Thursday, July 30, 2015

Charter Amendment: November Municipal Elections

Another item that council will be putting forward to voters is regarding municipal elections being held in November.

Putting the municipal elections on the same ballot as all the other elections was a well-intentioned attempt to get more people to vote on municipal issues. Sure, more people theoretically will vote but does it make anything better?

I think you'll still end up with a significant number of undervotes because its so far down the ballot and November elections are partisan affairs. That means you have a significant number of people that will vote straight ticket and not stick around for the rest of the ballot.

At least when you have the May elections you have school board elections, also nonpartisan affairs, and you have a targeted group of people who at the very least care enough to vote on municipal elections.

Opponents to having the elections in November for the city have raised several other issues like run-offs being in December. I don't think that is really that big of a deal, I'm more concerned with the fact that people barely pay attention to municipal elections as it is. Putting it at the bottom of a crowded presidential or gubernatorial ballot damn sure ain't helping anything.

Whatever the language of the item ultimately says, I'm voting for May elections.

Yvonne Rosales' Campaign Announcement

Yvonne Rosales had her announcement event yesterday in the downtown area. I grabbed a quick interview with her after the crowd of supporters left and asked her some basic questions.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

DA Challengers Both Have Events This Week

Both challengers for the District Attorney seat currently held for the last two decades by Jaime Esparza are having events this week.

Yvonne Rosales has her campaign announcement today at 5:30pm at the Arts Festival Plaza next to the Plaza Theater. 

Leonard Morales has a campaign kick-off event/fundraiser tomorrow at Nolita's Corner Bistro downtown. 

I haven't seen or heard of any new events for the incumbent although he did have a fundraiser earlier this year when word got out that he had opponents.

New Candidate Files for Office

I don't know much about this guy but he recently filed.

Sources say he is a bit of a salty character. 

Whatever that means. 

Ha ha, got'em

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Historic Commission Question No One is Asking

Well I whacked Svarzbein earlier today and mentioned Grossman too. However lets look at this issue a little more deeply.

There's a glaring question that is not being asked in this conversation about the grant.

Why isn't the El Paso County Historical Commission applying for the grant themselves?

The EPCHC is its own county entity. They don't NEED the city to make the survey happen. They have the authority to do it themselves or partner with a private entity or the County. Its all legal.

The reason that the EPCHC wants to hook up with the city is the fact that its a hell of a lot less effort on their part if they are with the city on this.

A quick google search and this document pops up and lays down everything that can be done. Its the Junior Woodchuck Guidebook of the EPCHC.

So if the EPCHC wants to save a building downtown there needs to be a preservation plan. You can't have a plan until after you have a study, which requires some cash. And here is exactly how they can do the survey themselves.

The challenge for the EPCHC is to try to rebuild the relationships they have lost over the last couple of years. The only way they do that is to reverse the current course they are on, which will likely require a change in leadership. The EPCHC is FAR TOO politicized. A County entity should not ever call an elected official in another level of government a liar in public. In fact, I'm a little surprised that  Commissioner's Court hasn't bent the ear of the EPCHC and told them to cool their shit.

Sargent is a little compromised by how he interjected himself in the conversation about the cultural center. There is also a perception that the commission is really only interested in saving Trost buildings because someone's girlfriend is the president of the Texas Trost Society.

The ship has to be righted as quickly as possible. The County should look at adding some new blood to that organization. And ensuring that EPCHC actually looks like the community would help to. Surely there are some Latinos interested in serving.

The Many Faces of Svarzbein on Preservation

Photo Credit (Left) Richard Baron
It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to rationalize City Rep Peter Svarzbein's campaign rhetoric and his vote to kill acceptance of a grant for historical designation of the downtown area.

Candidate Svarzbein said one thing - he was supportive of, and even participated in, historical preservation projects, while Representative Svarzbein votes against it.

He has no cover for that vote. It was a bad vote.

He took the easy way out the minute there was a little, and trust me when I say a little, adversity. Svarzbein the candidate would've backed that grant every day of the week and twice on Sunday. For whatever reason Representative Svarzbein didn't.

Critics have said that he sold out.

That is probably one of the worst criticisms that can be laid out against an elected leader.

Is it true? I don't know. All I know is what Svarzbein actually said on the record during an interview on ABC 7 Xtra last night and that was essentially this - no one had mentioned political donations to his campaign in the conversation about the grant except Max Grossman from the Historical Commission.

I'll get to Grossman and the contributions in just a second. But let me wrap up my point about Svarzbein and taking the easy way out.

Svarzbein was the only member of council that wanted to have a deeper and more thoughtful conversation about the grant and he proposed a committee to bring people together on the issue. The fact that Svarzbein actually thinks that is a good idea demonstrates his political naiveté. Creating a committee is how council kills things.

And creating a committee for the two sides to come to an agreement on this is completely unrealistic. The two sides will never agree on it. Negotiating the Iran nuclear deal was an easier task.

Svarzbein likes to please everyone and that is a huge flaw for an elected official. It means they are prone to try to make the "safe" political decision rather than take a hard stand on an issue. You can hear it in his political rhetoric. He likes to use phrases like "bring people together" "build consensus", etc. Its just how he is wired.

The problem is when you try to appease everyone, you usually appease no one.

His fear of being criticized led to what he feared the most...being criticized. Its the political equivalent of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man scene at the end of Ghostbusters.

Svarzbein is right to be upset about people challenging his commitment to historic preservation. He has demonstrated a commitment to the issue. Which makes his vote all that more confusing and frankly, disappointing.

I know Svarzbein's rhetoric is hard to keep track of so let me sum it up for you.

He was for historical preservation.

Then he voted against it.

Then he apologized for voting against it.

Then he said the easy way out was voting for it.

Svarzbein & ABC 7 Xtra

Frankly, I don't know why he even agreed to go on the air. Niland was the main opponent to the issue, so why would he be so willing to take a place that clearly should've been hers on the show?

Svarzbein took at shot at the reps that voted in favor of the grant by saying that it was the easy vote. Not sure who Svarzbein thinks he's kidding. He makes it sound like he was standing in front of a tank in Tiananmen Square. Svarzbein, you're the one that took the easy way out.

And if you are going to go on television to discuss this issue, how about dressing like an adult and wear a suit? Look like you care about your job. Look like you take the vote of the public serious enough to actually dress like a city representative not a hipster that reluctantly threw on a suit coat. If you want people to take you seriously, you have to give them a reason to.

Max Grossman

Speaking of giving people a reason to take you seriously, Max Grossman has almost single-handedly derailed this issue which is a shame. The business community expressed concern about Grossman being difficult to work with etc. Following the vote Grossman took to social media and set people's balls on fire with spittle-producing rhetoric about Svarzbein and Niland. That little stunt undermines the issue and reduces the conversation to an insult trading post rather than an important dialogue this city needs to discuss.

For whatever reason everyone was really delicate about him during the Xtra segment but the reality is that Grossman has had a negative impact on the credibility of the organization. He needs to completely disappear for a while and let Bernie Sargent be the voice of the issue for a while so that he isn't a distraction.

The Bullshit that is Gentrification

I think its time to go down to Segundo and have a talk with some of my gente about the load of bullshit they are being fed about gentrification.

That is a word being used by rich white people to scare poor raza into supporting their position in support of the business community. They are basically telling raza in Segundo Barrio that historical designation grant money will somehow lead to white people and Starbucks in their neighborhoods and drive the property values up so high that raza won't be able to live there anymore.

Too bad its not actually based on any hard data. Its just simple fear-mongering.

The truth is that El Paso is the only major city in the state of Texas to say no to a project like this. And frankly, I'm still scratching my head trying to figure out what the reason for the opposition even is in the first place.

Not enough buy-in from property owners is just code for saying the rich business folks don't want it. People should at least be honest about the fact that rich business owners don't want to have to do anything more to their properties than they have to. If they actually cared about taking advantage of historic value you they would do something on their own instead of waiting until they are compelled to do so.

Apodaca Likely Candidate for Democratic Party Chair

Despite only being in his 30's Michael Apodaca has years of experience as a party activist for the El Paso Democratic Party and sources indicate that he is ready to run for chair of the El Paso Democratic Party.

Apodaca probably has more street cred within the Democratic Party this side of Queta Fierro. 

There was a sense of urgency to draft a good candidate since rumors first surfaced of former city rep Eddie Holguin considering a run for Party Chair. 

Holguin was elected chair of the Tejano Democrats recently. The original information I had received was that he narrowly defeated former city rep/county commissioner/JP Barbara Perez. A couple of people closely aligned with Holguin - Dr. Anna Perez and Othon Medina - took issue with my characterization of the narrow defeat and sent me an email regarding the issue. Dr. Perez was (mostly) polite but Medina was his usual confrontational self. But he quickly backs down whenever anyone shows those tactics don't work.

Good luck trying to bully me Medina, that has never worked for the countless number of people who've tried it before you pal. 

Speaking of Medina, word around the campfire is he is going to try to run to be the state head honcho of the Tejano Democrats at their upcoming convention. 

Getting back to Apodaca, he is a strong candidate because he knows how to run campaigns. The race is a down-ballot race and Holguin won't have the advantage of being the only Hispanic surname on the ballot. 

Apodaca will likely have a strong presence of support from El Paso's elected officials since he's helped many of them and has a good rapport with basically all of them. 

Friday, July 24, 2015

Your Dose of Disturbing Poetry

Who doesn't love a little sexual innuendo with their morning coffee, am I right?

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

All You Need to Know About the Environment at the City of El Paso

In the circus freak show that is El Paso City Council these days there is a pretty toxic environment and trust me, anyone who spends any amount of time there at city hall can see it. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the current incarnation of city hall described as "dysfunctional" "toxic" and all other manner of non-flattering adjectives.

But I saw this on FB the other day and it really says something about the environment there.

This is a Facebook post from Maria Garcia at KVIA:

That in itself isn't all that remarkable.

That is remarkable was the last comment. Its just a sad, sad commentary on politics at council.

Diocesan Legal Services at Odds with Gay Marriage

In certain circumstances gay couples are denied legal assistance from the Catholic legal services and referred to outside legal resources despite the fact that the program receives federal dollars and that has some attorneys and immigrants up in arms.

The Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services, Inc is the largest provider of free or low-cost immigration services in the borderland and is now struggling with a major social issue.

The DMRS is affiliated with the Catholic Church, specifically with the Diocese of El Paso. The DMRS operates through the financial support of the diocese, non-profits, and grants from state and federal entities.

According to the Executive Director Melissa Lopez, an attorney who specializes in immigration law, the organization's board has not made an official policy regarding the provision of legal services to gay couples who would otherwise qualify for legal assistance from the organization. The organization therefore does not provide those services to gay couples and instead refers them to other legal resources in the community.

In essence their lack of a definitive policy on this issue serves as a defacto policy against providing legal services and assistance to gay couples. The board that oversees the DMRS is made up of the Bishop of El Paso, priests, an attorney, and prominent members of the community including the spouse of a city representative.

DMRS provides assistance and services across a range of legal issues and are broken into units including residency, citizenship, removal defense, crime victims, refugee resettlement, religious worker, and legal orientation. In a border community with a shortage on community and legal resources DMRS obviously provides a much-needed service to the community.

But because the organization receives federal funding, which Lopez says makes up a significant portion of their overall operating budget, their legal position may be compromised. Organizations receiving federal funding are prohibited from discriminating against members of a protected class.

Based on my conversation with the Communications Director for the Diocese of El Paso Elizabeth O'Hara, the Church seems to have a very nuanced position on sexual orientation and the provision of legal services. "..if you are a gay individual and you are to be seeking help from DMRS, DMRS will help you. You are never really asked about your sexual orientation. The only time that that comes up is...if in the context of an interview at DRMS it appears that the couple is a same sex couple, the Church's position on that has been that they are not recognizing civil provide services to a gay couple would then be an endorsement of something the Church does not support."

DMRS does not require someone to be Catholic to receive services and if an immigrant sought assistance from the organization that was an unwed mother or a divorcee, situations that are also opposed by the Catholic Church, they would not be turned away.

The Catholic Church isn't obligated to change their recognition of marriage. But the Church can't have it both ways either. They can't benefit from public funds and discriminate against gay couples.

The solution for the board that governs DMRS is simple. They can either choose to not take federal funding and they are choose to provide or deny services to whomever they wish, or they can provide services to all regardless of sexual orientation.

DMRS provides a valuable service to the community and has helped numerous numbers of immigrants and their families. The recent decision by the Supreme Court has obviously caused a lot a necessary changes and as a result this is an issue the Church will have to deal with.

However this isn't an issue that happened just recently following the SCOTUS decision. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been a part of this discussion for a couple of years now so the federal government has recognized gay marriage for quite some time.

The challenges for DMRS on this issue are plenty. They may not be in compliance with federal rules regarding the prohibition of discrimination, they could possibly be sued, and federal funding makes up a significant portion of their operating budget. The reality is that the Diocese of El Paso doesn't fund DMRS to a very significant degree which is likely what has prompted the group to have to pursue public dollars to be able to leverage much-needed legal resources to the community.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

New Poll Question

I forgot to mention earlier today that I posted a new poll question on my blog.

Its in the usual place. Have fun with it.

KVIA Shows Transportation Woes for City Just Get Worse

At this point someone might want to unionize all the drivers of the buses people are getting thrown under at the city over the last few weeks. The apparently have a fleet on stand-by.

In case you missed it, here is a story done by Maria Garcia of KVIA on even more issues with transportation dollars at the city.

There's a couple of things I think are worth pointing out in this video. First of all, notice how staff is actually pointing the finger at council for pushing the projects that were not ready?

So can we stop pretending that the members of council on the MPO are blameless?

Mathew McElroy is actually echoing the sentiments of the City Manager that I posted yesterday. This is interesting because of what Rep Noe said in last week's council meeting. He said part of the reason that there were screw ups at the city is because staff are afraid of the city council reps.

He never said which members or if he meant all.

Either way Noe is in a bad spot because he's saying they are afraid of all council members or he is saying that they are afraid of just certain ones. One problem with that...when it comes to MPO issues staff doesn't have to fear reps that don't have anything to do with the MPO or have any projects at the MPO.

Let me be more clear - Noe can't say they are afraid of Limón because she doesn't have a single project at the MPO. So who are they in fear of? The MPO delegation?

What about the issues they vote on? Are their votes on the MPO influence by their fear of council members?

And another thing that is interesting, McElroy doesn't throw council under the bus without permission from his boss. The City Manager is putting the blame back on the members of council. I don't know that I've ever seen that before, especially in such a high-profile situation like this one.

Another thing of note is the fact that Garcia highlighted something I mentioned a while back. The city was used to having their way on the MPO and basically being able to dictate who got the money from the honey pot. When Commissioner Vince Perez was chairman of the MPO he instituted reforms that made the process for awarding the funds more competitive and objective.

The result essentially is that now that the city has to have their shit together they don't seem to be able to actually get their shit together.

It now explains why the members of council are so sensitive about Ordaz raising questions about the problems at the city.

Well, That Was Fast...

If there is a record for how quickly a city rep steps in it, City Rep Svarzbein may be the new record-holder. Ideally you want to spend your election honeymoon going on the offense on something. Svarzbein is already having to play defense thanks to being at the intersection of campaign donors and his support of preservation.

The El Paso Historical Commission is having a bit of a public meltdown over the fact that the city turned down grant money.

I tried to reach the commission by messaging them through Facebook to see if their social media posts are the official position of the commission or if its just one member posting. Without hearing otherwise one would have to assume that this is their official position since its on the organization's Facebook page.

For those of you who are living under a rock and somehow missed it, here is a screen shot of what they had to say about Rep Svarzbein following yesterday's meeting ahead of today's city council meeting.

I don't know that I've ever seen another entity in town react that way in public to an issue like this and it begs the question about whether or not it will impact their effectiveness in the future when it comes to persuading members of council on a given issue. 

It also underscores a critique that many in the business community made about the ability to work with members of the historical commission. This is actually a text book example of why they don't like to work with them. 

As I wrote a couple of weeks ago I think people should be more upset at the fact that it was a city staffer that turned down the grant and not a decision made by policy makers. That is the bigger issue, but what do I know?

Clearly the commission lays a fair and accurate critique and its very difficult to see this as anything other than Svarzbein selling-out to big money campaign donors. 

But I think he misplayed his hand and had the perfect opportunity to advocate for the grant and let Niland be the bad guy. Rep Niland sticks to her guns on policy issues and was certainly not shy about where she stood on the issue. Her philosophy was pretty much, bring-it.

The votes weren't there on council to pass it. This would've been a perfect time for him to force an up or down vote on the issue and it would've died and he would've been able to say he tried but was out-voted. 

And trust me, I get the position he is in too. Those are big financial contributors breathing down his neck. But he has four years to kiss and make up with them. Caving in so quickly to them sets a bad precedent because now they are going to figure that all they have to do is lean on him hard enough and he'll go with the flow. 

Svarzbein sent out a statement on his position and I'm posting it below so that you can see what both sides had to say. Svarzbein posted a comment that he had released a statement on the issue to the Historical Commission's Facebook page and there was a somewhat confrontational response left by the page.

Gotta love El Paso politics. Here is Svarzbein's statement, my favorite part is where he invites people to his first community meeting. That should be very interesting:

On Monday, I voted to continue dialogue between downtown property owners and those El Pasoans interested in historic preservation. Since there was not enough support for the current grant application, I am concerned about building long-term solutions that create results. There was a lack of community support and consensus that outreach efforts by City officials managing the survey grant project needed time to build awareness. In many cases, even El Pasoans with long roots in downtown never even knew of the survey until very recently. 

The solution I offered urged fellow council members to support the creation of a downtown citizen's task force to review historical survey grant findings, and make recommendations to Council. This body would be comprised of preservationists, developers, and downtown stakeholders to establish common understanding for sustainable downtown development and restoration. This approach is currently being explored by city management. Specifically Council assigned the Economic Development team to reach out to preservation groups and building ownership on historical designation efforts.

Historic Preservation and our downtown is not a cheap slogan to me. It is something that I have been involved in and have invested in since I moved back to El Paso. I am a member of the Paso Del Norte Streetcar Preservation Society and have fought tremendously to bring our Art-Deco PCC Streetcars back to life which will have tremendous economic and cultural impact on our city and our Downtown.

We are closer than we were three months ago...or even last month. This survey and possible nomination of a national register district would not prohibit demolition of buildings. But we need far more buy in and stronger dialogue for downtown and El Paso to move forward. Name-calling and demonizing people on both sides of the issue, does not bring us closer. In fact, it had a large part to do with the delay of this grant.  No plan, survey or historic designation will work without robust support from the folks who live and own property in that district.  When we have only private or public special interests pushing forward a plan or designation, time and time again, we as a city have seen resistance and failure.  This is the way things have been done in the past, and we deserve a fresh approach.

Politics is the Art of the Possible, and we need to have everyone on board if we plan to think bigger about the future of El Paso. This will take time, patience, and a lot of communication. We are closer today than we were yesterday and El Paso’s past must be part of El Paso’s Future.

P.S. Please join me tomorrow Wednesday July 22 at 7:30 am for our first constituent meeting at Village Inn at 2929 N. Mesa St., El Paso, TX, 79902. This is a great opportunity to come out and discuss any ideas and concerns you have for your neighborhood.  You may also contact me directly at 915-212-1001/2 or email

Charter Amendment Series: Raises for Mayor & Council

One of the issues, and likely to be the most controversial, is whether or not to give the mayor and council a pay raise.

Currently the city representatives make $29,000 a year and the mayor makes $45,000. To put that in perspective, staff members for commissioners court make more money than the mayor. The proposed increase would raise the city council members to $39,000 and the mayor to $55,000.

This would be a total increase to the budget of $90,000 annually.

Even after the increase, those salaries are significantly less than what the County Judge and commissioners make. The increase would put them in the middle of other Texas and regional municipalities.

Why I'm Voting for it

Hear me out. I know that city council isn't exactly giving me a lot to work with in terms of advocating for this position right now, but it makes sense.

Ultimately city council will probably lose out on this one and it will be their own fault because of the constant and unnecessary drama presentation they put on every Tuesday, but let me lay out my argument.

El Paso's city council doesn't even begin to look like the rest of this community. The current salary virtually guarantees that only retirees and the wealthy run for office because people of working age or those with kids almost can't afford to work for the city at that pay. There really isn't a delicate way of putting this so I'll just rip off the bandaid - council is older, whiter and richer than El Paso really is. A big reason that council doesn't look like the rest of El Paso is the fact that the positions don't pay shit.

Here's the break down of city council. You basically have three categories on council right now - the Upper Crust, Jurassic Park, and the kiddy table. The Upper Crust is made up of the wealthy members of council, Mayor Leeser and Reps Noe, Romero, and Niland. They are rich, what do they need more money for?

Jurassic Park is made up of the retired members of council - Reps Robinson, Limón and Acosta. They all have their pensions so what do they care about a raise?

The kiddy table is made up of the only two members of council who were born after The Beatles split up - Reps Svarzbein and Ordaz. They are the ones sacrificing the most because they can make more money doing something else that pays better. Especially Ordaz, she took a sizable pay cut to serve.

Right now the pay they get is actually lower than the average El Paso salary. The raise would put it just above the average salary. Our council doesn't look like El Paso because of this very reason. There is no economic incentive for working class people to choose elective office. Anyone in business knows if you want good talent you have to pay for it or that talent will go bye-bye and find somewhere else to work that will pay them what they are worth. Its the challenge of government, they are constantly losing talent to the private sector.

So let me address a few things that the opposition will argue. The first is the Carl Robinson and Lily Limón philosophy that says that elective office is an honor and service to your community. I don't disagree entirely with that argument and I think there is some merit to it. But lets also be real about something - neither of them are returning their salaries to the general fund. They very happily spend their pay checks. I would also argue that its very easy for them to say that as they accept their tax-payer funded pensions. Robison is a retired senior NCO and has a pension from the Army. Limón is a retired administrator and has a very nice pension.

The other argument is that city council gets some nice perks. So far as I can tell they get a cell phone allowance and a gas allowance. Neither of which make a dent in paying bills. That is probably the silliest argument because they need the money for their phone bill to actually do the job and they need the money for gas for the same reason.

Voters ultimately decide who they want to serve in office to represent them but the way things are now, they don't get the option to be able to send people that look more like the rest of this community.

Sure voting against it sends a message, but its short-sighted because you are ensuring that the pool of candidates is always shallow.

(Sidenote: According to ad hoc committee member, of the 70 or so members of the public that went to the meetings about the issue, not a single one expressed opposition to the raise)