El Paso News

City Attorney Firth Out at City Hall

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - El Paso City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth tendered her resignation unexpectedly Thursday morning.

A press release sent to KTSM moments before 5 p.m. used the term "retired" and said Firth's last day will be May 31.

Firth, a 20-year employee with the City of El Paso, served in multiple roles including Chief of Staff to the Mayor and Director of Intergovernmental Affairs. She was appointed to City Attorney in Dec. 2011. In Jan. 2017, Firth received an annual evaluation from the mayor and council that resulted in a 5% pay raise. Her annual salary was increased to $243,880.

"It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as City Attorney for my hometown," Firth said.  "I am very proud of the work my legal team has provided over the years.  The City's legal department has many talented, dedicated and well-trained municipal lawyers and their good work will continue as I move on to other opportunities."

Sources, who asked not to be identified, told KTSM Firth may have stepped down after what appeared to be a conflict of interest in real estate holdings between the City of El Paso and Firth’s husband, Victor Firth. Victor Firth is a real estate attorney for the firm Firth, Johnston, Bunn and Kerr.

KTSM learned that a property set to go before council earlier this month may be at the heart of the issue. The property, in the 300 block of Montana, was eligible under a city infill program for a $28,000 incentive over five years. However, before an incentive could be issued, the property needed to be rezoned. Sources said Victor Firth did not want the property rezoned and asked the city's Economic Development department for an 'administrative change' that would have allowed the City to bypass Council which votes on all rezoning.

During an agenda review meeting involving city staff and the city attorney earlier this month, the incentive for the property was allegedly discussed. Sources said Sylvia Firth did not disclose that her husband stood to gain from the city's incentive. Days later, Firth alerted Council and allegedly apologized for not disclosing the possible conflict of interest.

The announcement of Firth's retirement also comes three weeks after Council evaluated Firth.  The evaluation has not yet been made public but is said to be scathing, finding fault with Firth for what some members of council believe is a less-than-transparent approach to city business.

KTSM reported in Feb. 2018 that bankruptcy records revealed that one of the creditors for Downtown business owner Billy Abraham was Victor Firth.  The City is owed millions of dollars for back taxes on Abraham properties and, has been fighting Abraham over the sub-standard condition of his buildings.

Through a spokesperson, Firth said her husband's work as a real estate attorney had no effect on her work and, that none of the properties involving Firth were in the footprint of the proposed Downtown arena.

KTSM asked Mayor Dee Margo for comment about Firth stepping down. He declined an on-camera interview.

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