El Paso

Texts reveal El Paso mayor wanted public to believe city attorney retired

Texts reveal El Paso mayor wanted public to believe city attorney retired

EL PASO, Texas - There is new information on what was happening behind the scenes when the El Paso city attorney suddenly announced plans to retire.

ABC-7 obtained text messages, through the Public Information Act, between Mayor Dee Margo and two city representatives on April 26, the day the announcement was made.

ABC-7 spoke with representatives Michiel Noe and Cassandra Hernandez about the exchanges. Both confirmed the conversations they had with the mayor. One exchange shows the mayor wanted the public to believe the city attorney had retired.

On April 26, before city officials made the official announcement that city attorney Sylvia Borunda-Firth was retiring, the news had already leaked out.

ABC-7 called all city representatives trying to confirm the news.  Rep. Noe said he had not heard the news, but would make a call.

Instead, Noe texted the mayor asking "Did Sylvia quit?" The mayor responded "In process. No comment to media till agreement signed. We'll put out press."

On the same day Rep. Cassandra Hernandez sent the mayor a text which read "I think we should call a special meeting regarding this. I want to see any agreements related to what I am hearing and vote on the issue. Any action should come to council."

The mayor texted back "Agreement coincides with her contract and simply pays what she is contractually owed. Had outside counsel review. I'm signing today."

Later that night, the  mayor sent another text to Hernandez which read "Public perception will be retires. no disparagement."

A draft of a news release obtained by ABC-7 dated April 26th, is titled "Sylvia Borunda Firth resigns as city attorney," but the word 'resigns' is then crossed out in the final version and replaced with 'retires.'

City Council has approved a separation agreement of more than $251,000.

According to Borunda-firth's contract, if she were terminated she would receive six months pay.

If she resigned, she would receive owed sick or vacation pay.

So, the question remains, if the city attorney is retiring at the end of the month, why is taxpayer money being earmarked to pay for a severance package totaling nearly $125,000?

Open government attorney Bill Aleshire said if government employees cannot be paid more than what their contracts allow.

"To give her that additional salary if she is simply resigning and leaving voluntarily  would violate the texas constitution," Aleshire said.

ABC-7 submitted a open records request asking to see any email or text messages between the mayor, the city manager, city reps. and Firth from April 17 to May 14 regarding they city attorney's departure.

The station received only three text messages.

The City sent ABC-7 a response to this story:

"The City of El Paso and Sylvia Borunda Firth agreed to terminate their employment relationship and negotiated the terms of her separation.  The term “retires” was agreed upon to announce her departure, out of respect for her privacy.

 The Separation and Release Agreement was approved and ratified at the special meeting of the City Council on May 14, 2018.  The approval by City Council of the Separation and Release Agreement makes legal the severance payment."

 


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