City Attorney Torres refused to release file; sought a ruling

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

The Office of the Attorney General of Texas has instructed the City of Alice to release to the Alice Echo-News Journal the personnel file of former human resources director Ruben Maldonado, rejecting an attempt by the city to withhold the file.

In a letter received by the Alice Echo-News Journal Wednesday, Jessica J. Maloney, an assistant attorney general with the Open Records Division of the attorney general's office, rejected arguments made by city attorney Joe Torres III in which he said the file was excepted from open records disclosure laws.

The Alice Echo-News Journal requested the personnel file after Maldonado's employment from the city was terminated in July.

In August, Torres requested a ruling from the attorney general's office on whether the information must be released, stating that releasing the file would "constitute a clearly unwarranted invasion of (Maldonado's) personal privacy."

Torres also stated the file should be withheld because the city anticipates litigation from Maldonado in the future.

In her letter rejecting Torres' arguments, Maloney wrote that the city must show "concrete evidence" of a claim of litigation.

"We find that the city has not demonstrated that litigation was reasonably anticipated on the date that the city received the request," Maloney wrote. "Accordingly, no part of the submitted information may be withheld."

The attorney general's office allowed certain financial information to be withheld, but rejected Torres' argument that releasing the file would be an invasion of privacy.

"We find, however, that you have not demonstrated how any of the remaining information at issue is either intimate or embarrassing or is not of legitimate public interest," Maloney wrote. "Therefore, none of the remaining information at issue is confidential and it may not be withheld."

In addition to the financial information, information the attorney general's office did indicate should be withheld included a W-4 form, email addresses and Social Security numbers listed in the file, and a Texas motor vehicle record.

According to the ruling issued by the attorney general's office, the city is required to immediately provide the newspaper with the requested information.

"Based on the statute, the attorney general expects that, upon receiving this ruling, the governmental body will either release the public records promptly…or file a lawsuit challenging this ruling," Maloney wrote.

The Alice Echo-News Journal was not contacted by the city Wednesday or early today, and calls to City Manager Albert Uresti were not returned Wednesday.

Maldonado was hired by the city as human resources director in 2004. The city council appointed him to replace former city manager Pete Anaya in January 2007, and he officially took over as interim-city manager Feb. 1.

On July 9, the city council voted to hire Uresti as city manager, and Maldonado returned to his position as human resources director on July 10.

Maldonado had been a finalist for the city manager position.

In a termination letter dated July 24, Uresti alleged Maldonado had violated six separate sections of the City of Alice Personnel Manual.

Those allegations included "any conduct prohibited by Federal, State, or local law, City Charter, City Code, personnel policies and procedures or departmental rules; attempted fraud in securing appointment; insubordination, dishonesty, any conduct detrimental to the proper order, discipline or attitude toward the municipal service; and unauthorized use or disclosure of official information."

Maldonado has denied those allegations.