City of El Paso looking to withhold expenses for outside legal counsel services

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The city of El Paso won’t release individual City Council evaluations of the city attorney and city manager, and now, is looking to withhold disclosure of expenses for outside legal counsel used to keep those documents private.

In mid-August, the Texas Attorney General’s Office said the city of El Paso was at liberty to release individual documents showing how each City Council representative scored the city manager and city attorney’s evaluations. Nearly two weeks later, the city has yet to release those documents.

Now, the city is seeking to withhold certain details about expenses made to Davidson, Troilo, Ream & Garza, P.C., a San Antonio-based firm, which assisted the city with legal advice in keeping the evaluations private.

Documents released on Wednesday showed the city owed the firm $24,465 before June 30. KTSM 9 News first requested the city manager and city attorney’s evaluations on June 22.

The invoices also show the city had made a payment lowering the balance to $18, 267 on June 30. The city had owed a prior invoice of $6,198 to the firm before the payment was made, documents show.

It is unclear whether the invoices detail how much the city spent on the outside law firm to contest the release of the City Council’s individual evaluations. Much of the explanation for expenses and how much attorneys charged per hour were redacted.

The city is asking the Texas Attorney General whether the explanation for charges and rates per hour 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.

Notices between the city of El Paso, the San Antonio firm and KTSM 9 News shows the city asked Austin R. Beck to be a counsel for the city.

KTSM 9 News requested the expenses made by the city of El Paso between the dates of June 22 and August 19, this year to see how much was paid to the firm for assistance in keeping documents from the public.

On Tuesday, the city released a notice that it was once again going to ask for the Attorney General’s Office to decide whether the city could withhold the documents.

It’s unclear if the San Antonio-based law firm is once again assisting the city to withhold documents.

Earlier this year, the El Paso City Council conducted evaluations of city manager Tommy Gonzalez and city attorney Karla Nieman. The two city executives scored high enough on their evaluations that they earned merit-based increases in their salaries.

A 5-percent increase to Gonzalez’s pay, based on a contractual entitlement, would put his pay for 2022 at approximately $398,401. A 2-percent increase, based on Nieman’s contract, would put her pay for 2022 at approximately $266,641.

The city only released total scores and generalized comments from the mayor and City Council, which means the public will not know how each city representative and the mayor scored the city manager and city attorney on their performances.

And, now, it may take up to 45 days before the public knows what the city paid for assistance to keep the documents from public view.

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