Mayor Cory Thompson faced public criticism during the December 15 City Council meeting for a Dec. 8 post on his political Facebook page revealing the personal cell phone numbers of four Council members, but avoided any official censure for the act.
Thompson posted the personal phone numbers of District 1 Councilman Rufino “Flipper” Vega, District 2 Councilman Steve Lopez, District 3 Councilman David Espinosa, and District 4 Councilwoman Kathy Lawler following public outcry over an amendment to Chapter 14 of the City’s Code of Ordinances (see separate story).
Thompson included the phone number of his City-issued cell phone in the post, adding that he wouldn’t answer the phone to discuss the subject because he had already stated his opinion about it.
District 5 Councilwoman Debra Randall’s cell phone number was not initially included, though the post has since been edited to include it.
Espinosa said that any resident could get in touch with Council members at any time by calling the City office and asked what gave Thompson the right to expose the Council members’ phone numbers on Facebook.
“I personally feel that by doing so you violated my privacy, I really do,” Espinosa said. “I have no problem making myself available to the citizens. That’s why we’re here for, to make ourselves available.
“But on Facebook, especially without my consent, you had no right. You absolutely had no right. You were just plain wrong, sir, with all due respect.”
Lopez asked if the situation was covered by a privacy act, and City Attorney Tom Cate said a provision of the Public Information Act regarding information that is exempted from disclosure.
“And what it says is that if an elected official files a form requesting that all their personal information be kept personal and private, then it cannot be divulged,” Cate said. “And if it is divulged, then that’s actually a crime.”
“Have we filed those forms?” Thompson asked.
“To my knowledge, no one on the Council has filed a form,” Cate said.
“Okay,” Thompson replied.
Espinosa asked Cate about the steps involved in filing a form, and former District 5 candidate Sandy Herrera took the podium to address Council about the matter.
“As regard to Facebooks, I think personally both of y’all need to stay off of it,” Herrera said, addressing Thompson and Randall. “Y’all get a little bit too much, and giving out everybody’s phone numbers is not right, I don’t care if they haven’t filed paperwork or not.”
Herrera said that most people who want to speak to a Council member call the City office or speak to their representative when they see them in person around town.
“But some of the stuff y’all put on Facebook, its borderline, guys. Borderline,” Herrera said, and addressed Thompson directly. “And if you put something about me or my family or some of this stuff, I will have you in court. Got it? Y’all need to stop.”
Angela Pichardo followed Herrera at the podium and said that Thompson had demeaned her on Facebook.
“I agree with Mrs. Herrera that if those keep occurring, you will find litigation,” Pichardo said. “Because I believe enough is enough.” (Thompson alleged that mayoral opponent Angela Pichardo was ineligible to run for office.in an October 6 post on his political Facebook page -see “Devine mayoral election continues as planned after eligibility allegations” in the News Oct. 14 edition that showed she was eligible to run for mayor in fact.).
Randall came to Thompson’s defense, saying that he left her phone number out of his post because it is public at her request.
“I’m sorry if you don’t want your number or haven’t been able give it available,” Randall told Espinosa. “I’m not judging, I’m letting you know that’s why my number is out there. And [Thompson] didn’t put it on his post because he knew my number’s been out there for so long.”
Espinosa said that he visited over 500 homes during the recent election cycle and left a City business card with his name and number.
“So I made my phone number available, personally, to every doorstep,” Espinosa said. “So my number’s out there. People can call me, they know that. But that still gave him no right to put it up on the website.”
Cate spoke up at the request of Interim City Administrator Dora Rodriguez to clarify that no Council members’ personal phone numbers were on the City website. Thompson and Randall pointed out that Lopez’s and Randall’s phone numbers were listed.
Those numbers have since been removed from the City website.
Lawler said that she didn’t mind her phone number being public.
“It’s just that I felt if I wanted to post it on Facebook, I would have posted it,” Lawler said. “Many people have my phone number, and if you would have called me asked me, I would have thought about it. I’m not sure which way I would have gone.
“But it was just the fact that there was no respect for me as a person by posting that on Facebook, and I didn’t know it until my daughter called me from Arkansas. And she said, ‘Mom, what are you doing with your phone number on Facebook? I said, ‘Well it beats me, who put it there?’
“And then she said ‘The mayor,’ and then I felt really disappointed.”
This reporter asked for and received confirmation that the phone numbers Thompson posted were Council members’ personal numbers and asked why Thompson had posted the number of his City-issued cell phone rather than his own personal number.
“Because this is the one the City has told me I have to do business on,” Thompson said. “When I was handed this phone, I was told by Dora that I have to do business on this one. I’m supposed to be doing business on this one. So whenever I do emails or anything like that, it has to go through this one.”
Thompson asked the News to give him a bi-weekly column in a November 5 private message sent from his personal Facebook account prior to bringing the same request to Council in the Nov. 24 meeting (see “Mayor denied newspaper column, asks for City Attorney to be ‘phased out,’” Dec. 2 edition.).
Earlier in the meeting, City resident Porfirio De Leon addressed Council regarding 18-wheelers parking on right-of-ways and weeds along his street and said he had called Thompson three times without answer. Thompson said there were problems with his phone that he was unaware of until Espinosa said he’d tried to call Thompson without success.
Ana Hundley was the final resident to speak about Thompson’s Facebook post.
“So you get to decide that you give out personal phone numbers, but you have to do business on a City phone number,” Hundley said. “But you didn’t allow that your other Council members, that same consideration. They don’t have the City phone number that you gave out on Facebook.
“That was rude and inconsiderate on your part, and I think it makes you look like a jack!”
Thompson said he would happily give back the City-issued phone.
“That telephone belongs in your possession 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Espinosa said. “That’s your duty, that’s your obligation. When I talked to you the other day and I told you I texted you on your phone, you said, well that phone sits on my desk, the battery’s dead, I don’t even pay attention to it.
“That phone belongs on your body, sir. At any given time, somebody needs to get ahold of you, administration needs to get ahold of you. That is a must. They don’t want to just call and shoot the bull with you, it’s for a reason they want to call you, sir.
“Please take responsibility and hold that phone in your pocket, and answer it whenever the constituents and citizens, administration, anybody, wants to get ahold of you. That’s your job, sir, that’s your duty. And I say this with all due respect.”
By Marly Davis