Monday, September 22, 2014

El Paso GOP Raises Election Fairness Concerns

The El Paso Republican Party attended Commissioner's Court today to raise a concern about the approval of early voting locations. Their focus was one particular location in Canutillo. The El Paso GOP take issue with the fact that one of the locations is at the Canutillo ISD District Office.

Their are two races that will likely be close on the westside, which is the only place in the county that Republicans hold office. In fact, both of the offices they currently hold are up for grabs, the commissioner's seat and the JP seat. That is why the location of an early voting location is a big deal. Any little edge can mean the difference in the election.

The GOP believes that the Canutillo ISD District Office early voting location gives the Democratic candidate for JP Sergio Coronado an unfair advantage. They may have a point, though the remedy is unclear.

The GOP officials in attendance, including Tom Homsley the Chairman of the El Paso Republican Party, Rob Pena the elections administrator for the local GOP and Becky Hermosillo who chairs the West El Paso Republican Women, used points made by County Judge Veronica Escobar in the past to remove some voting locations.

Previously the Court took action to remove locations on private property and churches as early voting locations because of the potential undue influence by employers and clergy over voters. So the Court decided that where ever practicable, the use of government or public facilities would be preferred as early voting locations.

The GOP main argument is that Sergio Coronado is a member of the CISD Board. As a member of the Board they believe it would be the same as being an employer and that he would potentially have undue influence over employees voting at that location primarily because its the same building in which is office is located. They also indicated that the location is not a regular early voting location and that Canutillo has two other early voting locations.

I should note that early voting locations are frequently changed for a myriad of reasons and so I'm not sure how strong of an argument the fact that the district office isn't a regular early voting location really is.

The building is a public/government location though, so I'm not sure what the alternative would be.

The GOP presented documents and information to the Commissioner's Court outlining their position. It appears that everyone was taken by surprise by the issue and the County Judge directed the County Attorney's Office to review the information and advise the Court before any action is taken on the matter.

The GOP was successful in raising enough of a concern that the item was postponed for a week. Final action should presumably take place next Monday.

I'm going to talk with the GOP and with the Dems to find out more about the issue and do a more comprehensive piece on this topic, but thats the overview for now.

Election Manipulation by Serna, Quintanilla, & Lujan Alleged

Chente Quintanilla (Left), Ruben Lujan (Right) handling-out
cash; electronic devices to voters.
Justice of the Peace Rosalie Dominguez filed two lawsuits against Enedina "Nina" Serna, former State Rep Chente Quintanilla and fellow JP Ruben Lujan.

The El Paso Times has a piece on all the details. You can find it here.

Let me tell you something, in my opinion this allegation should surprise no one, especially from this crew of people. And this group of Democrats just handed racist Republicans exactly what they need to justify voter ID laws. I'll explain in a bit.

First, here's some background. Serna comes from one of the more prominent political families in the valley. She lives in Socorro and has been a long-time aid to former State Representative Chente Quintanilla. Even after Quintanilla's departure from the legislature the two have remained close.

The other person mentioned is Justice of the Peace Ruben Lujan. He's another old-school politician that is straight out of the mold of back-slapping valley stereotype. If you want an idea of what that looks like, watch the video below.

And this video is why the allegation made by Judge Dominguez shouldn't come as a surprise. This is video from the classic New Years' Day Pachanga that was a tradition in valley politics for years. Thankfully that tacky and ethically-questionable activity is now dead and gone.

But basically here's what it was. Every year Chente "Por La Gente" Quintanilla would hold the New Years Day event that was theoretically open to the public. It was, but the majority of the invitees were regular voters. For many years it was held at the Mission Valley Ballroom in Socorro. The idea was to have a big spread and offer free food, free booze, and raffle off prizes. The highlight originally was to give away bikes to valley kids. Sure, thats a great cause and a lot of valley kids benefited. I don't know any kid that doesn't love a new bike. It just sure helped if Nana and Tata were regular voters...

Chente would get all the local politicos and invite them to come to the event and bring a bike to donate that could be raffled off to a deserving kid. Who's relatives were regular voters of course. In an election year, he was especially successful at getting lots of bikes for kids because he invited all the elected and all the candidates. They tripped over one another to show the valley voters how generous they all were.

Not a bad idea because most of the people running didn't know where the valley was if their life depended on it. In this particular year, which ended up being the last one by the way, the stakes were especially high because there were dueling pachangas. More on that in a moment.

But perhaps because the stakes were so high or because it was an election year, things got really out of hand. In addition to the bikes that were raffled off, they upped the ante and high-priced electronics and even cold, hard cash was given out to potential voters.



The guy with the microphone that sounds like a low-budget Latin-American game show host is none other than Justice of the Peace Ruben Lujan. Yes you are viewing the video correctly. A sitting judge is handing out cold, hard cash to voters. It was given out in $20 bills. And Lujan was pretty excited about it because he more money was added to the original $20 and in the words of Lujan, "Viente mas. Y viente mas. Ye viente mas!"

I half expected him to turn in to Johnny Canales and say, "Take it away, ju got it".

It was an embarrassing spectacle. For those of us that try to spike voter turnout the right way its frustrating to watch valley politicos patronize good people of limited means. Do you think this kind of shit would be tolerated in any other part of town? Listen to how excited the crowd is for a prize of $20. Its because they are a community of limited resources and every little bit helps. Its sad  when people like Chente and Lujan, who represent those people, are the ones patronizing them.

I only went because I was invited to cover it. I couldn't believe it was happening and I even spoke to a few of the candidates and asked them if they actually thought giving out cash was a good idea.

This kind of shit is why people and candidates who don't live in the valley think that they are ignorant poor people who can be bought off with trinkets, free booze, and a plate of brisket.

Now, back to the reason why this was a particularly over-the-top pachanga. It was a bigger spectacle than normal because two other valley candidates decided they were going to pull the same thing. Willie Gandara, the Commissioner who was running for state rep, and a staffer that was running for his seat on Commissioner's Court, rented the Mission Valley Ballroom from under Chente. They held their own pachanga to give away food, free booze, and bikes.

The Quintanillas were happy about that at all and relatives and staff were dispatched to carry signs that would guide people to Chente's which was held around the corner. The candidates and electeds made the rounds at both events. And to be fair to Willie, his pachanga was no where near the scale of Chente's. It was just keg beer and menudo. Much more humble of an event. But it was an event that was attempting to do exactly what Chente was doing.

Pachangas are just part of the playbook of activities that are done during election season to try to get an edge over an opponent. God forbid the campaigns actually work and go and knock on a door and talk to a voter about issues.

For those of you in the know, you are aware of the fact that there is somewhat of an anomaly in Fabens. Mail-in ballots are always disproportionately higher in the Fabens area than in other parts of the valley.Those of us who have worked campaigns down in the valley know why that is. Its always been something only whispered about but people have always believed that there was some funny business with mail-in ballots. There's an active senior community in Fabens and one particular lady that happens to be very politically involved and frequently paid campaign worker for various candidates. She just so happens to work at a couple of senior centers.

Essentially that is what Judge Dominguez is alleging. And based on the data, I'd say there is certainly something going on, but exactly what that is remains to be seen. In the primary election, when there were even more candidates involved in the race, there were only 24 mail-in ballots for Fabens, Socorro, and Tornillo.

During the run-off that number jumped up to 70. Thats almost triple the amount of the primary. That absolutely defies logic considering less people voted in the run-off but mail-in voters increased to that degree?

Not only no, but hell no do I believe thats legit for one minute.

Serna lives in Socorro. Chente is from Tornillo. You do the math.

Let me be clear, its just an allegation being leveled against Luja, Serna, and Chente at this point and its in the form of a lawsuit. To my knowledge there is no allegation of a crime at this point. I am unable to verify if there is an official investigation into this matter at this point.

But I'll tell you what these allegations against three Democrats do. They justify the move by Republican extremists to push forward with voter ID. If the allegations are ultimately proven, then we can all thank the three of them for making it a reality. Way to go guys. Thanks alot.

On a final note, I do find it interesting that Judge Lujan would be so overt in his opposition to Judge Dominguez. I don't think I've noticed another time when a sitting judge was so concerned with taking out a colleague.

My question is obvious.

Why?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Candidate Recruiting in Socorro

There's a reason its called Soco-loco.

Sources in Socorro indicate that former City Manager Lorenza Fraire is recruiting a candidate to replace the late R.E. Chito Bowling for the now vacant District 4 in Socorro.

Thats not really surprising when you consider the fact that that she's a former city manager and was fired. She wants her job back. The fact that she is a former city manager, wants her job back, and is trying to get involved in the campaign of a candidate should send MAJOR red flags.

She's already very tight with Councilman Sergio Cox. It appears that she's looking to elect a majority so that she can get her job back.

I'll let you readers decide if you think thats Kosher, but speaking only for myself, it doesn't pass the smell test.

If you don't know Fraire, there is something you should know. She's fancies herself a good campaigner. She's taken credit for a lot of people getting elected, even people she didn't have anything to do with. She really things that she is the reason that Vince Perez won Socorro in his election for his current office. Mind you no one has ever seen her campaign, no one ever spoke to her, no one ever remembers, but in her mind, she made it happen.

So aside from recruiting candidates, the problem that some in Socorro have is the fact that she was apparently doing so at Councilman Bowling's funeral.

Sources indicate that she was also putting on quite the show last night at the council meeting. She apparently invoked the name of Councilman Bowling several times during the meeting. I guess now she was his best friend.

Por eso les dicen Soco Loco...

Flooding

Stolen from some vato from KFOX
I hate picking on the crazies...okay I'm lying, I LOVE picking on those idiots, but the latest rants I've seen on Facebook make me laugh.

I know this shit might be hard for you to understand but you can never completely prevent flooding. Every engineering project, no matter how well its designed and constructed, has limits. If the Almighty decides he wants to drop a ton of water in a given location in a very brief amount of time there will be flooding. 

Our drainage systems are designed for your regular rainfall. Hell they are designed to cover above average rainfall too. But when its record-setting rain, there's no system out there that can prevent it. If there was, then there would never be flooding in any city ever.

When it comes to water and flooding, you can minimize it, you can mitigate it, and you can manage it. But you can't PREVENT it! It was record rainfall. Its going to collect. Are you really that fucking stupid? 

The answer is yes, you are. 

And you never fail to amaze me at the depth of your stupid. I swear when everything works, your dumbasses don't notice. When there is biblical amount of rain all of you are now amateur engineers.

Flooding is an inconvenience. It sucks and for those of you that lost vehicles or had damage to your homes you have my sympathy. It a terrible thing to happen. But its not your city reps fault, no matter how unqualified or disconnected from reality your city rep may be. 

Remember hearing about the flood in the Bible? Remember Moses parting the Red Sea? Thats how long flooding has been around. Thats why flooding is considered a natural disaster. 

Cuz its fucking NATURAL.

And another thing. 

Lets talk about sandbags. Sandbags are like condoms. You should make sure you have them BEFORE you need them and they have a shelf life. Both will fall apart on you and be useless if you store them too long before use. If you wait until after the rain has come down you are probably S.O.L. All your neighbors already went. They are gone and the land is all saturated, so you're screwed.

That being said, sandbags should be readily available for distribution. Making sandbags is a bitch. Vince, Jose, Mayor Ruiz, Councilman Rodriguez, and Willie Norfleet (Socorro) all made sandbags during flooding in the valley about a year ago and I can tell you it sucks balls. 

Eddy Pork Chops
Its labor intensive, even with a big machine that they have that makes sand bags in bulk. The thing is huge, loud, and high maintenance, like my little sister.

But there is no centralized sand-bag making/distribution operation in El Paso.

Clearly someone has to be in charge and make sure they are available. 

I remember in 2006 when we had the major flooding Ed Archuleta ran a cluster fuck of a sand bag operation. 

I know a lot of you hold the old-timer in high-esteem but personally I question anyone who is in charge of providing sandbags in the desert and runs out of fucking sand.




Thursday, September 18, 2014

Lower Valley Politics Part 3 - School Boards

Lets just rip the band-aid off. The school boards in the valley are the areas that need the most help. There's some bad stuff happening there and there are certainly some characters there. Clint ISD is the poster child for a school district that is screwing poor Latinos, but I'll get to that in a minute.

Marty Reyes, wife of Chuy Reyes and sister-in-law of former Congressman Silvestre Reyes sits on the board at Ysleta ISD. She's in a constant battle with the teachers association and is pretty unpopular among staff. If she runs again, she's going to be targeted as one of the priority members of the board to get rid of.

The district is land-locked and the provision of resources to students and schools is going to be a major concern for years. Shane Haggerty is one of the board members and seems to understand that there needs to be a more policy-oriented board. The lady that represents the Del Valle area, Patricia McLean, didn't even send her own kid to Del Valle, she sent her to Eastwood. Ana Duenez from the Riverside area is passionate and teacher-friendly, but abrasive. YISD needs lots of help.

Socorro ISD has the last Gandara still holding office. He recently managed to be reelected without an opponent but some residents in the Thunder Road area say they won't let that happen again. From a reelection standpoint, he's toast. Anyone with a pulse just has to remind the public about all of his quotes when he was defending his dad and brother. (I don't fault him for that btw. Its family, thats what you do.)

From a policy stand point, he has made at least one big mistake. A few months ago there was a family that was trying to get a road officially dedicated in the Sparks area and for the first time in over 30 years, have running water to their homes. Yes, this is still a problem in the 21st century and yes its a problem right here in our back yard.

It was a complicated scenario that I'll write about some day but for now the main point you need to know is that there was really only one hurdle (after many) left to cross. All SISD had to do was accept a settlement for back taxes that the residents weren't even responsible for, from the County. Part of the land was Right of Way belonging to Horizon. No one else across several government entities was a roadblock. Everyone went out of their way to try to solve a very complicated scenario for a few constituents who are hard-working folk.

And of course, it was Socorro ISD and a Gandara that had to be the one who made a fuss. Rather than solve a problem he was more concerned that the land was "prime real estate". Not sure anyone would characterize anything in Sparks as prime real estate.

What is happening at Clint ISD is the biggest miscarriage of social justice in this community and the fact that the state delegation, who is the level of government most responsible for education oversight, hasn't intervened is a damn shame. They know about it, but they just aren't willing to do anything about it. That should infuriate you.

Clint ISD is the largest school district in the county that still has at-large elections instead of single-member districts. At-large elections favor incumbents and make it possible for a given body to be almost entirely government by people from one concentrated area. So the other communities service by Clint ISD like Horizon City and Montana Vista have almost no voice on the school board. One member of the board if from Horizon, none are from Montana Vista.

Its no surprise that the lion's share (see what I did there, get it? Clint Lions?) of the funding goes to the Clint area. Apologists for Clint ISD, including one prominent alum of the Clint ISD, will come up with all sorts of reasons to distract from that fact, but its true. Its also true that the Clint area is where a majority of the anglo population of the district lives.

Community groups have been trying for years to get this situation fixed and move to a single-member district system so that all areas served (and taxed) by the district will have a voice. Father Ed Roden-Lucero and members of the Montana Vista area have approached the school district repeatedly hoping to get some justice.

The fact that there are communities that are taxed by a district that they don't have a voice in represents the biggest miscarriage of justice that the state delegation has allowed to take place in this county. If memory serves, didn't we fight a revolution about a little thing called "No taxation without representation"?

Old King George and the rest of the members of the Clint ISD have very happily spent the tax dollars of the people of Montana Vista and Horizon City on their gucci new high school. The new Clint High School cost the taxpayers of the area almost $40 million. There are 597 students that attend Clint High School. Mountain View in Montana Vista has nearly double that amount with 956 students. Horizon High School has more than 1200 students.

The fact that the majority of the Clint ISD resources are being spent in the Clint area when its only around 10% of the population of the district, and no one at the state level is doing anything about it is an absence of leadership.

Someone needs to advocate for the people of Horizon and Montana Vista. And the minute the people of Montana Vista and Horizon realize that if they vote together they can vote all the Clint people out is the minute that the Clint ISD board will move toward single member districts.

Don't Play in the Water

We have all done it as kids, but you need to make sure you tell your kids that its a bad idea. Especially if you live in the outlying areas, but in general its a bad idea.

That water is dirty.

Dirty means different things to different people but if you live in Montana Vista, then you know a lot of the septic systems are failing. That means that the water your kids are splashing around in probably has fecal matter in it.

If you live in the valley its probably animal feces and pesticide run-off.

Either way its not safe for your kids. Its fun, but when you think of the health risks, be the bad mom/dad and get their butts inside and away from the puddles.

H-Town Has a Cool Website

I have a buddy who lives in the Town of Horizon City, I know its weird to name your town a city, but thats actually the official name of the county's third-largest municipality, and he mentioned all the new things happening in what he refers to as H-Town.

If you haven't been out to Horizon City in a while you might not recognize it because its grown a great deal and the growth doesn't appear to be slowing.

Since this is Texas we all love our football and I saw something online about the play-by-play of football games for Horizon being available online. I thought that was cool since I haven't heard of any other school in the area doing that so I went to check it out.

Turns out theres a whole website about Horizon. Lots of cool stuff in it too. I'm geeky about that kind of stuff but its really well done and I like that its focus is so local.

Click here to check it out. I'll probably hook them up with an ad just so that people will know its out there.

Soco...step up your game...

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Perez's Office Secures $1.2 Million for Rural Parks

County Commissioner Vince Perez's office spearheaded an initiative to secure more than a million dollars for rural parks.

Park space within the city of El Paso is in abundance but out in the rural communities there is very little area for children to play in safely. There's a park in Fabens proper, there's San Felipe (you've never heard of it if you aren't from the valley but its on the way to Cattleman's and if you don't know how to get there you'd never find it, even by accident)

Its not an exaggeration at all to say that dog parks in east El Paso have far better amenities than the parks in unincorporated communities. Most of the time what passes for a park is an every-so-often graded patch of dirt.

This has been a need for communities in the unincorporated areas for many, many, years.

While the amount might seem like its a lot of money, it is somewhat of a drop in the bucket when you consider how much need there is in the community for parks. The bulk of the fund will go to two parks, Ruben Estrella Park in Montana Vista and Miguel Teran Park in Agua Dulce.

However, Commissioner Pat Abeln fought hard for funds to be specifically allocated to Precinct 4 as well. Frankly this is pretty commendable on his behalf because he knows that it is highly unlikely that Andrew Haggerty will be defeated by Julio Diaz in November and Haggerty has apparently already questioned the need for any rural parks. So the fact that Abeln wants to get whatever he can for Precinct 4 while he can is to be commended.

Here is a look at the design elements for Miguel Teran and Ruben Estrella Parks.

Currently Miguel Teran Park, which may end up being renamed to Agua Dulce Park by the way, is in pretty bad shape. First of all when you drive by the facility, it looks like a detention center. There are basically no outside amenities other than a small playground. There is an active and organized group out in the Agua Dulce area that has been pursuing more funds and resources for the park. They run a soccer league for their children. Most people in El Paso play soccer on grass. In Agua Dulce, the kids play on dirty. Its basically one big sandbox they play in. Thats the kind of stuff you see in between World Cup games when they profile the poverty in a third-world nation and the conditions the kids play in before they get to the top level of their sport. There are no trees, no grass, no nothin'.

And yet a group of moms volunteers to run the league for their kids and do their best to provide their kids with some recreation space.

Honestly part of the reason I'm writing this piece is because this is a project I worked on while I was with the Commissioner's Office. Do you know how hard it is to talk to a room full of moms who are asking, as they have done in the past, for something so very basic. Something that in the grand scheme of things isn't very expensive and provides a huge public use return on the investment.

It makes it more frustrating when you have to tell them there's no park money because it all goes to Ascarate Park, which is a park within the city and as I said before, park space in El Paso is not in a shortage.

When they heard Commissioner Lewis justify so much of the county's park budget going to Ascarate (he said people drive all the way from Fabens to use Ascarate) they were both amused and annoyed at the same time.

So the allocation of funds for rural parks is a big deal. Its a big win for the community to have an office actually effectively advocate for their community. Same thing with Montana Vista and Ruben Estrella Park. These are areas that are well populated and would be able to maximize the use of the facilities. Just because they are poor and live in a colonia doesn't mean their kids deserve any less of a safe place to play. You'd be surprised what a little thing like grass, some trees, a basketball court or soccer field means for a community.

But don't take my word for it. Here's a video that was part of the presentation made to the Court by Jose Landeros from Perez's office. It contains info like the fact that there are only 6 employees assigned to care for all the rural parks in the County. More importantly it contains pleas directly from the mothers of Agua Dulce.



The great thing about the park in Agua Dulce is the fact that the community is taking responsibility for their asset. Last season they conducted fundraisers to pay for use of goals and to make the field (dirt) for the games.

This isn't the story that is going to make headlines and its not what people call sexy. But its the kind of thing that people who often feel left out by the rest of their leadership care about. Its the leadership they have been wanting for years.

There's probably not a single vote in it for reelection either. This might come as a surprise to the crazies, but sometimes people who are elected do things because its the right thing to do. Not because there's a vote in it for them.







Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Burnt Orange Report Gets a Much-Needed Facelift

The Burnt Orange Report is one of my favorite sites to visit. Its good stuff. Its a progressive liberal site that focuses on Texas politics. 

I've been a faithful reader and occasional contributor for years.

I'm glad to pass on to y'all that it went under the knife and had some work done. Tummy tuck here, face lift there, some fat injected into the lips and now...it looks great.

The old site was pretty ugly. It wasn't easy to find info either. Now the site has a much cleaner layout and intuitive UI. So go check it out, job well done.

Click here to visit their site.

Sunland Park Moves to Annex Santa Teresa

In a move eerily similar to a big fight in the Mission Valley, it now appears that the Upper Valley will have one city trying to annex another community.

The issue will be discussed tonight at a Sunland Park city council meeting. Last year San Elizario faced annexation by a then-corrupt city council led by former city councilman Jesse Gandara.

San Elizario had to gain the permission of Socorro to incorporate within their ETJ. Luckily for San Elizario Socorro had elections and the bad guys were kicked out (mostly).

Santa Teresa's situation may be a little different considering they might not have the option of getting permission to incorporate within the ETJ of Sunland Park.

The move makes sense for Sunland Park. They are a cash-poor community and annexing the businesses and homes of their more affluent neighbor will benefit their constituents.

The meeting takes place at 6:30 tonight at Sunland Park Town Hall Chambers. Sources tell me that there will be some pretty upset Santa Teresa residents in the house tonight.

Sunland Park will face a pretty stiff challenge if the residents get organized because the folks in Santa Teresa aren't poor. I'm sure there will be a team of lawyers ready to fight this one.

Either way, it should be a pretty action-packed meeting tonight.

City of Socorro to Hold Special Election

Sources in the City of Socorro indicate that a special election for District 4 will take place as early as December 20th of this year.

The election is necessary due to the passing of J.E. "Chito" Bowling.

There are no details available yet as to the filing window or deadline, although there are several people in the community that have expressed a desire to fill the seat.

Sources indicate that Anthony Gandara may pursue the seat. The seat was previously held by Jesse Gandara. Anthony Gandara was going to run for mayor against his uncle Willie Gandara Sr at one point but was removed from the ballot on a technicality.

At one point there was an internal dispute between the Gandara clan involving the patrons Willie Sr and Jesse Sr, but apparently they have all kissed and made up and are one big happy political family again.

It will be interesting to see if a Gandara is viable in Socorro again.

Bike Lanes - Why I Don't Really Care About Them (And Neither Do Most People)

I'm just gonna say what a whole lot of other people are thinking, and I know its gonna annoy my fellow progressives but it needs to be said, we focus too much on bike lanes.

If you've ever had the misfortune to sit in on a meeting of the MPO there is inevitably a presentation of something that has to do with bike lanes.

I'm sick of hearing about bike lanes. I'm sick of seeing bike lanes. They take up a lot of real estate and here's a dirty little secret...the are rarely used. Seriously, they are almost always empty. In rural communities a traffic study is done to establish the amount of traffic on a given road. That is how it is determined whether or not the road gets paved. Makes sense. Why they don't do the same thing for bike lanes is beyond me.

Could I use a few miles on a bike every week? Hell yes.

Is it great exercise? Absolutely.

Would I like to see more people use them? Actually I don't really give a shit.

It just seems like we spend a lot of time, treasure, and talent in this town on bike lanes. I certainly don't want to see anyone get hurt. I think obesity is a big problem, especially with our youth and a lifestyle change like riding a bike is cool.

But honestly I roll my eyes in frustration every time I hear someone talk about how "important" bike lanes are to our community.

You know what is important to our community? Rooting out corruption, providing park space for kids in rural areas, fixing potholes in streets, slowing down speeders, addressing drunk driving, economic development, better jobs, expansion of healthcare, addressing the lack of potable water in colonias, etc. Thats important.

Shrinking the infrastructure for cars so that some hipster in spandex slurping his little energy drink and making hand signals just doesn't seem like its a priority.

No matter how you look at it, there are bigger priorities. Lets take mobility.

Very few people use a bicycle as a primary mode of transportation. Sure there are lots of clubs and groups and recreational riders. I don't doubt that. I see that almost every weekend.

Thats cool.

But lets not pretend that bikes are part of mobility in the community. So why the huge public investment in infrastructure? Why not put that dough in to mass transit? Buses and rail would have a much bigger impact on mobility in this community than bike lanes.

The reality is that we will never be China. They have incredible bike use in their country but its mostly out of economic necessity. The poor ride bikes in China because they can't afford a vehicle. El Paso's layout isn't conducive to bike riding either. At least not in the parts of the city the matter. Sure you can get away with it downtown or in central, but what can you do in central other than eat? The parts of town that matter most are more spread out and planned in a manner that just isn't bike-friendly.

Do I think they should've been planned that way? Absolutely. And I think they should've been planned to be more pedestrian friendly as well. But they weren't.

If you're stuck in traffic and are thinking to yourself, "Man, I wouldn't be stuck in this traffic wasting gas and making a huge carbon footprint if only there were another lane available for traffic." And then you look out the window and you see what you see all over town...and empty bike lane.

If you want to make a special lane for a group of people that will enhance mobility for El Pasoans? Make a separate lane for people from New Mexico.

Or better yet...lets talk about tolling bike lanes. Make them pay for the use. That way at least the tax payers gets something out of an empty lane.

It doesn't make sense. Sorry, but I know I'm not the only person that feels that way. Feel free to teach me otherwise. thelionstarblog@gmail.com

Dear Media, This is What You Should Be Paying Attention To Today

In case you haven't noticed, today is the last meaningful budget hearing before the County adopts a new budget and tax rate.

So if anything big is going to happen, its going to happen today. It starts at 9:00am so get your coffee and sharpen your pencil.

The Sheriffs Office and the courts have been under the most scrutiny. Thats likely a couple of areas that will be discussed.

This Court more than others in the past has been focused on structural efficiency. So watch for reforms in those areas.

Also funding for rural parks and pretrial services, which are two really big issues facing the County, were discussed last week but not really finalized. Today is the last day that can happen.

Pay attention...

Oh Yeah, The Real Judges Do It Too

So I mentioned the money that the JPs get from performing weddings.Well I failed to mention that regular courthouse judges do it to. And no, the County doesn't get a piece of that action either. If they do it in the courthouse they are using resources paid by the electorate.

Sources in the courthouse indicate that some judges send their bailiffs or other court personnel down to the Clerk's floor to get couples to come up to their various courts.

It would be really interesting to see a comprehensive look at the amount of revenue collected by the JPs and real judges on quickie weddings.

To be fair to some of the real judges, there are several that don't charge anything or make it a policy to not charge active duty military personnel.

Monday, September 15, 2014

JP Salaries

You should know this if you are a voter but you probably don't.

First you don't have to be an attorney to be a Justice of the Peace. I know, it boggles the mind that someone who will make a legal judgment doesn't actually have to be trained in the law but thats how we roll in Texas.

Second, and probably even more infuriating is that JP's charge a fee to marry someone and the county tax-payers don't see a dime of that revenue. Its sort of a JP's personal little slush fund. In fact, I doubt they even need to track or disclose how much they make on that service. I'll get to that in a minute.

Currently only one of the JP's is actually an attorney. I suppose there's probably a good investigative piece in the works for anyone who actually wants to do some digging and found out how often decisions of JP's are reversed and what the cost to tax payers is.

County Judge Veronica Escobar is proposing cutting the salary of JP's but offering a different pay system for JP's that are actually lawyers. I'm not entirely sure that can actually be done. I've never heard of an elected position having a different salary based on education but I could be wrong about that.

I think there are other problems one has to consider. First, you might end up with the Socorro Municipal Judge problem they had a couple of years ago. Socorro used to let just anyone be a municipal judge. You basically just had to be a friend of whoever was mayor or enough members of council. Eventually that was fixed and a previous council changed the City Charter to require that the Municipal Judge at least have a law degree.

They didn't require that the judge actually pass the bar exam and they had some guy who had a very cozy relationship with Jesse Gandara serve as municipal judge. He failed twice to pass the bar but because he was Jesse's boy he ended up with some ridiculous contract that required something stupid like 9 months notice if city council was going to let him go.

Absolutely stupid contract, but thats Jesse Gandara for you. By the way, I guess he stopped writing his blog, which is interesting because its been a while since I've seen one of his shitty YouTube videos.

So does the proposed salary difference mean you just have to have a JD or actually have had to pass the bar exam?

There's no education requirements for most elected officials except real judges. So it seems impossible, at least politically, to impose an education incentive for JP's and not the rest of the county elected officials.

But I think Judge Escobar is on the right track. The JP's are in need of reform. Ultimately there really is a system already in place that incentives people to run for office. The electorate.

They ultimately decide if a candidate is worthy or not to hold office. The fix is simple. When there is enough political will, a group of savvy political operatives will start replacing the JP's that aren't attorneys. Its not a matter of if, its a matter of when.

That is really the only thing that has allowed non-lawyers win. Attorneys in general make pretty shitty candidates. They can't help but act like they are in a courtroom. They over-articulate and are terrible about leveraging a message. And don't even get me started on their crappy ground games. JP's are one of the easiest races to win, which is why someone like Barbara Perez was able to take out a field of 3 opponents that were attorneys. And honestly, she's got a reputation for being a mediocre campaigner at best. She prefers to mail and endorse her way to a win.

The reason that Texas allows non-lawyers to be JP's is because of the expanse of Texas and so much of it being rural. In rural counties there simply may not be any attorneys. If the requirement is that you be an attorney but none live in the county, then you are in quite the legal quandary. So the fix for that is to remove the requirement of being an attorney.

But the legislative remedy is rather simple. All it takes is a bill that says in counties with populations larger than X amount of people that there is a requirement to be an attorney. Hell even in the unlikely event that a large county doesn't have an attorney living in the area or willing to run, then an exception can be made in those cases.

Its really not that hard.

Sorry, I went off on a tangent.

The JP slush-fund; a dirty little secret

Lets get back to the slush fund. JP's are able to marry people and they have turned it into quite the lucrative enterprise. Its better side-job money than constables get. A JP can pretty much charge what they want to marry someone. The only reason they are able to do so is because of their elective office and county tax-payers never see a dime of those funds.

So when you think about cuts or the needs of departments that go unmet, or worse when you see the JP's go to Commissioners Court to ask for more money, keep in mind that they have a personal slush-fund at their disposal.

A few JP's will be reading this and probably are pretty upset, but what I am saying is 100% true. They make a ton of money marrying people. Hell some of them are so upfront about it that they offer packages and even have structures set-up in their courtroom for photo ops.

Thats revenue that is available to be captured, at least in part, by tax-payers. We deserve a piece of the action because but for the sake of them being elected officials by the people of El Paso County, they would not even have the authority to perform said duty.

They use county staff to support the marriage operations. They use the county facilities to perform the ceremonies, unless of course they are performing the ceremony at another location. Of course they charge extra for that. They use the electricity tax payers fund to keep the building at a comfortable temperature for said occasion.

And yet the public is not compensated. Nor are the JP's really transparent about exactly how much revenue they make off of that enterprise.

That is the kind of tax-payer relief the public should be looking at. Getting a piece of the marriage business will provide fare more relief than lowering the salaries of elected officials. At best, lowering the salaries of electeds is a one-time modest benefit to tax payers. But being able to capture a piece of revenue that will always be available is a far better financial decision for the benefit of tax payers.



UNRELATED SIDEBAR – if you can get married on a whim and basically get married in a day, I think you should be able to undo that mistake in one day as well. Its only fair.

Salaries of Elected Officials

I'm working on a piece about the Justices of the Peace that I'll post later this afternoon but in a recent article in the El Paso Times there was a quote that I wanted to talk about.

El Paso County HR Director Betsy Keller is quoted as being against a reduction in pay for elected officials because El Paso is already lower than the rest of the state.

Keller is 100% right.

First let's be real. You aren't going to provide meaningful tax relief to tax payers through salary cuts of elected officials. It's a symbolic gesture at best. And the gesture says more about acquiring quality candidates than it does about providing tax relief.

It's a crying shame that JP's make more money than County Commissioners. There's no way that should be happening.

Now there are a group of crazies out there that will say that county officials should cut their salaries because they don't deserve it or they don't do anything blah blah blah. That just shows their ignorance. Sure cutting electeds salary is the pandering move to make, but it doesn't help the constituent in the long run and is nothing more than empty symbolism.

If you have low wages for elected officials you create a big problem. The only people that are incentivized to run are people who are retired or independently wealthy. Those may or may not be the best pool of candidates available to run for office but it certainly eliminates people who want to make a career out of government service. Those experienced and degreed professionals we have in our community that haven't left for greener pastures yet choose to work in the private sector. That is a huge talent pool we are missing out on.

But the empty gesture that sounds good in a mailer doesn't help this community in the long run. It's yet another reason why other communities are better at producing quality leadership. We don't compete to keep our own talent.

Interestingly the conspiracy theorist nutball crazies that see something sinister even in a cup of coffee probably have no idea that most of the quality young leaders what we do have in place now took a hefty paycut to serve.

But that doesn't matter to the crazies. They want their empty symbolism.

And the crappy talent that is attracted to a position that doesn't pay well.


Sunday, September 14, 2014

Poll

There is still time to vote in the poll about the job performance of Mayor Leeser. Weigh-in and cast your vote. Bottom of the left-hand column.