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El Paso County leaders to temporarily rescind new media policy in light of transparency issues raised by ABC-7, others 

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) - An El Paso County media policy that was designed to limit access to public officials will be rescinded temporarily, according to county officials. The move comes after KVIA-TV and others raised transparency questions on behalf of taxpayers. 

The revised media policy was adopted by the court in September 2023, according to the county's Communications Manager Laura Gallegos. She said members of the Court, department heads, and its legal team reviewed the policy before it was adopted. 

The county never gave the media, including KVIA, a chance to weigh in on how their ability to gather and disseminate information to the public would be impacted.  

The policy lays out guidance on how county officials should interact with the media.  

At Monday's Commissioners Court meeting during public comment, ABC-7's Content Manager Lesley Engle read a letter the station sent to County Judge Ricardo Samaniego and commissioners on March 14. 

"No comments were sought from the group that was impacted the most. Equally concerning is some of the language in your policy," Engle said.

ABC-7 objected to the policy for several reasons.  

It said, in part: "The Communications Division oversees all media requests for interviews involving covered departments within this policy. Members of the Commissioners Court, and Elected Officials, may be contacted directly by the media and may respond directly should they choose to do so."  

ABC-7's letter also highlighted other areas of concern, including:

  • The new policy directs Department Heads and County employees to refrain from speaking to the media and to refer all requests to the Communications Division. 
  • It further states County Departments can't discuss topics that the Commissioners Court hasn't discussed and acted on.  
  • And interview requests regarding general county-wide initiatives will be rotated among the Commissioners Court.  

"ABC-7 does not want scripted, manicured responses. We want the truth. We want to speak to officials who have the best knowledge on a particular topic. We also want to freely reach out to any public official we want. After all, they are on the public payroll," Engle said.  

ABC-7 also asked the county to strike a section of the policy where it says the county doesn't wish to talk about pending legal matters. 

We sent the county some of the statements it recently made about the Senate Bill 4 lawsuit it's currently involved in with the Texas ACLU. 

"Thank you, Lesley, as you know we can't engage in public comment, but we're really had discussions this morning with Betsy. I don't know, Betsy do you want to add anything on what we have in mind to (to) address her concerns, Lesley's concerns?," asked El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego following Engle's public comments.

"Judge and Commissioners, thank you. I know we're under public comment, but I also just want to, also publicly comment that um, we (we) do share several of the same concerns, and we are going to be working on a revision or a rescission of the policy and starting over, um, we've learned a lot of lessons. This was our first policy for media and we've learned a lot of lessons in things that we have found challenging trying to navigate it. So, we appreciate this opportunity and share many of the same concerns Ms. Engle has shared," El Paso County Chief Administrator Betsy Keller said.

In an email to ABC-7 Monday morning, El Paso County Communications Manager Laura Gallegos said they will be putting the policy on next week's Monday meeting to rescind until further review. 

ABC-7 will keep the community updated on what happens next about public access. 

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