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Council to consider banning city reps’ private cell phones, laptops during meetings

Next week the El Paso City Council will consider banning representatives from using private electronic devices while a council meeting is in session. They’re also considering limiting social media use.

Reprentatives Michiel Noe, Emma Acosta and Carl Robinson are the ones behind this item. They say people have a right to know what council members are up to during meetings. That they should only be using their city cell phones and laptops, so they can be monitored.

“I would support banning personal equipment at the dias,” Noe said. ” If you’re going to have a cell phone have a city cell phone.”

Noe said the culture of surfing the web on iPads and laptops, or texting friends and fellow council members while in session has taken over city hall.

“To just have it there so that you’re constantly texting and receiving stuff is inappropriate during council, but its just become the norm,” Noe said.

The most recent example of a representatives private cell phone being used to during business involves Rep. Claudia Ordaz. Last september, a citizen made an open records request of Ordaz’s texts. That’ when it came to light that during a council meeting she was receiving minute by minute coaching from County Commissioner Vince Perez’s aide, who was sitting in with the public, telling her what to say.

“As far as I know, I’ve been the only representative who’s released information from my private device,” Ordaz said.

According to the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, an amendment has been made to the Public Information Act that states public business conducted on a private device is still subjected to the law. But Noe says, it’s voluntary without a court order, meaning Ordaz was willing to hand over her text messages, the city couldn’t just go in and take them without her permission.

“We need to be informed, but we need to be transparent,” Ordaz said. “So I’m in full support of banning the use of private cell phones because that’s just been an issue when we’re dealing with public business.”

Before 2005, city council banned the use of cell phones and emails during meetings. The rule was adopted former council member Alexandro Lozano was caught changing his vote after receiving an e-mail. Noe says he thinks the item will pass, although he’s prepared for some council members to push back.

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