Were The Proposed Raises Posted Anywhere? We Can’t Find Them.

We had a discussion last week with a follower about what kind of notice the County Commissioners are required to give to the County BEFORE they approve a raise.  From the Local Government Code, Sec. 152.013. PROCEDURE FOR SETTING AMOUNTS FOR ELECTED OFFICERS, here is what we have:

Before the 10th day before the date of the meeting, the commissioners court must publish in a newspaper of general circulation in the county a notice of: (1) any salaries, expenses, or allowances that are proposed to be increased; and (2) the amount of the proposed increases. (c) Before filing the annual budget with the county clerk, the commissioners court shall give written notice to each elected county and precinct officer of the officer’s salary and personal expenses to be included in the budget.

Both Escobar and Perez acknowledged this in story published by KFOX on the 12th with Escobar stating: “In in this day and age, it’s on Twitter. It’s on Facebook.”.  But, as KFOX pointed out, neither Escobar or Perez had posted anything on Facebook or Twitter about the proposed pay raises and we’re pretty sure Twitter and Facebook do not count as “a newspaper of general circulation.”  In fact, the only reference to publishing in any agenda is from August 1st and it was for publishing notice about the Effective and Rollback Tax Rate Notices. In case you are wondering, click here to see what it SHOULD have looked like (this one is from Waller County).

Does the fact that they didn’t follow the local government code invalidate the raises?  We honestly don’t know, maybe some of you out there do and can let us know.  In our opinion it should, that code was created to ensure that the public gets a chance to know about the raises and weigh-in BEFORE the raises are approved, not after the fact.

Also, Refuse the Juice has some interesting ideas on how the County Commissioners could have sent this out for a vote.

 

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Let the County Commissioner’s Know What You Think of Their Raises

Per the (great) request of one of our followers, we are posting contact information (phone numbers, emails and social media accounts that we could find) for all of the County Commissioners and the Count Judge.  Please take a moment before their next meeting on Monday to let them know what YOU think about the raise they just gave themselves with YOUR money:

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  CountyJudge@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2098, Twitter: @vgescobar, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/veronica.escobar.3998?fref=ts (Personal), https://www.facebook.com/Veronica-Escobar-for-County-Judge-261548845154/?fref=ts

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  Commissioner1@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2014, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/County-Commissioner-Carlos-Leon-155827997861915/?fref=ts

David Stout, Precinct 2:  Commissioner2@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2111, Twitter: @CommStout, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CommissionerDavidStout/?fref=ts

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  commissioner3@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2144, Twitter: @VinceMPerez, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vincentmperez?fref=ts

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4commissioner4@epcounty.com, (915) 546-2044, Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/countycommissioner4/?fref=ts

After all, as we stated in our article, You’re the Boss, they work for you, not the other way around.

In the Best Interest of the Community, County Commissioners Give Themselves a Raise

KVIA reported yesterday that the El Paso County Commissioners voted to give themselves a raise.  The County Commissioners went from $62,000 to $90,000 and the County Judge went from $90,000 to $102,000.  Looks like Brutus at elpasospeak was right when he said they commissioned a study in order to justify raising their pay.

Here is how Commissioner Perez justified the decision:

  1. “We are the lowest paid in Texas, even along border counties”
  2. If salaries don’t rise for elected officials, it will get to a point that the only people who run for office are those who can afford to.
  3. Do we want to limit public service to those individuals who have some source of supplemental income?  We need to encourage a broader group of people to run, not just those who are retired or is individually wealthy.
  4. The rise in salary will also help attract more qualified individuals.
  5. Commissioners deal with a $350 million budget.
  6. The raise is still 70 percent below the market value of the state.

The raise goes into effect on October 1, 2016.  So, you see, the County Commissioners didn’t do it for themselves, they did it for YOU, so that YOU can attract more qualified individuals to run.  Of course, the raise goes into effect before any of the current commissioners leave office, so his reasoning is disingenuous at best.  Perhaps their logic was that, since property taxes are going to go up anyway this year, they might as well get as much money as they can.

The median household income in El Paso is $40,133.  The median for Texas is $53,035. Per Commission Perez’s logic, in order to attract more qualified individuals to El Paso, we must all immediately give ourselves raises, it’s the only logical thing to do.

 

County Commissioners “Save” You $6 Million

On July 3rd, KVIA joyfully announced that the county had “found a way to get some money back – without taxes.”  The County Commissioners have been refinancing debt and was able to save YOU $6 million, “an additional $6 million that can now be put towards major county projects.”  According to Escobar:  “We are going to be able to address some pretty chronic infrastructure issues that we’ve had and make some improvements and it will not impact the tax rate,” Escobar said

In May of this year, the County Commissioners started talking about issuing $7 million in certificates, specifically to cover infrastructure.  The County Commissioners were proud of themselves because issuing this debt won’t raise the tax rate because it is “equivalent to what the county refinanced and paid off earlier this year.”  However, as we pointed out, this was the County taking money that they had managed to pay down and reissuing it so that they could spend it again.

So, does this new $6 million mean that they won’t have to issue the certificates of obligation?  Is this the $6 million the same as those certificates that they were talking about in May?  Or, are they issuing the certificates of obligation AND refinancing the debt?  All the while lauding that they didn’t raise your property taxes…yet.

County Commissioners to Issue More Debt for the County

Last week the County Commissioners met to discuss issuing $7 million in certificates to cover aging infrastructure.  Just to be clear, the certificates of obligation issues in 2012 were specifically to cover infrastructure and, according to the El Paso Times, “Escobar said the money left over from the 2012 certificates of obligation will help address some of the needs.” However, this left-over money isn’t enough.  So, the County Commissioners are looking to issue a certificate of obligation, ” A certificate of obligation is debt issued without voters’ approval.”  The County Commissioners are patting themselves on the back because issuing this debt won’t raise the tax rate because it is “equivalent to what the county refinanced and paid off earlier this year.”  Doesn’t that make you feel better?  They managed to pay down some of the BILLION dollars in debt burdening the  El Paso taxpayers and now want to take that money out again so that they could spend it.

The County Commissioners are going to spin this as a good thing – they are able to fix and improve things without raising your property taxes!  Yeah, you’re still paying and, as they issue more debt, you’ll be paying for a long time to come.

Valenti Got A Bonus And ‘Mislead’ The Commissioner’s Court

In an article about how Valenti ‘mislead’ the Commissioner’s Court regarding bonus-able employees at UMC, the El Paso Times also reported that Valenti received a bonus last year.  As you may recall, UMC almost lost its accreditation last summer and saw its bond rating decreased last fall.  Given those circumstances, how much of a bonus would you give him?  Guess it doesn’t matter how much you would have given him because: “a $46,813 incentive given to Valenti.”  Granted, that is less than half of the $120,000 that he got the year before, but you would think that patient safety would be high on the annual evaluation(you can read our blog post about UMC’s accreditation and the entire report here). Did you get a $46,813 bonus last year?

The rest of the article talks about how Valenti “misled the County Commissioners Court by stating publicly last year that many of the annual bonuses provided to hospital employees are contractual.”  Well, turns out that the only contractual bonus is for Mr. Valenti himself.  The $500,000 line item for bonuses (yes, you read that number correctly, 1/2 a million dollars), was left in the budget that was approved by the Commissioner’s Court.  Now that information has surfaced that the bonuses weren’t actually contractual, here is what 3 of the County Commissioners had to say about it:

Commissioner Perez:

“The Commissioners Court was led to believe that there was nothing that could be done about the bonus money that was set aside because they were tied to contractual obligations,” Perez said. “Now seeing the list of individuals who received the bonuses, I believe the statement made to the Commissioners Court was a misrepresentation of the facts.”

Commissioner Leon:

“How can we do business with somebody who lies to us?” Leon questioned. “He lied to us again.”  “He intentionally lied and misled the court and I have a big problem with that,” Leon said.

Commissioner Haggerty:

“I don’t think it was a flat out lie. I think it was a misunderstanding in a lot of ways as far as how much it was contracted obligated and how those contract obligations work,” he said.  Haggerty said a lot of the bonuses are contractually obligated through the hospital program, not through personal contracts for each employee. However, that’s not exactly what was said at the September meeting, he added.

Interesting that the two most vocal members of the Commissioner’s Court, Judge Escobar and Commissioner Stout, are not quoted anywhere in the article.  For the past year, if there was anything having to do with either UMC or El Paso Children’s Hospital, they have been front and center.  Where is the outrage? If Valenti did ‘mislead’ the court and he’s already leaving in May, why isn’t Veronica writing to the board and asking them to let him run out the remainder of his contract at home?  If you can’t trust him, why continue to let him poke around in daily operations?

The Sound of Your Money Being Spent

El Paso Times is reporting that El Paso Children’s Hospital’s revenue jumped in December:  “After losing an average of $1.85 million in each of the first six months of the hospital’s controversial bankruptcy, Children’s reported to U.S. Bankruptcy Court that it had earned $650,000 in December. Revenue that month increased $3.9 million, or 62 percent, over November.”  That’s good news, right?  At least for the tax payers that is good news, the El Paso Children’s Hospital did well.  Granted, part of that was due to the fact that “Children’s received a $3.1 million payment under the disproportionate share program — which benefits hospitals with a high percentage of low-income patients.” But still, EPCH earned that money because it took care of low-income patients and, honestly, do we care where the money comes from as long as it doesn’t come from us?

HOWEVER, if you’re trying to paint a picture that the consulting company that was helping to run the hospital at that time was incompetent and that they shouldn’t be paid, then this is bad news.  If, for example, you are the El Paso County Commissioners and are using tax payer dollars on lawyers to fight these fees, this ruins the story you’ve been spreading:  “County Judge Veronica Escobar has said the firm did little to restructure the hospital’s operations and finances. She also has said that the hospital went through the expense of a bankruptcy only to end up with a settlement that was similar to one that was on the table in 2014.”

We’ve already spoken about how the two plans are WILDLY different (you can read our post here), assuming that they are talking about the plan that was being considered in early 2015, we’re not sure which plan they are talking about from 2014.  Now we’re hearing that the El Paso Children’s Hospital is doing better.  Yet, Veronica Escobar will continue to spend your money fighting against AlixPartners’ fees.  Is she being a good steward of our money or is she using our money to pursue her own personal vendetta?

 

You’re The Boss

We found this org chart on the El Paso County Web Site.  If you’re at a restaurant and you don’t get what you want, you complain to the waiter.  If their answer is unsatisfactory, you complain to their manager, and so on.  If you want something fixed, you don’t turn to the people sitting at the table next to you and complaint to them and hope that they will do something about it, you don’t pay the bill if you didn’t get what you wanted.  It is the same with what is happening with the county.  Many of us are upset over what is happening and how our money is being spent.  But, instead of complaining to the County Commissioners, we complain about them.  We lean over to each other’s tables and whisper and shout and hope that something will get done.  We continue to watch them waste and spend our money and we think that there isn’t a thing we can do about it.  But, there is.  The County reports to us, the tax payers.  If you don’t like what is happening, send them a letter, go tell them during their meetings, do something.

Right now they ignore blogs like ours and others because they believe that we are on the fringe; a bunch of disgruntled people with agendas.  But, if more people were to speak up directly to them, then we could affect change. So here it is, our challenge to you:  don’t like what is happening with your money?  Upset with how your employee is behaving? Write them an email.  It only takes a minute and what’s the worst that can happen, they’ll be upset with you?  Well, you’re already upset with them and they work for YOU, not the other way around.

Veronica Escobar, County Judge:  CountyJudge@epcounty.com

Carlos Leon, Precinct 1:  Commissioner1@epcounty.com

David Stout, Precinct 2:  Commissioner2@epcounty.com

Vincent Perez, Precinct 3:  commissioner3@epcounty.com

Andrew Haggerty, Precinct 4: commissioner4@epcounty.com

 

Pay No Attention to the Veronica Behind The Curtain

In his is blog this week, Max Powers wrote about how there is no Veronica Escobar endorsement on Lina Ortega website, but that Escobar is working behind the scenes to raise money for Ortega’s campaign. According to Max, the fundraising isn’t going as well as expected because ” once reliable donors for anything that Escobar asked for are telling Escobar, “No.” When this happens, Veronica then asks them to stay out of the race completely. Isn’t it a little odd that she expects that the people who have refused to give her money would yield to her wishes to not donate to Lina’s opponent, Adolfo Lopez? We wonder if Lopez will get votes just because Escobar is NOT supporting him.

In other news, Barbara Carrasco has filed an ethics complaint against City Rep Claudia Ordaz. The complaint states that Ordaz violated state law by discussing executive session information. Who was she sharing information with? Veronica Escobar. According to the El Paso Times article, “Carrasco’s complaint said that on June 1, during an executive session at an agenda-review meeting, Ordaz texted Escobar — a political ally and mentor – on the status of economic incentive requests from a company wanting to build medical facilities in El Paso.”

So, now we have two instances of Veronica working behind the scenes. This made us wonder, are there other places where Veronica Escobar is trying to pull strings from behind the curtain? We still have unanswered questions about her role in the initial setup of and subsequent bankruptcy fight with the El Paso Children’s Hospital. Will those questions ever be answered or will she continue to work from the shadows?

Lack of Oversight Corrected?

“This ruling is also a victory for the taxpayers of El Paso County, who will now have greater oversight over the Children’s Hospital. The lack of accountability in the past, I believe, is one reason this whole situation was able to metastasize in the first place. However, with diligent work and stewardship, both UMC and the Children’s Hospital, which provide immeasurable services to this community, can continue to flourish and offer our residents the highest quality of healthcare.”  Commissioner David Stout in his January Newsletter.

Anyone else concerned about this new oversight?  This debacle happened under the current County Commissioner’s watch and, as we have proven time and again, UMC was able to enter into contracts with EPCH that were widely inflated and a way to bilk money from the Children’s Hospital.  Where was the oversight there?  Are the County Commissioners committed to doing something to correct the obvious problems with UMC as well?  Finally, how much oversight do they really have?  When Jim Valenti got a bonus in 2013, the County Commissioners could do NOTHING about it, they couldn’t even remove the board members.  This is a victory for someone, just not necessarily the tax payers.