Messages show communication between mayor, City Council members on attorney's 'retirement'

Text messages between Mayor Dee Margo and City Rep. Cassandra Hernandez regarding the retirement of City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth. (KFOX14/CBS4)

Text messages show that Mayor Dee Margo wanted the public to think City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth retired.

Firth’s last day as the city’s legal representative is May 31. Her retirement was announced on April 26.

CBS4 asked Mayor Dee Margo and City Manager Tommy Gonzalez why she was receiving the severance package she did if her contract called for a six months’ severance if she was terminated. But the press release issued by the city stated she was retiring.

Both Margo and Gonzalez declined to comment on the issue.

A record of text messages obtained by CBS4 between the mayor and City Council members on the day the announcement was made shows a conversation with Rep. Cassandra Hernandez that reads:

Mayor: “Public perception will be retires. No disparagement.”

Hernandez: “Please add an item into executive session for discussion as an addition.”

An unidentified City Council member asked about Firth’s departure.

“Did Sylvia quit?” the text reads.

The mayor responded, “In process. No comment to media till agreement signed. We’ll put out press.”

Earlier this month, we reported about an email exchange between the mayor and Hernandez in which Hernandez questioned the decision to develop a severance package and accept it, but it wasn’t brought to council for a formal vote.

Margo stated outside legal counsel said this decision didn’t require a formal vote because the contract had been approved by previous councils and mayors.

Firth’s severance package is worth $251,495.04.

A special meeting was held on May 14 in which the City Council approved the separation agreement.

Linda Ball Thomas, the director of the Human Resources Department, said retirement and termination are not necessarily different and that the Firth’s severance package followed her contract.

The mayor commented about why Firth was parting ways with the city.

“It's mutually agreed to. I knew where we stood as a council,” said Margo. “Based on the evaluation process, which came to me, changes needed to happen. We determined it was in the best interest of council and city to make a change."

Our sister station KFOX14 obtained a copy of Firths’s evaluation, which shows the council wasn’t happy with her and suggests Firth was pushed out.

You can read the evaluation here: http://bit.ly/2KrbZCe

The city responded to questions about the text message with the following statement:

The City of El Paso and Sylvia Borunda Firth agreed to terminate their employment relationship and negotiated the terms of her separation. The term “retires” was agreed upon to announce her departure, out of respect for her privacy. The Separation and Release Agreement was approved and ratified at the special meeting of the City Council on May 14, 2018. The approval by City Council of the Separation and Release Agreement makes legal the severance payment.
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