On October 18, 2016, 7 City Council members voted to approve the project site for the new arena. They also approved the POSSIBLE use of eminent domain to acquire the land. Reps. James Tolbert, Emma Acosta, Carl Robinson, Michiel Noe, Claudia Ordaz, Lily Limon and Cortney Niland voted in favor of the site.
In the last 24 hours, a recall has been started against Rep Cortney Niland and now Rep. Lily Limon is backing away from her vote. She told the news that she is worried that people are being forced out. Um, YOU VOTED TO USE eminent domain – what, exactly, did you think that meant? Her concern prompted her to post a comment on Facebook:
As far as announcements go, this is a pretty lame way to go about it. It is a comment on a Facebook post (not even her own Facebook page). Will she now join forces with Cortney Niland push forward an alternative? Who knows. It will be interesting to see if any other City Reps start changing their votes as the threat of a recall is hanging out there.
Michael Patino, a Union Plaza resident has filed paperwork to recall City Representative Cortney Niland. According to El Paso Proud, the paperwork cites 7 reasons:
- Failure to listen to the concerns of her constituents
- Lack of respect for residents
- Failure to keep the highest ethical standards
- Failure to respond t constituents of District 8
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from displacement and demolition
- Failure to protect her constituents in Union Plaza from the threat of eminent domain
Now Cortney Niland is walking back from the arena. According to KVIA: “So when they are saying to me they are upset and maybe there are some unintended consequences that maybe staff did not factor into the equation, we maybe need to take stop and listen,” Niland said. She is also saying that there are some alternatives: “I think we might have something pretty exciting to talk about on Tuesday. Where we can still do it in that fiscally responsible way, save the taxpayers money, not displace anyone and make everybody happy,” Niland said. If these alternatives were available, why weren’t they considered in the first place?
News reports are saying that it is possible that other City Reps could also face recall. It is incredibly difficult to recall someone in El Paso, largely because nobody votes! Here are the steps required for a recall:
- File notice of the recall effort with the City Clerk
- You have 60 days from filing to collect signatures of 20% (more than 700) of registered voters who voted in the last election for that position (in this case, the last election for District 8 representative). If you are a registered voter, upset at Cortney Niland BUT didn’t vote in that election, it doesn’t matter how many petitions you sign, your signature doesn’t count.
- Signing the petition has some pretty strict rules: signatures must be in ink, signer must enter their address, voter id number and date petition was signed.
- One signer on each paper must make an oath that each signature is that of the person who it purports to be.
- Within 10 days of filing the signed petition, the City Clerk and determine if it was signed by enough qualified voters. If the petition is insufficient, then an extra ten days to get additional signatures.
- IF the petition is adequate, then it goes to the City Council. If the person doesn’t resign, then a recall election is scheduled.
For the recall? Against the recall? Let us know!
In July, the topic of hourly wages for city and contract employees was discussed. During the meeting, Rep Lily Limon tearfully pleaded with City Council to raise the minimum wage to $10 for contract workers. Rep Noe said Limon’s plan would be bad for taxpayers. “We’re voluntarily, that is artificially, raising the price of a contract and saying ‘okay I’m not going to pay for it. The taxpayers are going to pay for this.”
Well, the topic came up again yesterday. An emotional Lily Limon tried again to “raise the minimum wage for janitorial, security and grounds maintenance contract workers to $10 an hour.” City staff reported the increase would have an estimated $3 million annual budget impact – that’s an extra $3 million that needs to come from somewhere. They had to raise property taxes to accommodate the budget for this year WITHOUT the $3 million increase, so there is no way the current (or future) budget could account for this.
The City Council has tabled the vote until they get more information. “The City will seek input from UTEP, The Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness and its consultants in order to learn how other cities dealt with similar proposals.”
Every summer El Paso government officials start planning how they are going to spend your money and how much more of it they are going to take away from you. This past week the City Council began their budgeting process with a series of meetings. On Thursday, the topic of the minimum hourly wage of both city and contract employees was discussed. During the meeting, Rep Lily Limon tearfully plead with City Council to raise the minimum wage to $10 for contract workers. Rep Noe said Limon’s plan would be bad for taxpayers. “We’re voluntarily, that is artificially, raising the price of a contract and saying ‘okay I’m not going to pay for it. The taxpayers are going to pay for this.’
On the surface, Limon’s plea to raise contract worker’s wages seems like it would be a good thing. However, by artificially raising their wages (as opposed to letting the free market determine wages), she is going to be spending your money in more than one way. First, this increase would require the money to come from somewhere. The Council is already arguing over the budget (with the Mayor vowing to not allow passage of a budget that includes a property tax increase), so we know that there is no excess in the budget to cover these new wages, that means that property taxes WOULD go up.
Secondly, those quality of life projects and road resurfacing would no longer be able to be completed under their current budgets. Assumptions were built into those estimates, assumptions about materials and labor. We agree with refusethejuice: if the contract worker’s rate goes up, down goes the amount of money available to complete the projects. That means that either some of the projects would need to be dropped from the list OR another round of property tax hikes would have to take place to cover them.
El Paso has the third highest residential property tax rate of America’s 50 largest cities. Water and electricity rates went up this year. EPISD has stated that they aren’t going to raise taxes but they’ll be asking you to vote on a bond that would. Roads are clogged due to construction. Where are Limon’s tears for you? She’s too busy worrying that the $260,000 light display for San Jancinto plaza approved by City Council be just right: “Niland and city Rep. Líly Limón stressed that the contractor will have to create a festive display that’s representative of El Paso’s culture and community.” How is the contractor going to capture ‘broke’ in lights?
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!
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:
- “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!
- “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.
- “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.
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):
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
On Tuesday the City Council announced that, per Tommy Gonzalez’s request, they would NOT be evaluating City Manager Tommy Gonzalez this year because Gonzalez “wants to focus on his others goals set in a personal improvement plan.” Without the evaluation, Gonzalez is ineligible for a raise.
However, that might not matter considering that TODAY IS THE DAY that the El Paso Times has been waiting for! Today is the day that Tommy Gonzalez will appear before the ethics commission. Just this past weekend, the Times 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.”
Of course, this entire process has been plagued with its own issues. Stuart Schwartz, the chair of the ethics committee, released documents containing “clear and convincing evidence” to the press before they were released to the City Council. Then Schwartz requested that City Rep. Emma Acosta’s appointee to the ethics commission, Danny Anchondo, be delayed until after Gonzalez’s hearing because “We’re serving as a panel for the Tolbert complaint (on Gonzalez), working our way through it. We’ve had a number of executive sessions on it and I don’t see much benefit trying to bring somebody new into the fold at this late time.”
Ultimately, the ethics commission has little authority over the City Manager. With an elected official, it can issue a reprimand or even remove them from office. But, because Tommy Gonzalez is not an elected official, the commission can issue a reprimand or recommend his removal but it is up to the City Council as to whether or not he keeps his job. If the commission finds that Tommy Gonzalez did nothing wrong, will the El Paso Times still praise them for doing a superb job?
There is a storm brewing that is going to jump from blog to blog and news outlet to news outlet. In case you missed it, Martin Paredes at elpasonews.org has been talking about an incident that happened with Claudia Ordaz and Vince Perez at a fast food restaurant last year. He originally uncovered the incident through a Freedom of Information request and had been trying to get the full report with no success. Yesterday, someone leaked the full report to him and he, in turn, shared it with the El Paso Times.
This is the basic story: Ordaz, Perez and another individual (it is unclear what this individual’s name is since Perez claims that the police report is wrong) were at a Whataburger on the east side where they “were becoming aggressive and causing disturbance in the parking lot” of the restaurant.” Additionally, “Perez became verbally uncooperative by repeatedly questioning the officers regarding what penal code statue gave them authority to do that.” Ordaz identified herself as a city representative and a supervisor was called. In the end, Perez and Ordaz were given the opportunity to file a citizens complaint and they declined, no police report was created, just a report for informational purposes.
In the El Paso Times story, both Perez and Ordaz were given an opportunity to respond. Ordaz has classified this as a political attack against her: “Each of these attempts to undermine my integrity have failed and will not intimidate me from standing up for the people who elected me to represent them. This latest attempt is an underhanded tactic that demonstrates the type of personal attacks and dysfunction at City Hall that only hinders the city’s ability to address pressing issues facing our community.” Perez has just stated that Ordaz never identified herself as a city representative and that the police report is incorrect – it even got the name of their friend wrong. Yeah, that could show how inept the police are OR, it could show that your friend lied about his name to the police.
As for Ordaz and these ‘political attacks’, you were at the Whataburger and the police felt they had to intervene. You weren’t upset enough to follow through with a citizen’s complaint and you wanted the whole thing to go away. Now it is back and you are making this about your constituents and how their issues aren’t being addressed when this is really about how YOU conduct yourself as a private citizen.
We were going to say something about Freedom of Information requests not being answered and how Paredes only got this information because it was leaked to him – but we feel confident that he is going to cover that in great detail himself.
In July of 2011, a recall effort against John Cook (then Mayor of El Paso), Steve Ortega (then District 7 Representative) and Susie Byrd (then District 2 Representative) was launched. The recall was initiated by El Paso pastor Tom Brown of the Word of Life Church through an organization called El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values. According to ballotpedia, “Brown initiated the recall after the El Paso city council voted to return health benefits to the unmarried partners of homosexual city employees. A May 2011 voter-approved ordinance had stripped these groups of their benefits, while also inadvertently taking benefits away from a number of unintended groups such as retirees. When the mayor and council overturned this ordinance, Pastor Brown called for their recall.”
Initially, the recall was halted because of a restraining order filed by Mayor Cook barring recall supporters from submitting petitions on grounds that the effort potentially violated Texas election law. Cook claimed that recall organizers used Pastor Brown’s church as a platform to circulate petitions in violation of a state statute prohibiting corporations (including nonprofits and churches) from contributing to recall elections. Then the recall was allowed to move forward, then halted again. Jaime Esparza even jumped into the fray in 2012 when he considered bringing charges against El Pasoans for Traditional Family Values on allegations that the group violated a state law that prohibits accepting more than $100 in cash contributions (ultimately he didn’t do anything). Both sides filed lawsuits, with John Cook having to cover his own legal fees because “the recall election was a political process and as such, the city is not supposed to take sides.”
Well, it appears that the whole affair has finally come to an end. KVIA reported today that Cook has settled with Brown for an unspecified amount. Brown’s attorney, Jerad Wayne Najvar, told ABC-7 in March, “It’s outrageous to have a situation where you have a powerful political official, who’s going after a group of people who stepped up and said we want to recall this political official.”
Whether or not you agree with Brown and his group, as a citizen of El Paso, aren’t you worried about what happened to them? According to Brown in his piece in the El Paso Times: “The city as a whole is responsible for stripping us of our constitutional rights….Do you think we feel we have a right to ever circulate a recall petition? Not me, not after what I went through.”