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Personal emails of city leaders released
By: Gina Benitez
EL PASO, Texas -- City officials released personal emails of its city leaders pertaining to city business.
El Paso City Council voted on Aug. 20 to release the undisclosed documents that city officials fought to keep private for months.
"This is just the City Council's attempt to provide the public what they've been asking for," said Sylvia Firth, El Paso city attorney.
"It's not anywhere near being responsive to my request, but it's a good first step and I'm looking forward to the city making progress in answering my request," said Stephanie Townsend Allala, a local attorney.
The documents include 15 previously undisclosed pages of information in response to two open records requests by Austin attorney Bill Aleshire on behalf of Allala in September and October 2012. Another 168 pages released were in response to a request by Ray Rojas, another local attorney and activist.
"When I filed the open records request Sept. 5, 2012, I wouldn't think that a year later, that the city would still be claiming to not understand the law," Allala said.
Mayor Oscar Leeser told KFOX14 last week after the motion passed that he and other council members decided to release the documents after speaking to city attorneys in executive session.
"You know, there have been a lot of projects going on and you know, there were things they couldn't release because of competitiveness of bids and stuff, but now that we have been asking them and we want to move forward and we want to put this behind us," said Leeser.
Many, including Allala, said it's clear in the law that the city has a responsibility to sue anyone who withholds public documents.
"We've repeatedly asked the opposition and we've asked the attorney general, 'How would you proceed? What are the legal ways to proceed?' And neither of them has given a satisfactory answer, about how it is that we have a legal right to proceed to ask for those things," Firth said.
"The city seems to be able to understand a very complicated bond law, they just can't understand a transparency law," Allala said.
City Manager Joyce Wilson, according to the release, will reach out to former and current city representatives this week requesting "voluntary (submission) of any personal emails responsive to the seven requests related to the City's lawsuit with the Texas attorney general."
"There's seven separate open records requests. If they have anything responsive to those, to please turn it over and that we'll do the same as we're doing now. We'll release anything that comes in as a result of that request," Firth said.
"I commend any leader who takes any measure toward transparency, any elected leader who takes one step toward making themselves more transparent, and more accessible to the public," said Allala.
The documents along with the original requests and the attorney general's communication are posted on the city's homepage at www.elpasotexas.gov under the "News" heading.