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Stadium opponents say some meetings in run-up to Council vote were illegal

One of the most vocal critics of the city’s baseball stadium plan claims there were illegal backroom meetings between city representatives and stakeholders.

Stephanie Townsend Allala, a probate attorney leading the Occupy City Hall movement, requested emails between city officials from the city. Those emails show city staff organizing several meetings during the spring and summer of 2012.

Allala points to meetings between City Manager Joyce Wilson, some city representatives and Rick Horrow of Horrow Sports Ventures, a consulting company.

Allala claims those meetings revolved around discussions for a baseball stadium and that Horrow, who is not a registered lobbyist with the city, was improperly lobbying city officials.

“We believe that democracy has not been properly followed in this process,” Allala said in an interview.

Tripper Goodman, who is leading the El Paso Tomorrow Political Action Committee, a group trying to convince tax-payers to pass the November bond election, said Rick Horrow is not involved with the baseball plan.

Goodman said Horrow advises the PAC and is hired by the Paso Del Norte Group.

“His job is to advise the PAC and work with the PAC and various people around the community. There is no behind-the-scenes activity going on, everybody is transparent, everybody wants to do what’s right for the community and it’s too bad you have people out there trying to look for something that’s not there,” he said.

Goodman said Harrow’s meetings with council members Steve Ortega, Cortney Niland and Ann Morgan Lilly revolved around the Quality of Life bond, not the baseball stadium.

Ortega said those meetings were not improper or illegal.

“When there’s a question about something that’s presented to us at city council, often we meet with stake holders. That’s not against the law. That’s not illegal. As a matter of fact, that’s our job,” he said.

Allala said she believes those meetings dealt with the stadium and broke the Open Meetings Act because city representatives talked about their votes regarding the stadium before the public meeting. There is no evidence the baseball stadium was discussed during those meetings or that city representatives disclosed their vote.

“We have items that are coming up on the agenda and we meet with interested stake holders and the Texas Open Meetings Act is very clear about what you cannot do and you cannot meet in a quorum and decide how you’re going to vote. And that has not taken place and anyone who is making those allegations is 100 percent inaccurate,” Ortega said.

A quorum involves four of the representatives. None of the meetings involved more than Lilly, Niland and Ortega.

Allala contends Horrow had to be registered as a lobbyist with the city. A person has to be registered as a lobbyist if they’re competing for a city contract or working for a company that is or in some cases trying to get in on a private public partnership.

That wasn’t happening in this case. The emails do show Horrow’s company helped city staff prepare a presentation on the bond election.

The baseball stadium plan was early on part of the Quality of Life bond, but city representatives swiftly removed it because at the time, there was no indication El Paso could get a team.

“Part of the discussion in the initial stages of the Quality of Life bond was the building out of sports-related infrastructure. We had talked about building out baseball infrastructure, we had talked about building out MLS infrastructure. Several months go, I asked that that be removed because I wanted to make sure we had a team before we built out a baseball stadium,” said Ortega.

Allala also claims the demolition of city hall to build a baseball stadium will affect the Scottish Rite Theater, currently in front of the building. She said the city’s plan show the stadium would intrude into the theater’s property.

“There’s absolutely no truth that Scottish Rite would be demolished or intruded upon. There are a lot of allegations that are out there. There is a lot of misinformation,” said Ortega.

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