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Only on ABC-7: Email shows former city reps purposely delayed sale of ballpark bonds for election

An email from former City Manager Joyce Wilson confirms former City Representatives directed her behind closed doors to delay the sale of the ballpark bonds until after the mayoral election of a stadium supporter in order to avoid more bad publicity, a decision that cost the city $22 million.

When the City initially presented a ballpark financing plan, it was supposed to land a favorable deal that would yield up to $27 million for the City’s general fund. But the reality is far from the ideal financing mode and the City Attorney has recently said the delay for the election is the main culprit the city lost out on a $22 million surplus.

“We got delayed with the issuance of the bonds because of the litigation. Remember we had litigation and so we couldn’t proceed to the bond sale until after the bond validation suit happened. After that we were ready to go and there was a decision made by management after consulting with city council members to wait until after the election and that was a critical time frame when you waited until after the election,” City Attorney Sylvia Firth recently told council.

In an August 2013 email obtained through an open records request, Wilson outlines for Firth the reasons the sale of the ballpark bonds were delayed, including the election. “Several council members raised concerns about the timing of this activity in relation to the upcoming general election, specifically because of the ongoing controversy over the project… Specifically no one said that a delay would be harmful to the financing or project costs. Further, I advised the former mayor and (mayor) pro tem of this request and both concurred it was better to hold off until after the general election if it was practical to do so.”

Former City Rep. Steve Ortega, a ballpark supporter, was running for Mayor against Oscar Leeser in 2013. Ortega in a phone conversation on Monday said he did not order or know the city had purposely delayed the sale of the bonds until after his election, which he lost.

The Mayor and Mayor Pro Tem whom Wilson refers to in the email are John Cook and Ann Lilly.

The email also confirms the delay of the sale of the bonds cannot be pinned on the city’s financial advisers, First Southwest. City Rep. Larry Romero this Spring suggested City employees should seek new financial advisers, expressing displeasure on the ballpark financing. An El Paso Times investigation showed Romero has former business ties with Estada Hinojosa, the firm that was also competing for financial advising work for the City.

The City’s Chief Financial Officer began the process to essentially fire First Southwest, at the suggestion of Romero, until he was stopped by current City Manager Tommy Gonzalez in October.

Gonzalez said on Monday the same email obtained by ABC-7 was what prompted him to stop the process to hire new financial advisers, proving First Southwest had not given the council bad advice.

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