The ballpark, gay rights and hookers: El Paso City releases emails

The City of El Paso released emails on Monday after 11 months of withholding them.

City Emails

EL PASO, Texas - The City of El Paso released emails on Monday after 11 months of withholding them.

On June 26, 2012, city council voted to bring the ballpark project to El Paso. Attorney Stephanie Townsend Allala watched the vote and immediately became suspicious when council members pulled out baseball caps to celebrate.

"You're not supposed to take those votes outside of public view and so for them to know who needed baseball caps and who didn't --- I found that to be interesting," Townsend Allala said.

She began submitting requests under the Texas Public Information Act for all city emails regarding city business, and specifically, the baseball stadium. The City released thousands of emails, but withheld others and is currently suing Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott after he said the emails are public record.

But Monday, City Attorney Sylvia Firth, announced previously withheld emails are now in the public domain.

"City council has waived those exemptions and allowed us to release them at this time," Firth said.

In a dozen pages of emails, former Mayor John Cook expresses concern to Paul Foster about City Hall being demolished, saying he thinks its "not in the best interests of El Paso taxpayers to demolish a perfectly good building."

In another email, Cook and City Manager Joyce Wilson are told about the International Building at 119 North Stanton that will be vacated. It's also $2,800,00, just a fraction of the El Paso Times building. But Wilson replies, it's "in horrible shape" and doesn't have enough parking.

Other emails between Cook and Susie Byrd show Cook's concerns on Byrd's stance on gay rights and domestic partner benefits. He writes her frequently asked questions sheet's focus is too narrow and should include heterosexual domestic partners too.

Another interesting email is between former Rep. Steve Ortega and Joel Guzman. It's an entire book entitled "Hookers" by Richard Mann. Ortega said it's a novel about a historic El Paso brothel on 306 Overland, currently being considered for redevelopment.

ABC-7 reached out to the city for comment, and heard back from Rep. Cortney Niland. She said at the time of Townsend Allala and ABC-7's request, their lawyers told them it wasn't prudent to release the emails because they included ballpark negotiations that could have been impacted negatively if made public. She says now that the deals are made, releasing the emails are no big deal.

Ortega on the other hand says he never got that advice. As a private citizen, he said one needs probable cause to dig into his private property, and Townsend Allala doesn't have one.

"Until I receive sworn statements from each of those people that I asked for, then everything continues, the lawsuit continues," Townsend Allala said. "But I am encouraged the city has a new approach to transparency and these are really good steps in the right direction."


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