Media outlets have gone crazy in the last 24 hours covering the latest arrests in the EPISD scandal and Former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh’s role. Not only does this reopen a chapter in El Paso history that many had thought was closed, it also puts elected officials under the microscope. Namely, incumbent District Attorney Jaime Esparza.
As you’ll recall, Jaime Esparza is in a run-off election this month against Yvonne Rosales for the District Attorney position. Jaime has been in office since 1993. We knew about the Daniel Villegas wrongful conviction case and we have yet to see anything from Mr. Esparza about the Ross Fischer report (other than a request to the Texas Rangers to look at the report, a request that was made 2 days before the election). What we didn’t know is what role he played in uncovering and investigating in the EPISD scandal. Know why? Because he didn’t do anything. Former State Senator Eliot Shapleigh in the KVIA report: “It was very difficult to make things happen. I went to Jaime Esparza, he didn’t do anything. I went to the TEA, they didn’t do anything. I finally went to Barack Obama and wrote him a letter,” Shapleigh said, “It took that letter and the Department of Justice getting involved, which got the FBI involved, which made everything happen,” (emphasis added).
Given all that we know, is Jaime Esparza the best choice for District Attorney? You be the judge. Early voting period will be from Monday, May 16, 2016 through Friday, May 20, 2016. Election Day will be Tuesday, May 24, 2016 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. You can find your polling station by clicking here.
The Leapfrog Group has published its quarterly scores and, like last year, UMC didn’t score very well. It received a ‘D‘ rating with failures in areas such as infections in the blood during an ICU stay, death from serious treatable complications, dangerous bed sores and responsiveness of hospital staff, to name a few (you can view the entire report here). UMC, of course is stating that the report is inaccurate and, according to KFOX, a spokesman for UMC stated that the “method the group uses to collect the data doesn’t paint a true picture of any hospital because it rates all different types of hospitals on the same scale.” Several Senators have even written a letter stating that “the current Star Rating System may not accurately take into account hospitals that treat patients with low socioeconomic status or multiple complex chronic conditions” (You can read the entire letter here). So, we decided to take a look at the other Texas County Hospitals that would be dealing with the same patient pools. Here are the comparisons for County Hospitals in San Antonio, Dallas, Fort Worth, Houston and Austin:
University Health System, San Antonio: C
Parkland Health & Hospital System, Dallas: B
John Peter Smith Hospital (JPS), Fort Worth: C
Harris County Hospital District, Houston: C
University Medical Center at Brackenridge, Austin: B
Even among other county hospitals in Texas, UMC still rates the LOWEST. Are the scores skewed to rate hospitals lower that treat the indigent population? Possibly. However, unless the scores are skewed to attack ONLY University Medical Center of El Paso, then all County Hospitals in Texas are getting the same treatment and are still able to pull rating of C or higher.
This Saturday, April 30th from 10:00 am – 2:00 pm is the National Prescription Drug Take Back Day sponsored by the DEA. Last year more than 350 tons of drugs were collected in the drug take back day. Why does it matter if you have older drugs in your medicine cabinet? Acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg in 2015: “The numbers are shocking—approximately 46,000 Americans die each year from drug-related deaths. More than half of those are from heroin and prescription opioids. With four out of five new heroin users starting with prescription medications, I know our take-back program makes a real difference.” Furthermore, throwing old prescription medications in the trash or flushing them down a toilet can pose safety and health hazards.
So, now is the time to clean out those medicine cabinets! You can located the nearest collection site by clicking here.
According to El Paso Proud, “In addition to the take-back event partner agencies will have prescription drug handbooks for parents, and educational material on safeguarding prescription medications and proper methods of disposal of medications.”
Monday is the beginning of early voting for the District 2 seat vacated by Larry Romero. There are 8 candidates running, we provided information on them in this post. However, not all of them had Facebook or web pages at the time, we’ve included those below. Additionally, the El Paso Herald-Post did a nice write up on the Social Medial Alliance asking questions of the candidates, you can read the story here.
Cemelli de Aztlan: Facebook Page, Web Page
Abraham Monteros: Facebook Page
Gordon Ray Thatcher: We have been unable to find either a Facebook Page or Web Page
David Navarez: Facebook Page, Web Page
Jim Tolbert: Facebook Page, Web Page
Rene Abilez: Facebook Page
Angel Del Toro: Facebook Page
Early voting starts on MONDAY, APRIL 25TH and goes through May 3rd. To find a list of early voting centers, click here. Good Luck, District 2!
The El Paso Times is reporting that Tommy Gonzalez’s ethics review scheduled for April 26, 2016 has been ‘cancelled’ while he deals with a family matter. However, the article states that the meeting will be rescheduled for some undetermined date in the future. Wouldn’t that mean that the meeting has been postponed? Why use the word cancelled? We wonder if the meeting will actually be held.
Then there is the piece that refuse the juice published this week about a leak on the ethics commission. Apparently the updated Ross Fischer report the Times and other media outlets published earlier this week went to the ethics counsel and the press but never made its way to the City Council. According to refusethejuice.typepad.com, “nobody on council seemed to know what was going on until they read the paper.” This makes us wonder, was Tommy Gonzalez’s family matter used as an excuse to cancel the meeting while the City Council yells at the ethics commission?
According to a KFOX report, the Cesar Chavez Express Toll Lanes are not making enough revenue to cover their costs. For the first 2 months of 2016, the toll lanes brought in $156,356 in revenue but cost $1,136,576 in expenses; that’s a loss of $980,220!
Raymond Telles, with the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority, states that the toll lanes are actually doing BETTER than expected: “Not only are we making more than were projecting, but we are spending less than we were projecting.” He also stated that this project was never meant to be a stand-alone project and, therefore, won’t make money. Rep. Joe Pickett, on the other hand, feels like this data is concerning and that the lanes should be removed. His argument is that, since no money was borrowed to create the lanes, there is no debt currently associated with them. However, if the lanes continue to operate at a loss, then that could lead to debt.
Ultimately, according to Rep. Pickett, “it is up to El Pasoans to make it happen.” But, which El Pasoans, exactly, is that up to? Other than saying that the Toll Lanes could become a burden, Rep. Joe Pickett doesn’t seem to be doing anything about them and, instead has punted the issue to the nebulous “the El Pasoans’. Shouldn’t some of our City Elected officials be working on this? Wouldn’t they be the ones to bring this up and start the discussion? If, in fact this is an issue that the city should be dealing with, shouldn’t Rep. Pickett being discussing this with the City’s elected officials instead of just the news outlets? The sad truth is, nobody is going to do anything about this until it is too far gone and very far in debt.
It is so infrequent that El Paso is nationally recognized for a good thing. So, we thought we would also offer our congratulations to Diana Natalicio, current UTEP President, for being named one of Time Magazine’s ‘100 Most Influential People’. In an article written by U.S. Housing Secretary, Julian Castro, Natalicio is praise for “a masterful job of shaping her school to the surrounding community, not the other way around.” (You can read the article here).
Diana Natalicio became UTEP’s first woman president in 1988 and is today the longest-serving still sitting president of a major public research university in the United States. (You can read the El Paso Herald-Post story here). In February of this year, Natalicio had a health scare she collapsed on campus and was rushed to the hospital. Since then her recovery has been good and she has returned to work at UTEP. From her statement to UTEP faculty, staff and students in March: “Important work remains to be done to increase opportunities for our students and continue reinforcing UTEP’s national model of access and excellence. I am deeply gratified to be able to continue partnering with all of you to get this work done!”
You can read Natalicio’s full bio on the UTEP page here.
Photo courtesy the UTEP.edu website.
April 26th is the day set for the ethics commission’s hearing regarding El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez. Earlier this month, the ethics commission concluded that former District 2 representative Larry Romero used city resources for his own benefit. Since Romero had already resigned, all the ethics commission could do was issue a formal reprimand letter which he signed and agreed to. Presumably that will be the end of all of this for Larry Romero. However, if the dollar amount involved in the reprimand is high enough, there is the possibility that Larry Romero could face criminal charges. Still no word from either the Texas Rangers or current DA, Jaime Esparza, regarding possible criminal charges resulting from the Ross Fischer report.
Now the ethics commission is turning their attention to Tommy Gonzalez. According to the El Paso Times, “The city’s ethics investigator has found “clear and convincing evidence” that City Manager Tommy Gonzalez violated city policies and procedures regarding streets resurfacing and the installation of speed humps in front of Cathedral High School.” Gonzalez’s attorney has released his list of witnesses who, according to KVIA, will testify about street list and the speed humps, not the aborted search for a new financial advisor. His witnesses include: Monica Lombraña, the Director of Capital Improvements with the City of El Paso; Dr. Mark Sutter, the City of El Paso’s Chief Financial Officer; Ted Marquez, the Director of the City of El Paso Department of Transportation; Former City Representative Ann Morgan Lilly; Richard Bristol, with the city’s street and maintenance department; and City of El Paso Chief Internal Auditor, Edmundo Calderon.
According to the El Paso Times: “The commission could recommend a number of sanctions against Gonzalez if it finds he violated policies or rules, but only the City Council can make decisions about his employment with the city.”
You can read the entire letter from Ross Fischer to Gonzalez’s attorney here.
According to MySA (a San Antonio news outlet), the CEO of University Health System, George Hernandez Jr., was awarded a 7 percent increase. This prompted the news outlet to do a comparison of wages for other county hospitals and UMC’s CEO Jim Valenti was included in that. Interesting to note that both El Paso and Houston paid their CEO’s significantly less than Fort Worth, Dallas and San Antonio. What does this mean for the future CEO of UMC? Are we going to see a jump in the amount of money UMC pays their CEO?
The ethics committee has finally concluded their investigation into Larry Romero and has determined that he did commit some ethical violations. Since he had already resigned, the only thing they could do was have him sign a letter of reprimand acknowledging his wrong doing. According to KFOX, there were three times the ethics commission found Romero violated city code in relation to two different street projects: the use of city funds to repave Polk Street where he also owned property and that he pushed for the use of city funds to repave an alleyway used by two of his campaign contributors.
Of course, that is not the end of the story. Larry Romero continues to receive a paycheck from the City, even though he resigned and he will continue to be paid until his successor is chosen. Even though the law allows his continued pay, he does not have to accept the money. Romero’s response? “You ask every other city rep if they’re going to give back the check for every meeting they’ve missed. I guarantee you they’re not.” But, that isn’t really the same thing. Every other city rep hasn’t resigned from their job whereas Romero has. He has said that he is not doing the job and has no intention of doing the job but is upset that people are asking him to return the money for a job that he isn’t doing.