In this season of competitive politics, it is important for candidates and observers alike to put our competitive natures aside when voting for bonds and considering the future of our city as well as the next 30 years of budgeting. It is also important not to demonize one side in an attempt to win short-lived political points. There are good people on both sides of these issues and, though I believe mistakes and misunderstandings have been made on both sides, the people involved are passionate about El Paso and want the best for our city.
On the issue of this year’s quality of life bond, I will be voting in favor of two out of the three propositions. I believe the first two bonds, issuing a specific amount of general obligation, are important to help our city improve aesthetically and culturally. However, the cloudy process with the third proposition looms in what might have been an easy sell had our citizenry been involved from the onset. I still have many questions regarding the contract, the blank check we are being asked to sign, but most importantly, disappointment in the process taken.
Strike One. I feel the City of El Paso evaded discussing the specifics of the negotiation process with the people they are supposed to represent. Some of the Representatives signed a non-disclosure agreement in order to participate in the discussions with Mountain Star Group. Only those Representatives who signed the agreement were informed of and invited to the meetings. I do not believe keeping dissenting Representatives out of the negotiation process was a transparent or strategic government practice. I understand Mountain Star Group’s confidentiality concerns, but they are dealing with a public entity and all governing officers must be involved. Perhaps executive session would have been a better and more transparent meeting method. Council already has the right to engage in discussions closed to the public that involve all of the council members. Items to be discussed during executive session are posted on the agenda as to give notice to the public but not the details of the discussions. However, when our own Representatives and the public are unaware of such negotiation meetings, it breeds uncertainly and lack of trust in our government. One, then, must question whether the non-disclosure agreements create a conflict of interest with their duties as representatives of the people of El Paso and the oath of office they swore to uphold (below).
"I, ________________, do solemnly swear (or affirm), that I will faithfully execute the duties of the office ________________, of the City of El Paso, State of Texas, and will to the best of my ability preserve, protect and defend the Constitution and Laws of the United States and of this State and the Charter and Ordinances of this city; and I furthermore solemnly swear (or affirm), that I have not directly or indirectly paid, offered, or promised to pay, contributed, nor promised to contribute any money or valuable thing, or promised any public office or employment as a reward for the giving or withholding a vote at the election at which I was elected, or if the office is one of appointment, to secure my appointment. So help me God."
Strike Two. We were initially assured that a non-compete clause had to be included in the contract in order to secure the team. This caused a lot of uncertainty regarding the future of the Diablos, their location, and the Tiguas’ ability to continue funding them. After a few dissenting voices attracted a significant amount of support, the City and Mountain Star Group retracted that requirement. The once imperative non-compete clause was no longer necessary to move forward. This also bred a lack of confidence from the community in our city officials and the negotiation process.
Strike Three. Council was pressured into taking votes quickly or “lose the team.” However, these urgent deadlines kept getting pushed back and the process went on for months. This made it obvious that Council was being rushed for unspecified reasons. I do not blame Mountain Star Group for wanting the best deal and I do not blame the elected officials for believing in a process based on equal gain for public and private interests. However, I cannot help but feel skepticism for a process that could have been negotiated better. Additionally, at this point in the process, proposition 3 still does not offer taxpayers a specific amount we are committing to. The language is basically asking voters to sign a blank check which will be covered by the hotel occupancy tax and fees. If, after taking money allocated for fee services, the City cannot cover those costs, money would be taken from the general fund and our tax rate could be increased.
Many of us attended town hall meetings with City Representatives who said their vote was “a done deal,” and there was nothing we could do about it. On the contrary, municipal code section 334.021 under subchapter b. states,
“Resolution authorizing project – A county or municipality by resolution may provide for the planning, acquisition, establishment, development, construction, or renovation of a venue if: …3) the resolution is approved by a majority of the qualified voters of the municipality or county voting at an election called and held for that purpose under section 334.024.”
Section 334.024 goes on to say,
“the governing body may order an election on the question of approving and implementing the resolution. b) The order calling the election must: 1. Allow the voters to vote separately on each venue project; 2. Designate the venue project; 3. Designate each method of financing authorized by this chapter that the municipality or county wants to use to finance the project and the maximum rate of each method…”
More important still is section 334.0082 which points out our special circumstances as a border community where we must still implement the above mentioned 334.024 – where after,
“1. [governing body must] authorize the municipality to plan, acquire, establish, develop construct, or renovate a convention center and related infrastructure in the city limits of the municipality as part of an existing or previously approved sports and community venue project, regardless of whether the convention center is located on the premises of the existing or previously approved venue project; 2. Impose a tax under subchapter H at a rate not to exceed two percent of the cost of a room; and 3. Authorize the municipality to finance, operate, and maintain the venue project described by subdivision….If the resolution is approved by a majority of the votes cast in the election, the municipality may implement the resolution.”
As you can see, the City’s meetings complied with the code and carried out most of the necessary motions with Mountain Star Group. However, the most important vote will be taken by El Paso voters in the next few days. Only if voters approve proposition 3 can the city enter into a contract with the sports group. The ballot language for proposition 3, which can be found on the city website, states:
“Venue Project and Hotel Occupancy Tax Proposition – Authorizing the City of El Paso, Texas to designate the minor league baseball stadium project as a sports and community venue project within the city in accordance with applicable law and to impose a tax on the occupancy of a room in a hotel located within the city, at the maximum rate of two percent of the price paid for such rooms, for the purpose of financing such venue project.”
As you can see, proposition 3 issues two action items—one of which ratifies the City Council’s previous votes by way of defining this public private partnership a “sport and community venue project” and another by voting on the method of taxation.
Again, we are not dealing with good or evil here. We are simply dealing with what I believe are astute for-profit business negotiators and well-intentioned public officials. However, voters are still in control of the driver’s seat. It is up to each of us to decide if we want our city to move forward with the ball park under these terms.
For more information on my stances as a candidate for El Paso City Council District 2, please visitwww.chooseyanez.com.
El Paso City Council, District 2