No charges against Leeser, Council for alleged Open Meetings violation

Also no charges for Sargent, Grossman

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) - El Paso County District Attorney Jaime Esparza announced Thursday he will not pursue a case against former El Paso Mayor Oscar Leeser and four City Council members for an alleged violation of the Texas Open Meeting Act (TOMA).

Esparza also announced no prosecution against two volunteer members of the County Historical Commission (CHC) who also faced a possible violation of TOMA.

Esparza told KTSM he would not pursue the misdemeanor charge against former CHC President Bernie Sargent and Vice-President Dr. Max Grossman because it did not serve the public good. He believes the two were punished enough by losing their positions on the CHC as a result of the accusation against them.

As for the alleged TOMA violation by Council, Esparza said he did not have enough evidence to prosecute the case.

After an extensive review of the alleged opening meeting violations by some members of City Council and the El Paso County Historical Commission, the District Attorney’s Office is today declining to prosecute these cases due to insufficient evidence of criminal intent. The investigation revealed that former Mayor Lesser, former council members Limon, Tolbert and Niland and current Representative Svarzbein, as well as the members of the El Paso County Historical Commission, lacked the specific intent to circumvent the Open Meetings Act. We are recommending that the City and County ensure that all members subject to the Open Meetings Act receive additional training on all aspects of the Act. - El Paso District Attorney, Jaime Esparza

Leeser, along with former Council Members Lily Limon, Jim Tolbert, Cortney Niland and current District 8 Representative, Peter Svarzbein, came under a Texas Rangers investigation in January 2017. The heart of the investigation centered on a December 16, 2016 meeting at City Hall and a meeting earlier that morning involving some of the Council members at the Hotel Indigo.

Surveillance video at City Hall and text messages obtained by KTSM through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) showed some council members meeting on December 16 with members of the Paso del Sur and County Historical Commission, groups opposed to the building of the City's proposed Downtown multi-purpose arena in the Union Plaza neighborhood (called “Duranguito” by opponents).

Four days following the City Hall meeting, Limon, Tolbert, Niland and Svarzbein voted to reject a previous vote in support of the City's Duranguito location and voted instead for the City to consider building the arena at the current site of the Judson F. Williams Convention Center. The Council voted weeks later to overturn its vote once again, effectively supporting the City’s Downtown plan and kicking off several lawsuits.

Stay with KTSM online and on-air throughout the day for updates on this breaking news story.

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