Housing authority releases CEO employment contract to ABC-7

Housing authority releases CEO employment contract to ABC-7

EL PASO, Texas - The employment contract for El Paso housing authority CEO Gerald Cichon is now in ABC-7's hands.

The contract shows a salary nearly on par with the city manager's. Cichon makes about $230,000 a year in taxpayer dollars.

A former employee is suing the authority and Cichon. He said they mismanaged funds and used unethical hiring practices. The attorney representing him filed an open-records request for Cichon's employment contract and other reimbursements. The authority refused, saying the lawyer was trying to get information outside standard court procedures. But the housing authority's lawyer never took the required step of sending the attorney general the contract, so the attorney general could decide whether or not it was public information. Now the authority has to release the contract.

The Public Information Act requires government agencies to show an itemized list to requesters if the cost to release the documents exceeds $40. This week after ABC-7 requested a copy, the authority's attorney did just that. But he said it would take the authority about 28 hours to compile the contract information. That means ABC-7 would have had to pay more than $500 to review the contract -- paying half up front as a down payment.

"This time would be spent reviewing a large volume of financial and related records," wrote housing authority attorney Robert Blumenfeld in a letter to ABC-7, "collecting and compiling the specific reimbursement request and payment records you have requested, and preparing the responsive records for your inspection or duplication."

John Wenke, the plaintiff's attorney, said the cost deters information requesters.

"I find it hard to believe that it would take 20-something hours to find out or to recover the reimbursement requests of one individual who happens to be the CEO," Wenke said.

But then on Tuesday, a change of heart: The housing authority sent an email to ABC-7.

"While public resources have been spent in securing this information," said Shane Griffith, the authority's spokesman, "(the authority) feels that it is in the public's greater interest for the requesters to have this information at no cost to them due to the increased attention this minor matter has caused."

In addition to the nearly $230,000 annual salary, the authority paid $30,000 over a three-year period for Cichon to get a MBA at Northwestern University. Cichon had to pay the remaining $170,000. He also received normal performance incentives and other benefits and perks, like food and entertainment spending of $500 a month.

The authority is publicly funded and said everything it does is in the public's interest, but that not all information is public. It's in the process of releasing other reimbursement records by the end of the week.

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