Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Theresa Caballero Post

I almost fell out of my chair when I heard Theresa Caballero on the air during Chris Bailey's show.

From The Lion Star Blog by Jaime Abeytia
I have been working on a blog post about her showing up on the air with Hector H. Lopez the other day. She basically led him around by his nose for a couple of hours and he never challenged a single one of her allegations.

I'm going through the audio to make sure I get her many, many interesting quotes correctly as I write my opinion in the blog post. I will try to have it up later today or tonight.

Sit tight, its going to be very interesting considering what she said.

Until then, go over to David K's blog and read what he wrote today. He linked to a post back when Caballero liked him. She was very complimentary of him...we'll see if that piece stays up or is taken down.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Domestic Partnership Debate Last Week & City Council Meeting

Here is a little sample of the back and forth from the domestic partner benefits debate before city council. This video shows two people against equality, Pastors Tom & Sonia Brown, and two for equality, Yours Trunly and Lisa D.

Tuesday Morning BJ!

What better way to start your Tuesday with a nice long BJ.

Check out the newest column on The Border Journal!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Was it Something I Said?

Pastor Tom Brown has apparently decided to make his MySpace profile only viewable to people that are his MySpace friends.

I guess he's changed his mind.

I linked to his page so that everyone could see his words and his pattern of a particular set of beliefs over time.

Maybe he didn't want people to see what he had to say. But whatever the reason, it is pretty interesting. Some of us just believe in standing by our words and others....

El Paso City Charter Amendment for Equality

If you are interested in signing the petition to get a charter amendment on the ballot for equality, you have a chance to sign the petition tonight.

If you are on the Westside of town, you can stop by the Barnes and Nobel on Sunland Park. If you are on the Eastside you can stop by the Barnes and Nobel on Viscount. The time is from 6-9pm for both locations.

If you aren't registered to vote, there should be voter registration cards available as well.

The petition language reads as follows:

"It is unlawful for any person within the City of El Paso to be denied the use, exercise or enjoyment of any advantage, right, privilege, facility, service, employment, housing or accommodation, generally used, exercised, or enjoyed, on the basis of the person’s actual or perceived race, gender, color, ethnicity, national origin, age, gender identity, marital status, disability or sexual orientation."

For more information, check out their website.

Equality...its the American way!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Polls Show Obama Still Has Support

Ha ha, eat that GOP!

A new poll shows that Obama leads as choice for President against a generic Republican candidate and has a bigger gap of support when you given a choice between specific candidates.

With Republicans in control in the House, the President will now have a chance to finally play a little offense and his support will likely go up between now and the election.

Come on Palin! Run Palin run!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Anti-Gay Movement Spawns a Candidate

One of the people supportive of the ordinance that took away domestic partner benefits from eligible couples, retirees, and others is apparently making a run for city council.

Manny Hinojosa, who has addressed city council along with other members of the religious community during the debate over domestic partner benefits, has indicated that he will be running for city council.

Hinojosa has been talking about doing so for months now. In addition to the domestic partner benefits issue, Hinojosa says he's also been a watchdog for lower taxes from the city.

The political resume of Hinojosa is a little thin, but pretty much par for the course for city council candidates. Political careers often start off at the city level so its not surprising that Hinojosa doesn't have too much experience politically speaking. But Hinojosa does have an aspect of experience not usually seen by city rep candidates, he is a Precinct Chair in the Republican Party.

Hijonosa lives in the district currently represented by Ann Morgan Lily.  

Self Preservation at City Hall

The debate over domestic partner benefits in town has enlightened me about a few people. There are some people on that council that are more concerned with doing the popular and easy thing rather than the right thing.

They lack the political courage that others had that made it possible for those very people to hold the offices they now occupy.

Here's at least on example of what I mean about doing the easy and popular thing, all for the sake of self-preservation. Representative Quintana's amendment is nothing more than her attempt to have her cake and eat it too.

Essentially she, and the reps that will support the vote, want to be able to say that they “respect the will of the people” and at the same time say they fight for retirees.

This move is simply an attempt at self-preservation. Perhaps she wants to run for re-election, maybe she wants to be a county commissioner one day, who knows?

But I think at the very least, members of council should reflect on their actions. There are times when its more important to be right than popular. Its not easy and it takes courage but in the words of Martin Luther King, “...the arc of the universe is long but it bends towards justice...”

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Pastor Tom Brown's Words on attending "Hispanic School"

Pastor Tom Brown of the Word of Life Church in El Paso, Texas has some interesting things to say on his My Space page.

In his profile he gives us a little background about his upbringing. I think its very telling. Brown talks about being raised by his grandmother following the divorce of his parents. I'll give some of my thoughts on that particular scenario later, but what I found most interesting is when he says, "Then I went to Riverside High School for 2 years, and because it was difficult being white in an all Hispanic School, my sister and I transferred to Eastwood High."

First of all, Riverside is in fact predominantly Hispanic, but its not "all" Hispanic. Secondly, what does me mean when he says it was "difficult being white" while attending Riverside High School, particularly when he makes reference to the number of Hispanics in the same sentence?  Is he alleging that Hispanics are mean to white people? Is he alleging that he was discriminated against?


But wait, it gets more interesting. Pastor Brown then talks about meeting his future wife after high school. "After graduating from Eastwood, I met my future wife, Sonia Blanco." 

Brown proudly proclaims, "Yeah, 'Blanco' is Spanish for 'White'."

He ends the tale of meeting his future wife by saying. "So sometimes she says she just changed colors."

Draw your own conclusions about Pastor Brown's remarks. If you want to read the full profile you can find it here on My Space.


But getting back to what I said earlier about Pastor Brown's upbringing, I think its very insightful. While Lisa D was holding up her sign in City Hall today about Pastor Brown, an elderly woman who was sitting next to and chatting with his wife the entire time called Lisa a "hypocrite" when she saw the message on the sign.


That's an interesting choice of words when you put several things in context. First, the group in opposition to domestic partner benefits refer to themselves as Traditional Family Values. 


While Christ never mentions homosexuality in his teachings, he is pretty clear on what he thinks about divorce. In Mark 10:1-12 I found the following: "Pharisees came to him testing him, and asked him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?"
He answered, "What did Moses command you?"
They said, "Moses allowed a certificate of divorce to be written, and to divorce her."
But Jesus said to them, "For your hardness of heart, he wrote you this commandment. But from the beginning of the creation, God made them male and female. For this cause a man will leave his father and mother, and will join to his wife, and the two will become one flesh, so that they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate."
In the house, his disciples asked him again about the same matter. He said to them, "Whoever divorces his wife, and marries another, commits adultery against her. If a woman herself divorces her husband, and marries another, she commits adultery."


Brown says he was raised by his grandmother. Again, straight from Pastor Brown himself, "They divorced when I was only a year, so my grandparents took my sister, Cathy and me into their home. My grandmother was like a mother to me."

So what is a traditional family? It think that's an interesting question. One would assume that their definition of traditional family would be something taken from the Bible. If that's the case, an even greater paradox arises. At one point in the Bible, a traditional marriage and traditional family meant a man and multiple wives. 

Catholicism teaches us that Mary was ever-virgin and there are little if any references to Joseph after Jesus' presentation in the temple as a young boy. So did Mary spend most of her life as a single-mother? If that's the case, is polygamy and single-parent households consistent with Pastor Brown's definition of a traditional family?

Moreover, is his own upbringing, from a divorced set of parents and raised by a grandmother, something he would define as "traditional"?

Obviously most of us would believe that yes, he was raised by a family and many probably come from a similar background and find no fault with it at all.

That brings me to my last point. The ordinance that Pastor Brown and his group passed has taken away benefits from, among others, grandmothers raising their grandchildren.

Help me out here. Whats the word used to describe someone who writes an ordinance that takes away benefits from someone who is in a similar position in which he himself was raised? Hmmm, let me think....its on the tip of my tongue...oh yeah, I remember..."hypocrite"

Monday, December 13, 2010

Representative Marquez & Representative Riddle

Okay, once again, I have to give credit where credit is due, so now its Marquez’s turn.

For all of Representative Chavez’s faults, she was the one legislator that would stand up for Chicanos and Latinos in El Paso whenever there was an issue in which there needed to be the proverbial line drawn in the sand.

Case in point, the move by Board of Education to minimize or remove key historical figures. Chavez was at her best during this time and was able to coordinate a response very quickly. It’s not something she did for votes, but she did it because it was the right thing to do.

When Chavez lost, I was concerned that there wouldn’t be anyone around to fill that void of Chicano leadership.

I’m not saying the Marquez is ready to step in to that role, but I have to give her props for something she told me about the other day.

Representative Marquez said she personally called Representative Riddle to express her displeasure with the anti-immigrant bills she filed.

I admire that she did so and she should be recognized for it. Marquez told me that she told Riddle that “these are hateful bills”. When I asked what was Riddle’s response Marquez explained that Riddle became a little shaken.

Marquez didn't intend to shake her up, but wanted her to know that she wasn't happy about the proposed legislation and wanted her colleague to understand why.
Now I am even more proud of Marquez. I’m glad that she called her colleague out for filing those bills and yes, I’m glad she rattled her cage, even if it was unintentional. I know that’s shallow of me. If you don’t like that about me, too bad because a) I don’t care if it bothers you and b) you can stop reading my blog anytime you feel like it if you feel that strongly about it.

I’m only sorry I wasn’t there to get it on video!

And if you are wondering, yes I did call Riddle’s office to get comment on her lagrimas de cocodrilo. Her Austin office directed me to her field office and I left a message with her field office and have not heard back from her office as of the time of this post.

Marquez did tell me that Riddle said she respected the fact that Marquez personally called to express her displeasure rather than doing it through the media.

Well done Representative Marquez, well done.

Legislators Meet with Community Members & Organizations

Three members of El Paso legislative delegation met with community members and organizations on Saturday at Café Mayapan. The event was organized by El Paso Grassroots.


All members of the delegation were invited to attend, but only State Senator-elect Jose Rodriguez, State Rep Marissa Marquez, and State Re-elect Naomi Gonzalez were in attendance.

Representative-elect Margo had confirmed with Xavier Miranda, one of the event organizers, but his office called Miranda the morning of the event to say they had no record of the event in their calendar.

Representatives Pickett and Quintanilla did not return the call of the event organizers.

Despite the fact that there were several events set up for Saturday morning, the group listened to the community members and organizations about issues facing the community and legislative priorities for the respective groups.

The groups consisted of activists and organizations involved in immigration reform, protection of the Franklin Mountains, education, and healthcare.

Commentary

I’ve been critical in the past of Rep-elect Gonzalez for not showing any stances on anything that remotely looked like an issue and for not attending events.

So if I’m going to lay down the much-deserved criticism of those two points, it’s also equally fair for me to point out the opposite.

I’m starting to see Gonzalez flesh out some positions on a few issues. She has also started to show up to events, even if it’s just for a few minutes. She usually shows up late and leaves early, but she is making progress.

On ABC 7 Extra, she sounded like a Democrat and I am encouraged by that. Luckily for her, the Texans for Lawsuit Reform (TLR) probably won’t have to ask her to take any tough votes given the majority the Republicans have in the Texas House of Representatives.

I guess I’m coming to the realization that there was a perfectly good reason why Gonzalez didn’t run on substance or issues…she didn’t have to. She knew that all she had to do was give the community a viable alternative to Representative Norma Chavez and she would be elected.

I still don’t like the idea of running without substance or clear stance on issues, but I understand why her campaign was run the way it was run.

Lastly, let me explain why it’s important that legislators and elected officials attend events in the community. Visibility means a lot to constituents. It’s not an indication of someone’s work ethic, ability to lead, or intellect. It’s just an expression of how much the community means to them.

Showing up doesn’t mean you are really interested anymore than not showing up means you aren’t interested, but it means something to the constituents. They will get the perception that you are engaged and care about what’s important to them.

Kudos for Gonzalez for the progress she’s made. Hopefully there will be more to come.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Theresa Caballero Makes Claim Re: Charlotte’s Furniture Case, Can She Back it Up

Prominent El Paso Attorney Theresa Caballero called in to live talk radio the other day and made an interesting allegation. Near as I can tell, she attempted to tie Melissa O’Rourke, owner of Charlotte’s Furniture.

From The Lion Star Blog by Jaime Abeytia
In a nutshell, O’rourke’s business allegedly took a substantial amount of cash for payment of furniture and didn’t report it.

Early in the phone call Caballero said that Bob Jones was indicted for public corruption and was “..rolling all over everybody…”

She then continued by declaring with certainty that Bob Jones “..was rolling all over everybody and he implicated Charlottes, Melissa O’rourke…”

Here is the recording in its entirety.


What is even more fascinating is that Caballero called back later and was given the opportunity to substantiate her claims.

She didn’t because she admitted that she couldn’t.

If her allegations are true, then WOW! What an intriguing development!

But if they are not true, you’d think a lawyer would be more careful about making unfounded allegations on live radio.

Considering that her tag-team partner Stuart Leeds is suing David K for something far less, and considering how many times she called whining to management about what I say on the radio, you’d think she’d be more precise.

I don’t understand how someone who is so touchy about critiques leveled at her comes off making allegations without back-up?

But if she’s got the back-up…she should come forward with it!

Moody for Mayor? Maybe.

So I wrote about the rumored mayoral bid by Eliot Shapleigh the other day and I was bombarded with calls, emails, and text messages asking me about the possibility.

There's also been some talk around town that Joe Moody may decide to run for mayor. After hearing it now for a few days, I decided to call and get comment from Moody on the matter. So I asked him if he was considering a run for the mayorship and he replied:

"Since November 2nd, many people have reached out to me and asked me to consider running for various offices.

I appreciate their support and advice, but I have not even begun to consider when I will run again or what office I would seek. Right now, I am focused on continuing my legal career and staying involved with local groups that work on important issues for our community.

Regardless of my decision, I will always be involved in bettering El Paso in any way that I can."
 
If you are new to politics, Moody absolutely left the door open to the possibility of running for Mayor. People that aren't interested in something say so, but if they aren't interested in it right now but might be in the future, always leave the door open.
 
If he's thinking about it, he should announce early. He should announce before Shapleigh and it might keep Shapleigh out of the race. Even if it doesn't, announcing early would give him a pretty good advantage.
 
The next mayoral race is still far away and things are already getting interesting around here...

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Cacique of the Ysleta Del Sur Passed Away

The Cacique, or Chief, of the Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo passed away last night. Santiago Bustamante, 89, was the Cacique since the 1990's.

He passed away late last night or early this morning at his home on the Tigua reservation. The Cacique had been struggling with several illnesses including cancer.

Bustamante became the Cacique in the 1990's and is a mix of traditional, ceremonial and spiritual roles. The Governor of the Tribe has legislative authority and the Cacique oversees traditions and ceremonies and is seen as the leader of the tribe.

The Cacique is non-hereditary position and is elected by the men of tribe. Unlike the Governor that serves for one year, the Cacique upon election serves for life. The male members of the tribe elect their leadership on New Year's Eve at the Tusla, which is a sacred site on Tigua land. Positions include Governor, Lt. Governor, Aguacil (Sheriff) and the Capitan de Guerra (War Captain).

Sources within the tribe indicate that they will likely select a new Cacique during the New Year's Eve election.

Bustamante's services will be a mix of Catholic and Tigua tradition. There will be a public ceremony and a tribal ceremony for tribal members only.

Funeral Arrangements:

Visitation is at Susnet Funeral Homes, 9521 North Loop Sunday December 12th, 2010. 3:00 PM-4:30 PM

Rosary will be held at the Old Mission starting at 7:00pm on Sunday.

The Funeral Mass is at Old Mission on Monday, December 13th at 10am. Internment will be at Mt. Carmel in the Tigua Section.

Tigua Ceremonial Rites will be held at an undisclosed location and time.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Mayor Shapleigh

Senator Eliot Shapleigh, according to the Whisper’s Column in the El Paso Inc is passing the hat around Austin for a bid to run for Mayor of El Paso.


To all of you who told me that Shapleigh was going to quietly go off in to the sunset; I told you he wasn’t going to leave the political scene!

If he ends up being right about the Bowie High School thing, we will never hear the end of it.

But when you think about it, is there anyone in El Paso that is poised to beat him? Think about it.

Go ahead, take your time.

I couldn’t think of anyone either.

Be prepared for heavy doses of Shapleigh speaking Spanish to anyone who will listen. But his rise to the mayorship would really bother a lot of powerful conservatives in town, but they would be powerless to prevent it.

Their only hope is to put their money behind one of the other Democrats in the city that would take on Shapleigh. I know, it’s a non-partisan race, but the only other candidates that would be considered people that could take Shapleigh on, would have to come from the Democratic party.

But that’s the problem. Who is there out there that could defeat Shapleigh? Quite frankly, I can’t think of anyone. Turnout for city elections is always low and voters in this town tend to support the name they know.

There are several names that periodically pop up for a possible mayoral bid in the next election, two of which are Democrats with a widely known name, City Rep Eddie Holguin and City Rep Emma Acosta. Joe Muench, who doesn’t leave his ivory tower over at the El Paso Times long enough to know that City Rep Steve Ortega isn’t interested in being mayor, has thrown around Ortega’s name for mayor and for congress. Ortega won’t run for congress, probably couldn’t win for congress (yet), and won’t run against Shapleigh for mayor.

Holguin and Acosta won’t run against each other. Holguin is least likely to win for mayor at this time. He does one thing that really ticks a few people off, he tries to stand-up to the Westside. While a noble act, it simply doesn’t win him votes and he doesn’t seem to be positioned to win a citywide election. Being known as the Dr No on city council is not going to get the job done.

Acosta doesn’t have the machine in place yet or the citywide recognition yet to be a contender against someone with as high of a profile as Eliot Shapleigh.

The real question is what will city council be like by the time Shapleigh becomes mayor? Beto O’rourke says he’s not running for re-election. Who knows who will end up in that seat and what the long-term impact that will be on the dynamic of city council. City Rep Susie Byrd is termed out and her absence from council could have raise the same question.

The question for me is what will Shapleigh’s platform be if he indeed runs for Mayor? I know, you’re thinking that the current majority on council will be even more progressive with Shapleigh at the helm, but if you recall, there is at least one issue in which the mayor and Team Shapleigh disagree on…legalization.

I also wonder what the leadership dynamic will be like. The current majority on city council is perceived to be followers of Shapleigh but they have differed on policy before. We have a weak mayor system and he won’t even get a vote on issues unless it’s a tie.

But when he does identify a platform there aren’t too many people I can think of that could hold their own in a debate against him.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

FBI Informant Story in El Paso Times

Ramon Bracamontes has an interesting story in today's edition of the El Paso Times regarding an informant in the FBI public corruption case. The informant is a witness in the case against Adrian Pena, who used to work for CF Jordan and is accused of bribing former County Commissioner Betti Flores.

Flores plead guilty to taking a bribe and is awaiting sentencing.

If you haven't read the story, you should read it before continuing on this piece.

The piece doesn't say how the information came to light, but if it was through a source, I'm pretty sure I talked to the same guy yesterday. From what I can tell, it appears that the source had been shopping the story around to the media over the last few days.

A man came to the station yesterday with several documents and part of what he told a reporter for the station and I was what was reported in the El Paso Times. The man would later explain that he acquired the documents through a friend of his at the courthouse. He didn't say whether it was the county or federal courthouse.

The man identified himself as the father of Adrian Flores.

We asked him if he was willing to go on camera and he agreed, which is why I am identifying him. He never asked us to remain anonymous, so I don't know if he asked any other media outlets to remain anonymous.

The man prefaced what he was about to tell me by saying that "What I am about to tell you is through the rose-colored lenses of a father..."

The documents are the same documents referred to in the Bracamontes piece. What he was upset about was that he thought that the Court was doing something wrong because the documents appeared on PACER, witch is a records management system used in the courts, then disappeared, then reappeared. According to Mr. Pena the documents were able to be viewed, which I assume is when they were printed out, then they disappeared and then they were back on the system Friday morning but were sealed at that time and therefore not able to be viewed.

The documents, which appear to be discovery motions, actually said the word SEALED on them. My assessment was that the situation appeared to be that the documents were posted on PACER but weren't sealed. I took this to be a clerical error. Then pulled down, and finally reloaded under sealed.

That was my conclusion anyway.

If that was the information provided to the Times, I assume it wasn't in the piece because they came to a similar conclusion.

What will get the public's attention is the fact that the informant was paid. Paying informants isn't out of the ordinary, but its the part the public will latch on to.

In my opinion, what is more significant is who the informant is. The informant is Elizabeth Sotelo. That is significant because of who she was working for and who she ended up working for, but I'll get to that in a minute.

The other reason its significant is because an informant in the public corruption case was identified. Most people assumed that the star witness would be Betti Flores. I don't think too many people realized that the FBI had someone else other than Flores and someone so close to the situation.

Sotelo was Flores' assistant while she was County Commissioner. At the time, the commissioners only had one assistant. Word around the courthouse was the Sotelo was very close to Flores and the two were always together. Some elected officials have staff that never leave the office and are rarely seen in public, others have staff that are with them in the field all the time, to the point of when you see one, you usually see the other.

That's covers who Sotelo worked for at the time.

Flores was defeated in her re-election bid by now County Judge-elect Veronica Escobar. When Escobar was elected, Sotelo was picked up by another member of Commissioner's Court...Luis Sarinana.

Commissioner Sarinana's office was one of the offices raided by the FBI in the opening days of the public corruption scandal but has yet to be charged with anything.

Friday, December 3, 2010

El Paso Times Editorial Out of Touch with Socorro

Of all the problems in Socorro, you guys focus on projects that are improving the quality of life in that town?

What about all the other stuff going on?

Here's a crazy idea, get off your asses and get to know the community you are commenting on. Its not enough to send reporters out there and rely on their story to formulate your opinion of the entire community.

Come on, get out of your ivory tower, get your hands dirty, and get to know the community, its problems, issues, and aspirations first. That way when you comment, you have something to go on.

Robert Grijalva Puts Early Brakes on Candidacy

I posted a piece about a month ago about the possibility of Robert Grijalva, staffer for State Rep Chente Quintanilla and former staffer for former State Rep Paul Moreno, running against the State Rep that retired Moreno, Marissa Marquez.

The Times eventually wrote a piece about Grijalva possibly running against Marissa Marquez. There were some interesting quotes from Marquez that I will discuss later in this piece.

But essentially, Marquez scared of Grijalva. He issued the following press release earlier this week in order to end the conversation about his possible bid:

Chief of Staff Grijalva Puts an End to Rumors of Candidacy



There have been rumors for some time now that I had decided to file as a candidate in


State House District 77. In order to eliminate the uncertainty of the rumors, I am


informing the public that I shall not seek office in the 2012 primary elections.


After returning from my duties during each of the past 3 legislative sessions, I initiated a


process of evaluating my potential run for office. I had intended to do the same during


the summer months following this session. The process was nothing more than assessing


the political climate and my position in it. I shall not engage in this process after this


session.


It is unfortunate that a rumor arose from my regular political evaluation. In this case, the


rumor was given legs by overly enthusiastic friends or supporters. The rumor, and the


way it spread, created the impression that there was a foregone conclusion about my


intentions. This caused considerable angst among the El Paso delegation with the


potential of a serious rift; understandably so.


I was responsible for preventing the situation from escalating and I failed. For that I


apologize to the residents of District 77 and El Paso. I have spoken with the delegation


and issued an apology personally to each.


It is my hope that by making this definitive statement the delegation can put this in the


past and go forward with the session united.


Robert Grijalva
 
I took issue with Grijalva referring to it as a rumor because I had taken the time to call him and get confirmation. He gave a quote that did not close the door to the idea of run. That was strategic on his part. If he wasn't contemplating a run, he simply could have told me so. Instead he said, "Lots of people are asking me to run...I haven't made a decision yet. When I do, I will make the best decision for the community."
 
When I called him to let him know I took issue with him referring to it as a rumor when he in fact had given a quote that neither confirmed nor denied the idea that he was running, he took time to give me his side of things and I was appreciative of the fact that he did so.
 
But its hard to dismiss something as gossip when his quote is "...I haven't made a decision yet".
 
In Zahira Torres' piece on the El Paso Times Capitol Report Blog, Representative Marquez makes a questionable remark. She says, "It may put lobbyists in a difficult position.”


Who cares? Lobbyists are certainly part of the system, but why the hell should we care about them? Many people believe lobbyists have too much influence on the system as it is, remarks like that substantiate the fears of some voters.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Cirque Du Socorro

In last night’s edition of Cirque Du Socorro, the city council held public hearings on the ordinance creating a recall election of Mayor Willie Gandara and District 3 Councilman Luis Varela. Mayor Gandara was indicted on public corruption charges and Councilman Varela was arrested on drug charges.


Ironically, it appears that the arrest of Councilman Varela was, at least according to this map, exactly 112 feet from a business that is listed on the El Paso County website as Gandara Recycling. That DBA was first registered in 1999 to Mayor Willie Gandara and is still active under his name.

Most of the people, about 70%, that spoke were in opposition to the ordinance, that is to say that they were in support of Mayor Gandara and Councilman Varela. If you gauged public support for the Mayor and Councilman Varela based on the public comment portion of the meeting it would be easy to assume that public sentiment was on the side of the Mayor and Varela.

The majority of City Council in Socorro says that’s not the case. A couple of members of council argued that their constituents support the ordinance but choose not to come to city council meetings for public comment periods.

Mayor Pro Tem Jesse Gandara, nephew of Mayor Willie Gandara and sponsor of the recall amendment, stated that most of the people that spoke before the council in support of the Mayor and Varela had a vested interest in ensuring the Mayor stayed mayor of Socorro or had an axe to grind.

One of the people that spoke was Sergio Cox. He was the Councilman-at-Large (CAL) and lost to the current CAL.

Attorney Joshua Spencer spoke in opposition to the recall ordinance. There are two reasons that is interesting. One, he doesn’t live or do business in Socorro. When I asked him his connection to Socorro he said it was because he hunts in Socorro. Which is weird because there is an ordinance prohibiting the discharge of firearms within the city of Socorro, but I’m told people hunt rabbits and birds out in the rural areas. The other reason is pretty obvious, his last name is Spencer. I checked with him and he is the son of Joe Spencer, who is Mayor Gandara’s lawyer.

In one of the lighter moments of the meeting, one gentleman who addressed the city council, Roberto Leal, began by saying, “I come in peace”. He went on later to say that “…Mayor Gandara told me he didn’t even know the person who accused him…” Mayor Gandara cut him off by putting his hands up and saying, “No, no, no”.

Ernest Gomez and his sister addressed the city council. Gomez was formerly the municipal judge of Socorro and is a retired police officer. His contract was not renewed by the city council in favor of the appointment of a municipal judge with a law degree, Alex Vidalez.

Interestingly the city of Socorro has never had a municipal judge with a law degree. Vidalez has not yet passed the bar exam, but does have a law degree from UT Austin and formerly worked as a Legislative Aide for Senator Shapleigh. Gomez and his sister would understandably have a reason to oppose the current majority on city council since he no longer has the $30+k per year salary, though its now $50k.

There was a question about the residency of the municipal judge. Vidalez lives in east El Paso and not within the city of Socorro. Some people have looked at the city charter on the city’s website and saw a provision that required the municipal judge to live in Socorro. In fact, sources tell me the El Paso Times is going to do a story on the issue.

I checked the El Paso County Election website and found that in the May 2008 election there were 12 amendments to the city charter on the ballot. Amendment 9 changed the residency requirement from Socorro, Texas to El Paso County. The measure was approved by voters 61.43% to 35.57%, or 352 votes to 221.

Another resident (didn’t get a name for him) said he was a veteran who served in Afghanistan and resented people infringing upon his freedom of speech (more on that later) and specifically address City Councilman Jesse Gandara. He said that Gandara didn’t show respect for his uncle and said that he would get it if he ever spoke to his own uncle the way Councilman Gandara speaks to Mayor Gandara. To underscore the various familial ties, the man’s father is Alfonso Gutierrez, who was the city councilman for District 4 until he was defeated by…you guessed it, Councilman Jesse Gandara.

Analysis

I can see why some people might not want to come to city council meetings to speak during public comment. The crowd is often pretty rowdy and emotions run high, which is why they tried to make the public comment portion of the meeting more orderly in the first place. The entire meeting has the feel of confrontation and in a town the size of Socorro, who wants to have that kind of relationship with their neighbors? Not many I’d guess, so that’s probably why not too many people in support of the ordinance attend.

Their city council meetings look like Kangaroo Court. It’s a small town and it looks like people take the public comment portion of the meetings to settle the score of blood feuds that probably span multiple generations.

There is no infringement of anyone’s right to free speech by the change of the way the community is allowed to address the city council. Under their previous system, they had an Open Forum system. Essentially that meant that any one, at any time, could stand up and say basically whatever the hell they wanted. I’m sure you can see how that kind of stuff could get out of hand.

The new system is more orderly. There is a public comment portion of the meeting, the Mayor will recognize anyone who wants to address the council and they walk up to a podium to speak. There is no limitation to how long someone can flap their gums and bore the hell out of the audience. They don’t even require someone to sign-up to speak, both of which are required by the City of El Paso.

There are good things happening in Socorro, despite the fact that the circus is covered more than anything else. Socorro is sometimes its own worst enemy.



But the driveway project gets a bum rap from the El Paso Times Editorial Board and reporters. They run a headline that said some residents were irked by the driveways. Funny thing is, their article doesn’t quote any irked residents. Don’t believe me, read for yourself

Each city district has a project in the works. District 4 chose driveways. There was a formula to choose whose homes were done first, which was at least in part, based on a check with the Central Appraisal District. Some of the homes that have been paying more property taxes and therefore contributing more tax dollars to the city were given priority.

Is there a fair critique in the formula?

Probably, but to act like it was done arbitrarily is inaccurate.

Should the two city councilman have waited to go last?

You're damn right. But doesn’t take away from the fact that it’s an improvement to the district and the residents are appreciative of the upgrade.

An old firehouse is being converted to a community center. A new state-of-the-art park is in the works.




I’m betting that a year from now people will be talking about the improvements made to Socorro, but for now, everything is seen through the prism of their crazy city council meetings, and confrontational relationships.