The Will of The Voters and Judge Mike Herrera

Judge Mike Herrera was reprimanded by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct in February for, among other things, keeping his divorce case in his own court for months. He received the state’s second-severest sanction and has ordered Herrera to seek six hours of “additional education.”  According to the El Paso Times, “Seana Willing, executive director of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, said the only more serious punishment the commission could have given would be to begin a process that could end with a judge’s removal.”  Was the more harsh punishment not pursued because his actions did not merit it?  Probably not.  According to Seana Willing the harsher punishment wasn’t pursued, “Because we elect our judges, it’s not going to be easy to reverse the will of the voters,” she said.”  Anyone else see the issue with this logic?  The “will of the voters” did not know any of this information about Judge Mike Herrera when he was elected.  Who knows what the “will of the voters” is now that this information is available – nobody has asked them.

But wait, it gets even better (worse?).  “On at least five occasions, the El Paso County Council of Judges has paid lawyers to support one of its own in a practice that a higher Texas court has called ‘blatantly improper.'”  According to the El Paso Times, on at least five occasions, TAX PAYER dollars were used to pay lawyers to file motions on behalf of Judge Mike Herrera challenging his removal from cases that were being handled by lawyer Angelica Carreon-Beltran (the lawyer who was representing his wife in the divorce). “The commission also sanctioned Herrera for his behavior when Carreon-Beltran tried to have her other cases removed from Herrera’s court, claiming she couldn’t get a fair hearing before the judge. As evidence of bias, she cited the judge’s claim that she had participated in a break-in at one of his properties.”

So, this Judge keeps his own divorce case in his court for months, used tax payer money to hire lawyers to fight removal of cases from his court and accused his wife’s lawyer of a break-in.  Oh, and he filed his campaign finance reports late in 2012. You tell us, Will of the Voters, what is say you now?  We agree with the County Commissioners that funding for the defense of judges facing recusal should be removed from the budget, too bad they can’t take it away now.

No Drones Allowed!

We were going to write a story about judges and tax payer monies, and we’ll definitely be writing that story this week, but this story caught our eye:

Recently there was a fire near Ruidoso and fire fighters and air tankers had been busy trying to douse the blaze.  Someone trying to get a closer look or just some super, amazingly cool pictures decided to fly their drone in.  Luckily, the report about the drone came in AFTER aircraft assigned to the fire flew their missions, if it had come in before, the planes would have been grounded. Loretta Benavidez with the U.S. Forest Service “says the message is clear: If you fly, we can’t.”

So, if you see a fire, DON’T fly your drone over it.

You can read the KVIA story here.

Crowded District 2 Race

According to the El Paso Times, there are now a total of eight candidates running for the District 2 seat:

Dolores Garcia Baca – a housewife and writer who unsuccessfully ran against former city Rep. Larry Medina in 1999.  She also lost to former District Clerk Gilbert Sanchez in 2002. (We were unable to find a webpage or Facebook Page for her campaign).

Cemelli de Aztlan – a community organizer and a religious/women’s studies lecturer at the University of Texas at El Paso.  You can read more about here here. (We were unable to find a webpage or Facebook Page for her campaign).

Abraham Monteros – a student and research assistant at UTEP who will graduate from UTEP in May with a bachelor’s in philosophy and French, he also spent five years in the U.S. Navy and served in Guam and Japan.  You can read more about his campaign on his Facebook Page: Abraham Monteros for City Council District 2.

Gordon Ray Thatcher – served two years in the Army Reserve and seven years on active duty, having medically retired in July 2014 to battle cancer. He was stationed at Fort Bliss in 2008 and then in 2014 when he was assigned to the Warrior Transition Unit for wounded soldiers. (We were unable to find a webpage or Facebook Page for his campaign).

David Nevarez – a disabled veteran who served 10 years in the U.S. Marine Corps and served in Desert Storm.  He is currently unemployed due to his disability, but has worked as a plumber. He chairs the city’s Veterans Affairs Advisory Committee.  You can read more about his campaign on his Facebook Page or on his webpage.

Jim Tolbert – a sales representative and environmentalist who has served on several city advisory boards and lost the run-off election against Romero in 2013. You can read more about his campaign on his Facebook Page or on his webpage.

Rene Abilez – a substitute teacher. (We were unable to find a webpage or Facebook Page for his campaign).

Angel del Toro – a retired financial analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas in El Paso. (We were unable to find a webpage or Facebook Page for his campaign).

There you have it, District 2.  Who are you going to choose?

Early voting: April 25 to May 3

Election Day: May 7

EPISD School Closures, Bond and Policy Inclusion

We received this from Xavier Miranda:

Our EPISD Board of Trustees will be taking steps in improving the quality of education of our children. Although intents may be good, the manner in which they have proceeded has excluded the community at large. Cursory attempts such as online surveys, or jargon-filled informational snippet-presentations are the district’s notion of gathering community input on the District of Innovationinitiative.
Unfortunately, like many students and parents, our education community learns of these initiatives in the newspaper. Authentic inclusion and dialogue have not been evident. To make matters worse, district administrators and trustees have notified certain community members that school closures will be forthcoming.
One such closure is Beall Elementary School, located in theChamizal Neighborhood. School administrators have denied parents the opportunity to meet at the school, to discuss closure and organize accordingly. There is a mechanism in place, the Campus Improvement Plan, that is typically formulated by site administrators, teachers, staff, and parents to provide guidance in direction of our community schools. District officials and trustees have been negligent in making this process transparent and inclusive.
The closure is based on a study authorized by the previous Board of Managers that sought to close down 20 schools in our district.Jacobs Engineering firm, an outfit that specializes in making such recommendations throughout the nation, figured that Beall Elementary’s student population merited closure, regardless of the detrimental impact it would have on the Chamizal Community. 
Based on EPISD numbers, Beall has 442 students. While, Dr. Green Elementary with a population of 419 students, located in an affluent part of town, is not slated for closure. There seems to be a discrepancy in equity. 
If you notice, the members of the Local Innovation Committee, of whom are supposed to represent us, exclude current educators and South Side parents. In fact, Congressman Robert O’Rourke’s wife,Amy O’Rourke, serves in an official capacity at La Fe Preparatory School, a local charter school in the Segundo Barrio neighborhood. There seems to be a conflict of interest in this appointment; especially, when that school rated as unacceptable in the latest rankings of Children At Risk, an organization that assesses public and charter school effectiveness.
Aside from being excluded, educators are quite skeptical that acommunity group, that does not ethnically reflect the 83% Latino population of our district, is rubber-stamping policy that affects our children.
Additionally, the trustees are now taking the steps toward placing on the ballot a school bond in the approximate amount of $400 million. A major point of contention is that approximately $44 million will be set aside for the construction of new district offices for the superintendent and district officials.
A solution that has been broached numerous times at various community meetings, is to move district operations to the under-utilized campuses. It seems audacious to have our students learn in portable classrooms, while district officials are provided state of the art offices.
Yet another solution proposed, is to re-negotiate with the City of El Paso, the lease for the current district offices located on Boeing Street. Given the latest Hotel and Occupancy Tax report, in addition to the declining traffic at the El Paso International Airport, the proposed expansion of a hotel district would not be prudent.
Yet again, a lack of acknowledgement by elected officials, in this caseMayor Oscar Leeser, has yet to occur. Numerous attempts by community members to discuss the possibility of renewing the district’s lease have gone unanswered.
Our community has many ideas and resources that can address our school system, but it can only happen if we are included. A public invitation is extended to community, trustees, and the superintendent to meet with us every Tuesday afternoon at Cafe Mayapan starting at 4:30 PM.
Members of the Districtwide Education Improvement Council, are also requested to seek input from all stakeholders, prior to approving the District of Innovation initiative.
Please feel free to reply to this email if you are interested in collaborating in this effort.
A personal invitation is also extended for all to participate in theMarcha Campesina, which honors Cesar Chavez, this Thursday, March 31, 2016 starting at 4:30 PM. It has been organized by the local Farm Workers Center, and it coincides with the City of El Paso making a proclamation honoring Cesar Chavez. Please join the numerous organizations and individuals that advocate for our community.
More information can be accessed at the following link:

https://www.facebook.com/events/187024268340780/

Easter Activities This Weekend

Looking for some fun-filled kid and family activities?  Well, we’ve got you covered!  You can find a list of Parks & Recreation Easter Activities by clicking here or a list of activities from around the City by clicking here.  Below are some highlights:

You can attend the ONLY Easter Parade in El Paso.  The 38th Annual Transmountain Optimist NorthEaster Parade is set for Saturday, March 26 at 10 a.m.  You can find more information by clicking here.

The El Paso Zoo has a big Easter weekend planned  from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 26 and 27. You can “Hop around with inflatables, enjoy magic shows, take photos with the Easter Bunny and more!”  All activities are free with the price of admission, with the exception of photos with the Easter Bunny (which will cost you an extra $10).  Concessions and regular zoo activities like riding the train or feeding the giraffes (did you even know you could do that? We didn’t!) will still cost extra.

The Armijo Aquatic Center ( 911 S. Ochoa St.) is hosting a Golden Easter Egg Hunt and April Pools Day event on March 26th.  Hosted by the City of El Paso Parks and Recreation Department, there will be an Easter Egg Hunt and free swimming for children under 12 years of age.  Activities start at 10:00 am.

Free Easter Egg Hunts at City Parks.  The El Paso Parks and Recreation Department is hosting multiple activities around the City on March 26th from 10:00 am – 1:00 pm.  Check their website to find the park nearest you.

The El Paso Public Libraries are also hosting several events.  You can find more information by clicking here (library events are listed at the bottom of the page).

Cristo Rey Pilgrimages and hikes are planned by various denominations.  The Mt. Cristo Rey trailhead is located off McNutt Road (NM 273). Take the Racetrack exit off Paisano and cross the Rio Grande.  You can find out more information by clicking here.

As we said, these are just a few of the highlights.  From all of us at ELP Tax Guardians, we hope you have a happy and safe Easter Weekend.

 

 

Ask What El Paso Is Doing For You

In his January 20, 1961 inaugural speech JFK stated “ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.”  While we don’t disagree with this sentiment, at some point you do need to ask what your country can do for you.  Or, more specifically, what your elected officials are doing for you.  Between the City and the Hospital District, El Paso has over a BILLION dollars in Outstanding Tax Supported Debt. $22 million dollars disappears out of Tax Payer pockets and Joyce Wilson STILL hasn’t told us who is responsible and, other than a ‘pretty please’ letter, City Council isn’t doing anything to compel her to do so. Water and Electric bills are going up this year AND El Paso wages are, according to the El Paso times, “ranked 331st out of 342 large counties in the United States, and ranked well below the national weekly average of $974”.  El Pasoans are groaning under the burden.  Is it any wonder our children are leaving El Paso to find jobs?

We think that it is time to REALLY start asking what our elected officials are doing for us. Instead of spending their time talking about the price of Chihuahua tickets, trying to block FOI requests, squabbling among themselves or allowing contract extensions for CEO’s who have lied, maybe they should focus on improving the quality of life for their constituents.  Maybe they should be trying to attract new businesses and new jobs to the area.  Maybe they should actually be repaving roads, finishing plazas and fixing and building pools. Maybe they should be doing the job we elected them to do.

Maybe they just need to be reminded.  So, write them a note or give them a call, they are probably waiting to hear from you:

Mayor Oscar Leeser: 915-212-0021, mayorleeser@elpasotexas.gov

District 1 Rep. Peter Svarzbein: 915-212-0001, district1@elpasotexas.gov

District 3 Rep. Emma Acosta: 915-212-0003, district3@elpasotexas.gov

District 4 Rep. Carl Robinson: 915-212-0004, district4@elpasotexas.gov

District 5 Rep. Michiel Noe: 915-212-0005, district5@elpasotexas.gov

District 6 Rep. Claudia Ordaz: 915-212-0006, district6@elpasotexas.gov

District 7 Rep. Lily Limon: 915-212-0007, district7@elpasotexas.gov

District 8 Rep. Cortney Niland: 915-212-0008, district8@elpasotexas.gov

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  (915) 546-2098, CountyJudge@epcounty.com

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  (915) 546-2014, Commissioner1@epcounty.com

David Stout, Precinct 2:  (915) 546-2111, Commissioner2@epcounty.com

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  (915) 546-2144, commissioner3@epcounty.com

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4: (915) 546-2044, commissioner4@epcounty.com

 

 

 

Why It Matters If Romero Answers Ethics Questions

KVIA is reporting that Larry Romero, who had initially refused to answer the 53 questions from Ross Fischer because “he had already appeared on ABC-7 Xtra, held a news conference and provided answers to the community,” has provided his answers.  However, he failed to answer all of the questions and many of his answers contradict information already known to the public through FOI requests.  But, why does it matter?  He has already resigned from office and candidates are already filing to run for the District 2 spot in May.  It matters because the ethics complaint and the investigation is about TWO people:  Romero and Gonzalez.  If Romero is able to provide information into how Gonzalez was involved in these items (the failed change in financial adviser, the roads that were repaved and the speed cushions), then he might be able to finally provide that final bit of information that will allow the El Paso Times to get one of its greatest wishes: to finally get rid of Tommy Gonzalez.

Additionally, although Romero has left office, that does not shield him from prosecution if he broke the law.  If the Ethics Commission determines that the law was possibly broken, then their findings would be passed along to other legal entities to investigate.  Do we think this is going to happen?  Probably not.

Given that Romero did a half-hearted job at answering the questions, do you think the Ethics Commission or City Council are going to push him for more (better) answers or just leave him be?

Photo Courtesy elpasotexas.gov.

Issues Registering to Vote Online? You’re Not Alone

The El Paso Herald-Post is reporting that The Texas Civil Rights Project has filed a lawsuit against the state of Texas “for refusing to allow people to register to vote when they renew their driver’s licenses online.”  According to the lawsuit:

“The State of Texas permits certain Texas driver’s license holders to renew their license and/or update the address on their license online on DPS’ website at http://www.txdps.state.tx.us. See Ex. A, at 1. During the online process, these individuals are asked to Case 5:16-cv-00257 Document 1 Filed 03/14/16 Page 2 of 19 3 check “yes” or “no” in response to the statement, “I want to register to vote.” See Ex. A, at 2; Ex. C, at 19. It is undisputed that, even after an eligible voter checks “yes,” Defendants fail to offer any means for simultaneous voter registration and fail to update the registration records of voters who change their address.”

Under the National Voter Registration Act, eligible voters have a right to register when they update or renew their driver’s license, however the Texas site makes it difficult to update voter registration information with “many eligible voters who attempted to update their voter registration records through the DPS website were rejected, and when they arrived at the polls, were not allowed to vote.”  According to the lawyer on the case, they have received almost 2,000 complaints from voters attempting to update their registration files when visiting the DPS website but they suspect that there are many more people who have had issues.

“The complaints were compiled from elections held across the state between September 2013 and May 2015, and do not include any complaints from the recent Texas primary.”

 

At Least They Are Talking About Ticket Prices

San Jacinto Plaza isn’t done, I-10 is closed on a Saturday causing MASSIVE traffic jams in El Paso, and roads aren’t being repaved.  But, at least the City Council is taking all of this seriously  by talking about the price of Chihuahua tickets.  City Rep. Emma Acosta has added an agenda item to the upcoming City Council Meeting to talk about how ticket prices have increased.  Did you know that the City Council sets ticket prices for the Chihuahua games?  Of course you didn’t, because they DON’T.

From the El Paso Times: “Acosta said her intent was never to talk about whether the city could collect more revenue from the increased ticket prices. She also said she didn’t have concerns that the increase in prices would impact ticket sales and therefore decrease the funds the city collects from them.”  But not to worry, “Acosta said she does not expect any action to come from the discussion.”  Well that sounds like a worthwhile WASTE of time.