Mayor used personal email for arena talks

Photo by Jorge Salgado

El Paso Mayor Dee Margo appears to have sidestepped the city’s public information rules and state law during negotiations with arena opponents earlier this year.

An El Paso Inc. review of 155 pages of emails and documents, obtained from arena opponents and through public information requests, found that at least seven emails sent and received by the mayor from his personal email account were not forwarded to his official city account.

The city should have produced those emails, which involve city business, in response to El Paso Inc.’s public information request but they were missing.

“People are entitled to see what their government is doing,” said Joseph Larsen, a First Amendment attorney in Houston and board member of the Freedom of Information Foundation. “If they can’t, they can’t really hold (government) accountable.”

The emails include the mayor’s correspondence with El Paso businessman Woody Hunt and J.P. Bryan, a retired Houston oilman who is financing lawsuits challenging the city’s plans for the $180-million arena, formally known as the multipurpose performing art and entertainment center.

The city passed a resolution in August 2013 that requires elected officials and city employees who receive messages involving city business on a personal device to “forward such communication to his or her city email.”

The purging of emails by public officials has sparked transparency controversies across Texas as the public and private lives of government officials have increasingly overlapped on smartphones and social media accounts.

The state’s public information laws have failed to keep up with rapid advances in technology, and open government advocates worry the use of personal devices by public officials is preventing the public from finding out what the government is doing.

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