EL PASO, Texas - (Nov. 2012 story)
The defacto leader of groups opposing the bonds and baseball stadium, Stephanie Townsend Allala, during Sunday night's ABC-7 xtra program, alleged the city government "is corrupt" and called for the resignation of City Manager Joyce Wilson. Her accusations are based on misinformation and inaccuracies, said City Rep. Steve Ortega on Monday.
"I don't take this lightly. Based on the emails I've seen and based on all of this horrendous boondoggle, that they're trying to pull the wool over our eyes, I think Joyce Wilson needs to resign immediately. El Paso deserves better," Allala said Sunday night, during a discussion with Rick Horrow, the consultant for the Political Action Committee trying to pass the bonds. Allala pointed to more than 7,000 emails she obtained from the city through an open records request. She believes the email spell out criminal behavior.
"I have an email from Steve Ortega to Joyce Wilson dated Friday, April 20, 2012. It's Steve telling Joyce he needs significant slush funds in the bonds to buy downtown properties. Now that's not what they're saying in the bonds," she said Sunday. Allala was referring to an email in which Ortega wrote :"I am asking for a significant (amount) set aside in the bond for property acquisition." Ortega said early on, when city leaders were determining which projects to add to the bond, they were considering using bond money to buy blighted properties downtown that property owners have refused to fix. "One of the strategies that was being debated was getting money in the bond election in order to bring those buildings back into active use and to do justice to their place in downtown, our community's history, it's heritage.... the words slush funds were never used and will never be used," Ortega said. The plan was never adopted and is not part of the bond.
Allala also claimed Wilson's communication with MountainStar Sports Group investor Paul Foster was "shameful." "Joyce Wilson (was) giving Paul Foster tips on how to negotiate with the Mayor for the Luther building," she said. In the email, dated June 12, 2012, Wilson wrote to a person who appears to be Foster. The email of the receiver was redacted by the city. Wilson's email begins with "FYI... in event Mayor calls. He wants to follow up on you donating the Plaza to city for new city hall in light of b-ball activity. I told him I didn't know what your intentions were but that we were asking a lot for an outright donation. Anyway, he doesn't agree."
In the email, Wilson proposed an alternative. "One thought might be for us to be a tenant for a portion of building, pay for the improvements directly, amortize them over life of improvements and then at the end we either negotiate a lease, purchase or move."
There is no indication the email was illegal, said city officials on Monday. ABC-7 asked, even if it's not illegal, if it was appropriate for the city manager to offer the city pay rent and improvements, when the Mayor was trying to acquire the building through a donation. "The mayor felt like he could get the plaza donated for free. If you talk to Paul Foster, he'll probably tell you that was not on the table and so the city manager was trying to do the next best thing," said Ortega.
Wilson refused comment for this story. A City Spokeswoman said the city manager is reserving comment until after the criminal complaint investigation against her is complete. Opponents of the proposed baseball stadium filed a complaint, requesting the District Attorney to investigate her for allegedly using public funds for political advertising related to the planned Downtown baseball stadium.
The city manager, who is in charge of being the executor of the city council's decisions and vision, has gained significant criticism for the leaked emails. In one correspondence with City Rep. Cortney Niland, Wilson calls baseball opponents "crazies" and wrote she "bets" they'll kill the baseball deal. She also wrote she hopes the city can stall their efforts. Allala calls that "voter suppression and manipulation."
"It's disgraceful, it's illogical. We cannot trust her or anyone on the 10th floor with my half a billion dollars," Allala said on Sunday, referring to the $473 million in projects proposed in the bond.
Ortega admitted Wilson's words were not wise. "Joyce could have probably used more artful and tactful language but the reality is some of the tactics that have been used are really of out of the main and cross boundaries." He said Allala crossed those boundaries when she made "false accusations" of criminal wrongdoing without supporting evidence. "That was Joyce Wilson's opinion in terms of the process and carrying out the will of the council, which was to build the ballpark here in town. That was Joyce's opinion but certainly doesn't rise to the level of voter suppression." Ortega said.
Allala, on Sunday, also said Cohen Stadium could still be a possibility for a AAA baseball team. "I think that what could happen. It's not that I'm against the baseball stadium but one thing is for sure that the MountainStar Sports Group is already looking at Cohen Stadium again because they can see the writing on the wall."
Ortega contends that's inaccurate. "She is 1,000 percent wrong about that." He pointed to a recent news conference in which Pacific Coast League Branch Rickey spoke about why a downtown baseball stadium was the right choice. "Cohen doesn't make sense. It's not on the table. It's not acceptable to AAA," Ortega said.
(Nov. 2012 story)