Rep says arena texts may be deleted; leaders explain lack of city cell use
EL PASO, Texas (KFOX14) —
KFOX14 Investigates questions city leaders about the use of their city cellphones and how they're conducting city business.
This after KFOX14 discovered the mayor and some city reps aren't using their city cellphones at all, raising questions as to whether they’re violating city policy and public information laws.
KFOX14 sent an open records request to the city for calls and texts from the mayor since November and for activity on the city cellphones of all council members. KFOX14 was informed there weren’t any records response to our request and that there wasn’t any activity on Cortney Niland’s city issued cellphone.
Per city policy any work they do on their personal phones should be forwarded to their city email accounts. The state of Texas considers any messages regarding public business as public record regardless of the device or method used to communicate those messages.
KFOX14 asked Mayor Oscar Leeser why he is not using his city-issued cellphone and how he is conducting city business if he is not using that phone.
“That is a great question and I’m glad you asked it. I do read my emails through my city phone,” said Leeser. “Everything is always conducted through the city and never on a private email do I receive any city emails.”
KFOX14 asked Niland the same question, and she responded, “The majority of the business that I do is either in my office or through a city-issued cell email.”
“For calls I always use my cellphone. I don't carry two cellphones and you know that because you call me on my private cellphone. Everyone else does,” said Leeser.
KFOX14 asked the Leeser, why KFOX14 was given a document stating there weren't any calls and just one text message related to city business from September to January.
“When it comes to calls and text messages, you are supposed to be forwarding that to your city email per city policy in 2013. Are you doing that Because when we’ve put in open records requests it says there is no activity, no cellphone records, of any kind,” reporter Genevieve Curtis asked the mayor.
“Isn't it amazing that you don't find it, because I don't do emails. I don't do emails; it comes through the city and goes through the city. Ifyou ask for anything like emails, it’s through the city. You always ask me to release my text messages, I released it. So that's been very important,” said Leeser.
Leeser said he rarely sends text messages and does not conduct city business using text messages. He said anything that he has sent is then forwarded to the city, per city policy.
As KFOX14 has reported, Leeser, Niland, Lily Limon, Jim Tolbert and Peter Svarzbein are accused of holding an unannounced meeting about the proposed downtown arena.
We asked them for their calls and texts about the meeting.
Limon turned in texts between herself and Niland and herself and Tolbert.
But KFOX14 didn't receive Tolbert’s or Niland’s texts to Limon.
KFOX14 asked Niland about the discrepancy.
“When requests come through, there is a database search, we are required to turn over what’s in our possession, so if I have it in my possession, I turn it over. If I don't have it in my possession, I don't turn it over,” said Niland.
Curtis asked, “Why wouldn’t it be in your possession?”
“You get an inbox full of emails, like I’m sure you do, sometimes you delete it. That's just the way things go,” said Niland.
KFOX14 asked whether Niland would have deleted the text from Limon on the arena meeting.
“Well, if I had them,” she said.
Niland said she believes she is following city policy.
In a separate open records request, KFOX14 discovered the El Paso Times was given the mayor's call log, even though KFOX14 was told there were no records available for the same time period.
KFOX14 was told to talk to the city attorney's office about that discrepancy.
“I’ve released 100 percent of (text messages and calls) back to the city. I’ve given the city everything that has to do with city business,” said Leeser.
City Attorney Sylvia Firth declined to speak with KFOX14 on camera. She said she wasn't comfortable discussing the specifics because she hasn't looked at the discrepancies.
Earlier this week Firth told KFOX14 she’s aware that some council members use their personal devices and acknowledged it's an issue.