City rep. questions city attorney's legal advice

Dr. Noe said he wanted to make sure the City Council was within the law regarding the city manager search

City rep. questions city attorney's legal advice

EL PASO, Texas - El Paso's City Council held a special meeting Monday afternoon after a city representative asked for clarity and assurances that the council was following state law.

This comes after City Council came under scrutiny for its handling of the city manager search.

Questions were raised last week when Mayor Oscar Leeser announced that the council had authorized Affion, the firm overseeing the city manager search, to negotiate a contract with Tommy Gonzalez, a city manager finalist.

City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth had insisted that, while the authorization came during a closed meeting, it wasn't legally considered an official vote.

State law does not allow governmental bodies to take votes or make official decisions in closed meetings.

Firth said the law does allow the council to make personnel decisions in a closed session.

ABC-7 contacted the District Attorney's Office about whether anyone had filed a complaint about the procedure. A spokeswoman said the office hasn't received any official complaints.

"We are aware of the issue and watching the situation. At present time, we have no plans to move forward with an investigation," District Attorney Jaime Esparza said in a statement to ABC-7.

"I wanted to make sure we didn't make any missteps," City Representative Dr. Michiel Noe told ABC-7. "That's all I was trying to do, is, 'Are you sure that what you told us is correct?'"

Noe asked for Monday's meeting.

He wanted Firth to state on the record that everything the city representatives had done during the city manager search was legal.

But Firth told City Council -- discussing that would violate the Open Meetings Act because that specific request wasn't on the meeting's agenda.

Noe implied to ABC-7 that he disagreed with that assertion.

"I believe the first part of my agenda item clearly stated the accuracy of the legal advice we've been given," Noe said, adding, "And I think that part is being ignored."

But Firth did give all the city representatives a document outlining the legal explanation of every action they've taken since starting the city manager search.

The document is considered attorney/client privilege, meaning it cannot be made public.

The meeting was over in 17 minutes.

Noe told ABC-7 he'll be reading that document ahead of Tuesday's meeting, when City Council votes on whether to approve the city manager contract for Gonzalez.

"I make no apologies for questioning that because I'm essentially the one who takes the fall if she's wrong," Noe said. "We're working on her advice. I need to make sure the way she's guiding us is correct."

There was some tension in City Council's chambers when Laura Gordon with the City Attorney's Office advised representatives to not allow public comment.

She said it was because the agenda item was related to the performance of an employee -- the city attorney.

Government watchdog Lisa Turner said loudly, that was not acceptable and this was "just another cover-up."

City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday whether to approve Gonzalez's contract to serve as El Paso's second city manager.

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