The Larry Romero Affair
On Monday, KVIA posted an eleven-minute interview with Larry Romero. I believe that this interview is the first time Romero has answered news media questions about the latest controversy surrounding him. The latest controversy is where he failed to disclose his previous business relationship with Estrada Hinojosa while pushing city officials to replace First Southwest with Estrada Hinojosa. Most of you are aware of the various controversies involving Romero so I see no reason to rehash them today. You can always look for them on my blog. However, the KVIA interview and the additional information released by the mayor’s office gives me an opportunity to offer a few additional comments.
As you likely know, I have been writing about El Paso corruption for many years now. I have dubbed it a “culture of corruption.” The information that is slowly emerging and the actions revolving around the Larry Romero saga is reminiscent of many other instances of public corruption that have been documented in El Paso over the years. This gives an opportunity to do a little comparison.
Historically, El Paso officials have “circled the wagons” when controversies arise. The “circling of the wagons” is usually an indication of the tradition of hiding dirty laundry from the public. Some of this is nothing more than keeping the lie of the “safest city” intact while other times it is about hiding political shenanigans behind closed doors.
As of Monday and last week, the mayor has requested two reports outlining the timeline of how the city initiated an RFP into contracting a new financial services provider and the apparent attempt to oust the current one – First Southwest. Both the city manager, Tommy Gonzalez, and the city’s chief internal auditor, Edmundo Calderon have been tasked by the mayor to create a timeline of events. The reports are scheduled to be delivered to the mayor’s office and to city council members later today. Although the mayor has stated that he intends for the reports to be released to the public – a specific date has not been made public.
Although we do not know that the reports will eventually be released to the community the fact remains that Oscar Leeser has asked for two internal reports and has indicated that he may seek an outside investigator depending on the results. So far, Leeser has been transparent about what he intends to do and what may happen next. I am hopeful that he continues down this path of transparency.
Contrast his actions with those of John Cook’s administration and you can see there is a difference. Imagine what the results would have been had the voters had the opportunity to have a discussion over the ballpark.
The other item I want to comment on is two things that stood out for me in the KVIA interview.
The first is that Larry Romero admits to having a previous business relationship with Estrada Hinojosa and intervening to get them work at the city. His response to his relationship with Hinojosa are excuses of an event that happened “12 to 15 years ago.” But if you look closely at his responses, Romero spends time deflecting by asking the reporters to look at the actions of other city representatives. Additionally, Larry Romero states that he was aware that a “former employee of First Southwest was doing some unethical things.” He uses this is his personal reason to explain why he wanted to oust First Southwest. You might notice that Romero does not offer specificity as to who the “former employee” is.
Lack of specificity and deflections usually indicate evasiveness or outright lies.
Larry Romero then blames the El Paso Times for “targeting him” which is another indicator of deflecting away from the central issue. However, the exchange between Larry Romero and the El Paso Times reporter, Elida S. Perez, raises another two questions for me.
The first is just one more indicator of how the El Paso Times operates. The exchange between Perez and Romero puts the El Paso Times as part of the news story rather than what I understand news reporting to be – reporting the news rather than becoming part of the news. Look closely at how Elida Perez allows the dialog to become one of how the newspaper is reporting the saga rather than steering Romero towards actually answering the reporter’s questions. Perez spent a considerable amount of time defending her paper’s coverage of the saga. Since when is that acceptable for a newspaper reporter?
The second question this exchange raises for me is why is the paper focusing on Romero? On the surface it might seem like Bob Moore’s paper is focusing on alleged public corruption but if you look closely, the paper continues to leave out a very significant fact about the issue – the $22 million cost to the taxpayer.
Yes, the newspaper has reported the facts about the $22 million, however the community cannot have a discussion about Larry Romero without pointing out that the rumors surrounding the $22 million involves unnamed city council representatives. Most of us assume we know who the unnamed city council representatives may be but they have not been publicly named. Regardless, discussion about the attempt to fire First Southwest must include the fact that there are unnamed city council members that may have led the effort to oust First Southwest as well. Yet, the paper completely ignores this relevant part of the discussion. Why?
Larry Romero has stated that other city council members may have also wanted First Southwest out. Why has the paper neglected to include the names of the possible city council members? Could it be that naming them would embarrass individuals that Bob Moore has traditionally protected? The reporting by the El Paso Times about Larry Romero almost seems like witnessing a two-person potato bag team, with one wanting to go fast and the other afraid to move forward, resulting in a bogged down dialog.
It is still too early to know exactly what transpired in regards to the $22 million that the taxpayers have had to pay for delaying the sale of the bonds and Larry Romero’s attempts to oust First Southwest. As with all controversies, especially ones that seem to be corrupt, the whispers start long before the facts emerge. It took years of community whispers before the FBI swooped in and put some public officials in jail. It will likely be years before we really know what actually has transpired between Tommy Gonzalez, Larry Romero and the streets and financial services controversies. It is even possible more controversies will emerge.
When the facts become well known in the community, the public record is usually distorted because it is missing certain details. Most of that has to do with the length of time it takes for the facts to become known. Other times it is because of the local prosecutor, Jaime Esparza, does not seem to want to prosecute public corruption and because the news media trips all over themselves pretending they were the “first” ones to uncover the news of public corruption once it seems they feel safe in doing so.
For this reason, I am going to continue updating you with the facts as they become known on these two issues – Larry Romero and the delay of the sales of the ballpark bonds. As for Larry Romero, I believe that in time we will have a clearer understanding of what his involvement is in the controversies and I believe that with what we now know it may end up being another examples of the culture of corruption that permeates El Paso. Whether it is criminal or not is still to be seen, but when several projects bypass city council authority, a change in financial services is attempted, again bypassing city council and a recall organizer has a sudden change of heart because allegedly his livelihood was threatened there can only be one conclusion drawn.