The City Primer on a Cover Up
For years now, I have been writing about how governmental entities, in El Paso, hide their malfeasance using various legal technicalities and public relations disinformation campaigns to keep you from knowing what is really happening. Because government officials actively hide their malfeasance, it is impossible to prove it conclusively. That is until now, thanks to the Uplift artwork fiasco.
Before I jump into that let show you why understanding this primer is important for you.
The El Paso Children’s Hospital is a perfect example of how your taxes are used to fund a building, and through financial subterfuge the failure of the hospital was hidden while the promise of illusionary “rent” monies were being used to prop up the finances of University Medical Center (UMC). As if that was not bad enough, this financial trickery, is also being used to push you to build clinics under a dubious business model. All of this, while the dirty secret of children’s economic doom was being kept secret. Even when it became obvious that the children’s hospital business model was a failure, you weren’t allowed to know this because various techniques to keep you in the dark were used. Now the politicians, like Veronica Escobar, are hiding behind a public relations fantasy of being “outraged” and pleading ignorance of the shenanigans of the hospital. Never mind that the county commissioners are supposed to be the stewards of your money and as such, they are supposed to vigilant on your behalf.
This is what many of us believe but we are unable to prove because of secrets.
Whenever I bring up the simple fact that the county commissioners should have known that the children’s hospital was financially unfeasible, long before it became public information, the retort is always prove it.
The children’s hospital is but one debacle of many where the taxpayer is left wondering what is going on behind the scenes within their governmental bodies. The San Jacinto Plaza is another one as well as the Margarita Cabrera public art fiasco.
Her case gives us an intimate look at how the city uses different tools to keep you at bay.
When some in the community began to question whether the removal of the Cabrera statue was art censorship or not there many who argued it was not while others argued that this was just another conspiracy theory.
The other inconvenient fact is that the news media has been extremely negligent in reporting this issue. When they have reported it, it has been nothing more than a public relations statement issued by the city.
On social media, on the other hand, the debate raged on with certain members expressing their belief of censorship while others kept arguing that we do not know all of the details yet, let the process playout before jumping to conclusions.
Through the work of online citizens filing open records requests and bloggers keeping the issue alive we now know that censorship was, in fact, the driving force behind the removal of the artwork.
Debbie Nathan’s open records request gave us the city’s emails that conclusively prove this. They also gave us something else; a primer on how the city stifles transparency in their actions, silences those demanding answers and abusively uses bureaucratic and legal technicalities to keep the truth hidden behind closed doors.
I am going to dissect the process by which the city undertook to hide from you the censorship of the artwork. It is primer on how the city and other government entities keep you from knowing about the backdoor deals they all engage in.
As you already know, on March 13, 2015, the Uplift sculpture was removed by the city. According to the emails, the removal was prompted by the Love Road Neighborhood Association who complained that the sculpture was “alarming to many.”
It is extremely important that you keep in mind that March 13, 2015 was a Friday and the city is closed on Fridays!
The email from the neighborhood arrived at the city at 11:11 that morning.
Within one hour and 42 minutes, at 12:53, Tommy Gonzalez had ordered that the statue be removed.
Let that sink in for a moment. A neighborhood association complains that they have issues with a public art piece that is being installed with taxpayer monies on city property. Less than two hours later, the city manager, Tommy Gonzalez orders it removed.
The artist had already been paid a substantial amount for the artwork and sending city crews to remove the site has inherent costs associated with it. These are costs that are paid from taxpayer funds. There is also the question of liability for the taxpayers for the removal of the artwork without following the legal standards of any business arrangement.
The emails clearly show there was city government official malfeasance in how the statue was removed.
The emails further shows us how the city attempted to cover up their malfeasance.
Let us take a close look at their techniques. It is primer on government cover-ups.
The very first thing the city did, to mask their malfeasance, is to begin a game of delaying tactics to keep information bottled up and to prepare the legal and strategic responses to the debacle. You will notice that throughout the whole ordeal the city embarked on a cover up. They refused to let the artist view the remnants of her artwork. The city also refused the news media access to where the artwork was stored.
More importantly, the city went into an immediate communications black out parceling out information that was beneficial only to city. That information included statements designed to misdirect and create an illusion of issues that did not exist. I will get to the examples of this later in my write up.
Legal System Bureaucracy
First, we need to look into the issue of Executive Session. As soon as it became evident that the artist had mobilized herself to protect her interests, the city brought in the legal system. This immediately stifled communications and allowed the issue to fall under the doctrine of “litigation.”
Basically, public discussion was bottled up and forced behind closed doors in executive session. More importantly, the city could selectively begin to manage the public perception of the issue by calling it a matter under litigation.
This allows the city to avoid answering inconvenient questions while putting out statements that had nothing to do with the truth.
The city first issues a statement that there were two problems with the artwork.
The first was that the sculpture “included structural deficiencies.”
Although this was not true, as evidenced by the emails that have been released, the city issued this statement to create the illusion that the city acted expeditiously as a result of a dangerous situation.
The city also added that the artwork “did not match with what was called for in the city’s contract with the artist.”
This matter can be debated from many different perspectives. However, it is a red herring because although the emails show that the abrupt removal of the artwork was a result of the “guns” on the piece, their use does not justify the way the city went about removing the piece.
Arguing the guns should not have been there distracts from the real issue, how one city official unilaterally authorized the removal of private property, the city had not yet accepted the work and thus it did not own it. Under any other circumstance, not involving a government official, a convincing argument about theft could be made in court.
Issuing the statement that was false allowed the city to do three things. Delay the release of additional information under the notion of litigation, create the illusion that the city was acting to protect citizens from danger and keep the artist from being able to argue her case before the community.
By making it an issue of “structural deficiencies” and not meeting the contract specifications immediately put the artist on the defensive about her work.
The issue for the news media went from one of city actions in regards to public artwork to one of an artist complaining about an art piece that was either dangerous or did not meet the specifications of the contract.
I hope you can see how the artist was silenced by this illusion.
The city often relies on keeping issues out of the public eye by strategically doing things on certain days and on certain times. They rely on individual’s inability to mobilize and gain traction with the news media on issues that affect them.
The city adeptly kept the artist off balance, the news media entangled in technicalities while at the same time using the news outlets to create an illusion.
One team of city lawyers were strategizing how to keep everything secret while a fully-funded public relations team was formulating how the public discussion was going to be framed. All of this was being paid with your tax dollars and all of it was happening on the same day the artwork was wrongly removed.
It was a Friday, when the city is closed.
An Overwhelming Team Paid For by Tax Monies
Contrast that overwhelming team, paid with your tax dollars against one or two individuals.
In the case of the artist, Margarita Cabrera has the financial wherewithal to pay for a legal team.
Cabrera attempted to resolve this issue through the legal process. How many of you can afford to contract an attorney to advocate for you?
Even then, can you afford one that the city will take seriously?
“FYI—the artist is represented by very competent legal council [sic], Carl Ryan.” [March 14, 2015 12:04 email from Sylvia B. Firth to Brain Crowe]
Think about that email for a moment. The artist was being taken seriously because she had contracted an attorney that the city attorney, Sylvia Firth, held in high esteem.
What if it was someone that did not have the money to retain an attorney, especially a well-known one? What if it the individual attempted to get an answer on his or her own?
This email set answers that question for us, as well. I did tell you it was primer.
Ricardo Mora is a homeowner who allowed the artist to store artwork pieces on his property. The city crews went unto his property, without his permission, and removed them. Mora sent the city an email asking for an explanation.
From the emails, you will also notice that it took a month before the city acknowledged receipt of Ricardo Mora’s email.
Mora had to send a second email in order for him to receive a response to his question, although his original email had already been sent to various individuals within the city bureaucracy, including the legal department.
It is likely that Ricardo Mora would not have received a response had he not taken it upon himself to follow up 30 days later.
Contrast that with how the city handled the email from the artist, who had an attorney helping her. The city wanted to know if the artist was going to have her attorney present so that the city could let her attorney know that the city intended to have its attorney present. It wasn’t because the city attorney’s office wanted to be fair but rather as you look at the language of “competent” legal representation it becomes apparent that it was nothing more than crossing t’s and dotting I’s as to avoid giving the “competent” attorney ammunition to litigate further.
A private citizen would not get the same courtesy as evidenced by how the city treated Ricardo Mora.
Do not fall for the trap of dismissing Mora’s issue with that of the artist believing that the artist is in a better position legally.
The artist is embroiled in a legal contract dispute with the city; it can be easily classified as a civil matter.
Ricardo Mora, on the other hand, has alleged a criminal action by city officials when they entered his property without authority. The artist, although she has alleged theft of property it nonetheless falls under the purview of the civil legal system as being a contract dispute.
Mora is not a party to the contract and he has alleged that city personnel entered his property and took items without his permission. That falls under theft and trespassing, which are both criminal offenses. Although Ricardo Mora’s allegations are more serious, he does not have an attorney and thus the city plays the delaying game hoping it blows over before it gets more serious.
In other words, the primer immediately excludes those that that cannot afford, or are unwilling to pay for competent attorneys right from the onset.
This leads us to the issue of executive session. Many of you believe that the city is required to deliberate and act publicly on all actions it undertakes.
Instead, what the city seems to be doing, along with other government entities, is to misuse executive session to help cover up malfeasance.
Except for the public pronouncements designed to create illusions and cover up exactly what has transpired, the city has used the excuse of executive session to keep the information behind closed doors.
Some of you may believe that your elected city representatives are advocating for your interests but the fact of the matter is that executive session not only stifles public discussion but it also muzzles the elected officials when they want to discuss publicly what is happening.
Public officials are admonished to not divulge what is discussed in executive session under the penalty of censure, fines and even criminal prosecution.
In other words, even if an elected official wanted to let you know what is going on they are prohibited from doing so.
Do you now see why misusing executive session is so advantageous for keeping public information hidden?
The Cover Up
As with any conspiracy, the various players in the debacle immediately go into the mode of self-preservation starting at the city level and working itself down to the individual employee level. As you look through the emails, you will notice how each employee involved, starts to use “keywords,” like “the artist has deviated from the approved design” to the “public art team has been unable to reach the artist all week.” [March 13, 2015, 12:23 email from Tracey Jerome to Tommy Gonzalez]
These are special keywords designed to protect themselves against becoming the scapegoat.
You see, all conspiracies have scapegoats.
It started with the artist with the illusion that she deviated from the contract specifications or that the structure was “deficient,” and when fails it moves on to the city employees that did not protect themselves.
Remember Jane Shang?
When blaming the citizen doesn’t work and the information starts to trickle out, the various players protect themselves by creating public records to fall back on should they be called to account.
Pay special attention to the part where Jerome tries to create a paper trail that they have been trying to reach the artist for a week, when in fact the city did not notify the artist of alleged deficiencies in the artwork until almost 30 minutes after Tommy Gonzalez ordered the removal of the artwork. [Patricia Dalbin to Margarita Cabrera March 13, 2015 1:34] As a matter of fact, the email to the artist did not go out until after the Jerome had written to Gonzalez that they had been “trying to reach the artist” for a week.
That is the classic example of a cover up.
As you digest this primer on how a government is keeping you from clearly understanding what transpired with the Uplift artwork look closely at the other city debacles like the San Jacinto Plaza and Basic IDIQ and see how each of the techniques are being used to keep certain illusions before the community.
Apply the knowledge of these techniques to the El Paso Children’s Hospital and I believe you can clearly see how you are being played as nothing more than a wallet for other financial disasters like the UMC clinics.
One of the most frustrating aspects of cover-ups by government entities is the lack of societal engagement. When I write about cover-ups, I am always challenged to provide proof.
Proof is lacking because the conspirators want it that way.
When the proof exists, like in this case, it ends up quietly going into oblivion.
Notice how the news media has not covered the issue of censorship although the public record is clear? As a matter of fact, the news media would not even have mentioned the debacle of the artwork had it not been for being pushed into it on social media and through my blogs to do so.
The individuals that would benefit the most from forcing a discussion on the appropriateness of having a neighborhood group dictate public artwork are the artists in the community.
Yet, they remain silent. Why?
The answer is unfortunately, a simple one.
The artist community is simply afraid to antagonize the government entities in the fear that they would be blacklisted from being contracted to produce public artwork.
Keep in mind that selecting public artwork is not only highly subjective but also not interesting enough for the community, at large to pay attention and thus, artists must be likable to the government entities parceling out contracts to the artists.
In a city, like El Paso, where the government entities are the largest industry staying friendly with them keeps food on the table.
I have dubbed this, financial control, economic terrorism and it is the most powerful arsenal in the government’s toolbox to keep the populace in check and subservient.