Did Leon Valley city leaders violate the law? LVPD wants to know.
Police chief requests help from outside agency
LEON VALLEY, Texas – The Leon Valley police chief has requested an outside agency look at some private emails between several city board members, two active City Council members and the mayor to determine if any laws were broken.
In a letter sent to the Texas Rangers, Police Chief Joe Salvaggio detailed concerns about discussions sent through private emails and says the emails were not turned over as required by law.
The several emails in question were received through an open records request made by Katherine Rodriguez, which asked for any email communication between board and Leon Valley City Council leaders between February 2018 and June 2019 relating to former Councilman Benny Martinez’s investigation.
According to a report, Salvaggio stated that only one person in the group replied to the request. The private emails between them discussed the 3.12 hearing and an appointment to the city’s Home Rule Charter committee.
“I don’t want to say what laws, if any laws, have been broken at this point, but there are some open records concerns … Those are things the (district attorney) will have to make that decision,” Salvaggio said.
One of the email threads was accidentally sent to the city secretary, and she warned them the emails could be seen as a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act as a conspiracy to circumvent.
To date, the chief said only one person had responded to the ORR to hand over their emails.
KSAT reached out to those included in the emails, and not everyone replied to our request.
Former Councilman Benny Martinez said, “There were no city related emails or face to face meetings discussing city business.” He said, “There were personal emails between our political supporters related to the election.”
Councilman Will Bradshaw said the request by Salvaggio “(did) not meet the criteria outlined in the open records request submitted by Catherine Rodriguez, in that 1) they do not fall within the request dates of February 2019 to May 21, 2019 or 2) they are not “relating to the investigation of Mr. Benny Martinez.”
Bradshaw said there was never a quorum involving any of the boards or council members. He accused the chief of playing a political game.
Leon Valley Mayor Chris Riley said the Public Information Act request “has been produced,” adding that she has made a request for Rodriguez’s personal emails, as well. She said she believes the quick nomination and appointment of Councilman Matthew Hodde on Aug. 20 raised concerns about the violation of council members discussing city business outside of the dais.
“The decision to appoint Mr. Hodde was obviously made before the meeting by the council majority and a clear violation of the Open Meetings Act,” Riley said.
Salvaggio said the request for an outside agency is to simply ensure the law is followed.
“Ethically, we have a responsibility to investigate any crime that's brought to our attention. I didn’t ask for these emails. I didn’t seek these emails, and Lord knows I wish I would have never got these emails, but we have an obligation to turn those emails over and have it investigated,” he said. “The only way we can keep from anybody saying there was any impropriety is to turn them over and let someone else make that decision.”
Changes to the Open Meetings Act in Texas this year could change the way city leaders conduct business, said Frank Garza, municipal law attorney.
“If one member of the governing body communicates individually with other members of the governing body so that eventually it reaches a quorum, that person has violated the open meetings law,” Garza said.
He also said the new law now requires all forms of personal communication to be subject to open records.
“Individual communications — whether by phone, by text, by email — if it now rises to the level of a quorum, it is now a violation of the law, it is now an open meeting violation. And if somebody were to file a complaint, it could be a criminal complaint,” Garza said.
He said investigating agencies are so stacked up that investigations are unlikely.
“I see major violations probably going to the top of the list. Minor violations of maybe one email, one time, you know, may never be investigated,” Garza said.
The Texas Rangers and Bexar County District Attorney’s Office did not respond KSAT’s request for comment.
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