason why it has elected to change its approach in releasing evaluations.

Alexandra C. Burks, an assistant attorney general, wrote in an opinion, the city had demonstrated the information could be held under attorney-client privilege but a governmental body could elect to waive the exemption.

“Based on your representations and our review, we find you have demonstrated the applicability of the attorney-client privilege to the submitted information,” Alexandra C. Burks, an assistant attorney general wrote. “Accordingly, the city may withhold the submitted information.

KTSM 9 News reached out to the city to ask for comment from the city manager and city attorney and whether the city will elect to waive its exemption. Neither has returned requests for comment.

A city spokeswoman said the exemption has not been waived due to “contractual obligations.”

“The city does not comment on personnel matters, so you’ll need to speak with an outside attorney,” a spokeswoman said to questions the contracts and the opinion from the attorney general. “You would need to ask an attorney.”

The city manager’s contract was updated in 2018 and the city attorney was formally appointed the same year by the City Council.

Gonzalez’s contract has a confidentiality clause, as does Nieman’s, that states the following:

“Unless the manager expressly requests otherwise in writing, except to the extent prohibited by or in material conflict with applicable laws and authorities, the evaluation of the manager shall at all times be conducted in closed session of the council and shall be considered confidential to the maximum and full extent permitted by law. Nothing herein shall prohibit the council or the employee from sharing the content of the employee’s evaluation with their respective legal counsel.”

City Manager’s Employment Agreement, 2018

But the clause is no different from the previous agreement with Gonzalez in 2014.

Last year, the city of El Paso handled the open records request but this year, the city hired an outside firm called Davidson, Troilo, Team & Garza, P.C. to handle the request.

View the attorney general’s opinion here:

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