EPISD Not Raising Your Taxes…Yet

On Tuesday June 21, 2016, EPISD decided that it would not be increasing your property taxes while at the same time it will be giving educators a pay raise.  According to KFOX, “Even though the district is expected to lose 1,400 students, the board approved a new budget that includes a 1.5 percent increase for teachers.”  This pay raise is less than the 2.5 percent that teachers were given last year and may not stay ahead of the increasing health insurance premiums.

Good news for everybody, teachers get raises and property taxes don’t go up!  Well, kind of.  The EPISD MAY ask  you to open your wallets wider, just not yet.  Depending on which news story you read, (KVIA or KFOX), the El Paso School District is considering or has already decided to hold a bond election in November. With the passage of the bond, educators could see an increase in raises (above the 1.5 percent).

Educators could also see higher raises with the consolidation of facilities.  But the process has been a long and complicated one.  Understandably, families are upset that their children may have to go to a different, possibly farther away, school.  Some schools are old, badly in need of repair and require money for updates and declining enrollment means less money for schools to use. Hence, the bond:  “Our buildings, our classrooms are outdated for what we know kids need and the direction teaching and learning is moving,” EPISD spokeswoman Melissa Martinez said. “But in order to do that, we have to pass a bond.”  Even without the bond, closures would still occur but buildings could not be updated.

So, your property taxes are staying the same, for now.  However, it looks like we’ll all be voting on a bond to increase property taxes for EPISD in the fall.  Also, there is this:  “The board also approved $250,000 which will go to a consulting agency for a marketing campaign.”  Anyone think that marketing is going to bring in students from surrounding school districts to EPISD or did the board just throw this money away?

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Juneteenth – Commemorating the Announcement of the Abolition of Slavery in Texas

Today we went out the the county page (epcounty.com) to see what the county would be discussing.  To our surprise, we found this note:

juneteenth

We looked ‘Juneteenth’ and it’s a real holiday!  In fact, according to http://www.juneteenth.com/history.htm, “is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States.”  On June 19, 1865 Major General Gordon Granger and his Union soldiers landed at Galveston, TX and announced that the war and slavery had ended.

On January 1, 1980, Juneteenth became an official Texas state holiday through the efforts of Al Edwards, an African American state legislator. The successful passage of this bill marked Juneteenth as the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. Juneteenth today, “celebrates African American freedom and achievement,while encouraging continuous self-development and respect for all cultures.”

You can read more about Juneteenth by clicking here.

If You See An Emergency Vehicle, Help Save A Life and Let Them Through

Construction and road closures have almost crippled El Paso’s West Side.  Commuters are reporting that travel times have increased exponentially, particularly if there is a traffic accident.  In the past, if there was an accident, the accident could be moved to the freeway shoulder and commuters could take alternate routes.  Unfortunately, the construction has removed many of the freeway shoulders resulting in the accidents having to stay in the flow of traffic.  The road closures have then limited the alternate routes available, so we all end up sitting in traffic and none of us are happy about it.

Recently, KVIA reported that these delays are also impacting emergency vehicles and their ability to get sick and injured people to hospitals:  “It’s affected us greatly, it slows down our transports and backs us up and it’s a big risk too, it’s a liability if we’re not careful. The traffic jam hurts us and sets us back on our calls,” Elite Medical Transport EMT Gabriel Lawler said.  Even though the City’s Streets & Maintenance Department does their best to help emergency responders by providing alternate routes and better timing on stop lights, it is ultimately up to the drivers to let these vehicles through:  “There’s a lot of people that are really rude and don’t give us the right of way they don’t realize one day it could be your family member it could be someone you love that we have to care for,” Lawler said.

No one likes to sit in traffic for HOURS, it makes us angry, irritable and sometimes vindictive (that guy who waited until the last minute to change lanes when he was given ample notification that his lane was ending?  Yeah, you’re NEVER going to let him in!).  But, in an emergency minutes not hours make the difference.  So, please, do your best to let these vehicles through.  If you hear a siren, get out of the way.

Tragedy in Orlando A Good Press Opportunity for Politicians in El Paso

Refusethejuice makes some good points in his article “Never let a tragedy go to waste” – If the Orlando shooting had happened in El Paso, we could understand having local and state politicians speaking about it. But it didn’t, it happened in Orlando. We agree that people should stand in solidarity when a tragedy occurs. But we can’t help but wonder if those same politicians would have been ‘standing’ if the cameras weren’t there.

This is a HUGE tragedy for our Nation but an even larger one for those families who lost loved ones. Using their loss as a chance for personal gain is tacky, to say the least.

City Council Does Nothing Regarding Gonzalez

The City Council met on Tuesday to discuss, among other things, what they should do about the recent Ethics Commission’s rulings against Gonzalez.  If you’ll recall, the Chairman of the Ethics committee, Stuart Schwartz, stated that “Because the sanctions are not a recommendation for removal from office, the commission is not required to make a presentation to council.”  Basically, the case was over and there was nothing for the City Council to do.  The Mayor reiterated that on Tuesday in an El Paso Times story:  “The only time council would take any type of action would be if the ethics commission would (have) recommended termination,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said. Furthermore, there was nothing for the City Council to do as “Once those rulings are made we cannot go back and change those rulings.”

Apparently that didn’t sit well with City Rep. Líly Limón who decided to add a discussion to the agenda regarding the ethics commission’s ruling.  “It is not my goal or idea to prolong this, but we can’t slip it under the rug. We need to confront it face front and then go from there,” Limón said. “I just want to make very, very sure that everything is covered and that we’ve don’t the right thing and everything is covered.”  So, they discussed it and, as was stated both before the ethic commission’s review and after their ruling, there was nothing for the City Council to do.

Way to go, City Council!  You managed, again, to spend time talking about things you can’t do anything about rather than actually doing something for the people who elected you!

Change In the Wind for UMC

Two interesting things happened at the end of last week and you may have missed them.  First, Jim Valenti’s weekly Friday letter had the tone of someone who is saying goodbye. Is it possible that we’ll get an announcement on a new UMC CEO soon?  If Steve DeGroat (UMC Chair) is to be believed in the El Paso Times Story, “He’ll stay some days of the month of June — whether that’s a week, or two, or three or four. But I would say no longer than July 1.”

Secondly, Commissioner Stout wrote an opinion piece in the El Paso Times entitled “Building Relationships key for UMC“.  In his piece he says “I urge the new CEO to spend time rebuilding relationships with key community partners and the Commissioners Court that have been stressed.” We agree, the new CEO (with his board of directors) needs to rebuild old and establish new relationships.  Odd that Commissioner Stout felt it was important to run an opinion piece in the El Paso Times rather than just saying these things directly to the new CEO.  Commissioner Stout is on the search committee for the new CEO so he would not only know who the person is but also would have the opportunity to speak with them. Is Commissioner Stout worried about the new CEO already and he is trying to publicly put pressure on them?

Waiting for the announcement for the new CEO is starting to feel like waiting for the birth of a baby; everybody knows that it is coming but nobody knows when.  So, start marking up your calendars or just shout out the date you think the announcement will be made.

Say Goodbye To Paisano And Hello To More Traffic

In case you haven’t already heard, Paisano Drive will be closing this Sunday (June 12, 2016) for the next EIGHT MONTHS.  Starting at 7 a.m. Sunday, West Paisano Drive will be closed in both directions between Sunland Park Drive and Executive Center Boulevard.

According to TXDOT Website:

The proposed Loop 375 Border Highway West Extension Project will provide:

  • Better connectivity around the city
  • Additional infrastructure to accommodate future growth
  • Congestion relief
  • Improved access to the university, downtown, and medical centers
  • Better incident management and a safer roadway

In the meantime it’s probably best to start treating your morning commute the same way you would a long road trip:  leave early, pack snacks, have a full tank of gas and go to the bathroom before you leave the house.

El Paso Times Editorial Board: Facts Just Get In the Way

In its editorial, “El Paso deserves better leadership“, the El Paso Times editorial board took the City Council to task and accused them of “poor leadership at City Hall.”  This article was fascinating in the way that it twisted facts (many of them reported by the El Paso Times in other stories) in order to come to its conclusions.  Here are some of the parts that we found interesting:

  1. “The Ethics Review Commission stopped short of the most severe sanction – recommending that Gonzalez be terminated over the ethics failures.”  But that isn’t true, according to their own story on the ethics commission’s actions: “Schwartz said the letter of notification is the lowest of four levels of sanctions the commission can enforce. The next level is the letter of admonition, followed by a letter of reprimand and the highest level is a recommendation for removal from office.”  So, in fact, the ethics commission issued the 2 lowest sanctions available to them.  We would think ‘stopping short’ would be to issue a level 3 sanction, at least!
  2. “A day before the ethics sanctions, the council decided not to give Gonzalez his annual performance evaluation because he asked them not to. That is some major league shirking. The council in February passed a 13-part motion aimed at addressing a number of deficiencies identified by independent investigator Ross Fischer; many of the items remain unaddressed months later.” Tommy Gonzalez’s Performance Improvement Plan (PIP) was finalized on March 15  (according to the El Paso Times) and, according to the Society for Human Resource Management, “PIP timelines are commonly 60 or 90 days in length.” The fact is, we don’t know what kind of timeline was placed on the PIP and NEITHER DOES THE EL PASO TIMES EDITORIAL BOARD AND they didn’t bother to find out!  Their critique may be valid, but NOBODY KNOWS.
  3. “When challenged on these failures, Gonzalez has been evasive or pointed the finger at city employees, deflecting blame from himself.”   While this may be Gonzalez’s management style, “Sutter [El Paso CFO]told the commission he was responsible for the approval of unauthorized funds for the repaving of an alley in Romero’s district, as well as for the use of unauthorized funds to install speed humps on Stanton Street.” (You can read the KFOX story here).  So, in this case at least, Gonzalez didn’t point the finger, someone stood up and took the blame.

We get it, the El Paso Times doesn’t like Tommy Gonzalez.  They don’t like that he got a raise last year, they don’t like that he owns a house in Dallas, they hate his big stupid face and they aren’t going to be happy until he is fired.  They published an editorial about the ethics commission where they praised them for doing “a superb job of keeping the public informed of the process,” as well as performing “admirably in the investigation of an ethics complaint filed in December by Central El Pasoan Jim Tolbert.”  That didn’t get them what they wanted, so now they are publishing an editorial about the “poor leadership at City Hall.”  Who cares if they twisted the facts to prove their point, it’s not like they’re journalists or anything.

Tommy Gonzalez Accidentally Unethical

Confused about what the ethics commission actually decided?  Well, you’re not alone, Tommy Gonzalez and his attorney are, too.  The Ethics Commission determined that Tommy Gonzalez violated the ethics policy regarding repaving streets in District 2 (Romero’s district) and installation of speed humps in front of Cathedral High School.

In order to understand what the Ethics Commission decided to do about these two items, you need to understand what their different levels are and what they could do.  According to El Paso City Code (page 197), there are four levels of sanctions that the Ethics Commission can impose (emphasis added):

  1. Letter of Notification –   A letter of notification may be issued when the ethics review commission finds that a violation of this chapter was clearly unintentional or when the action or conduct found to have been a violation of this chapter was performed by the official in reliance on a written opinion of the city attorney. A letter of notification may advise the person to whom the letter is directed of any steps to be taken to avoid future violations.
  2. Letter of Admonition – A letter of admonition may be issued when the ethics review commission finds that the violation of this chapter was minor and/or may have been unintentional, but where the circumstances call for a more substantial response than a letter of notification.
  3. Letter of Reprimand – A reprimand may be issued when the ethics review commission finds that a violation of this chapter was committed intentionally or through disregard of this chapter
  4. Recommendation of Removal from Office – Removal from office may be recommended to the city council for action when the ethics review commission finds that a serious or repeated violation of this chapter was committed by an officer intentionally or through culpable disregard of this chapter.

The Ethics Commission approved two sanctions for Gonzalez:  “a letter of notification for recklessly disregarding an applicable policy or procedure by authorizing an unqualified alley to be resurfaced in District 2 and a letter of admonition for recklessly disregarding an applicable policy or procedure by authorizing the installation of speed humps on Stanton Street in front of Cathedral High School.” (You can read the El Paso Times story here). Basically, the Ethics Commission found that Tommy Gonzalez  unintentionally was unethical about the speed humps and might have been a little bit unethical about repaving the alley way (or he could have unintentionally been unethical there, as well).  So, there you have it, the Ethics Commission ruled that Tommy Gonzalez accidentally was unethical.

His lawyer has stated that they are already looking into ways to appeal the Ethics Commission’s ruling.