As has already been established, the Suncrest Townhomes continues to be a serious point of contention among the community and at City Council. Although, the Housing Authority of El Paso continues to portray the fallacy that this is just about some “disgruntled employees” and nothing else, the reality is that there is much more to this story. The evidence seems to suggest other more serious problems are emanating not only from the administration but also from the Board of Directors, or Commissioner’s of the Housing Authority of El Paso. As is the case with any entity who doesn’t want to be scrutinized the threats of legal action, layers of bureaucratic paper work whose only apparent intent is to mask the truth and innuendo of accusations by misinformed people or disgruntled employees tends to be the mantra of defense.
City Council yesterday issued a strong statement which clearly states that they intend to bring this rogue agency back into control regardless of the Housing Authority’s own actions, by adopting resolution 3B of yesterday’s agenda that effectively neutralized the existing Housing Authority Board. The discussion on this agenda item, calling for the addition of six new Commissioners was discussed in Executive Session before public discussion. Local Attorney Robert Blumenfeld, representing the Housing Authority told the City Council that according to his research the Council had no unilateral authority by which to increase the number of Commissioners and therefore he was asking for postponement of this issue in order to give the Housing Authority Commissioners an opportunity to come to some type of arrangement with City Council. According to Blumenfeld, yesterday’s City Council will in effect put the Housing Authority at a standstill, as the question of who is actually in authority would be open to interpretation. It appears that Blumendfeld’s arguments are based on the notion that the Housing Authority Board’s actions supersede those of the City Council and the Mayor. Citing case law, Blumenfeld attempted to interpret the Housing Authority as some sort of separate corporation, separate and apart from the authority of the Mayor. As clever as this argument was, the fact remains that the ultimate authority over the El Paso Housing Authority is the Mayor as Section 392.031 of the Texas Local Government Code clearly states that the “each municipal housing authority shall be governed by five, seven, nine, or 11 commissioners” which are appointed by the “presiding officer”, the Mayor of El Paso. Blumendfeld’s apparent disingenuous attempt to delay yesterday’s City Council action appears to be nothing more than another delay tactic being employed by the Housing Authority. Blumendfeld added that the Housing Authority of El Paso was willing to enter into negotiations with the city in order to reach an agreement on the additional board members and was willing to work with City Council on the issues. As laudable as this seems, it appears that this is nothing more than a smoke screen by the Housing Authority to buy more time before action is taken. The question is, how much time and why? The answer become readily available as soon as the public realizes that one of the greatest points of contention is the Authority’s Suncrest Project that is currently under consideration for State funding. The City Council has unequivocally stated that it has ordered the Housing Authority to remove from consideration the Suncrest project. According to Blumenfeld, the Housing Authority has attempted to drop the Suncrest project but has been prohibited by its partner; Investment Builders, Inc. Blumendfeld also indicated that, Investment Builders, Inc. is threatening a lawsuit should the Housing Authority terminate their agreement with the Housing Authority. Investment Builders, Inc. has gone so far as to file a temporary court injunction in Austin prohibiting the Housing Authority from withdrawing the application. This led an incredulous City Council Representative Susan Austin to ask Blumenfeld if in fact “one partner is suing another partner?” Blumenfeld replied that, that was the case. As serious as a concern this is, the most obvious concern is the timing of the injunction and its anticipated date of hearing, August 4. This in effect limits the City’s ability to force the termination of the Suncrest Project as the State is slated to fund this project on July 31, making the city’s stated position moot. City Representative Cobos stated to the El Paso Tribune that, “this rogue agency needs to realize that the Housing Authority answers to the City of El Paso and it needs to start respecting Council’s decision.”
Regardless of what position one takes on the issue of yesterday’s Council action, the fact remains that there is a power struggle in effect between the Commissioner’s of the Housing Authority and the City of El Paso, a power struggle that will ultimately be won by the true authority of the city, the City Council of El Paso. The Housing Authority, as of this moment, has declared open rebellion against the city and is hunkering down for a protracted battle. This speaks volumes for the integrity and honesty of the leadership of the Housing Authority of El Paso. Should the Commissioner’s disregard the will of the incoming Commissioners, than there would be no choice but to oust the sitting Commissioners for cause, as they have abdicated their authority and responsibilities and in effect disregarding their mandate. As much as they try and posture as to their authority, the underlining problem is that this is now becoming a serious power struggle between a leftover Caballero regime and the Wardy Administration. Unfortunately for the taxpayers, they will ultimately fund this rebellion. What a shame that the Commissioners of the Housing Authority of El Paso would rather rebel then serve the community they are mandated to serve.
The last minute cancellation of a Special Board Meeting that the Housing Authority had called for yesterday, Blumendfeld’s last ditch efforts to stall Council’s action and Investment Builders, Inc. injunction betrays a sense that money is the driving force behind this apparent insubordination. As it has already been established, the Housing Authority of El Paso is a taxpayer-funded entity that should have no business driving a project against the wishes of City Council solely based on possible revenue. This not only violates the taxpayer’s rights but also borders on egregious possible violations of state and federal statues. At first, the actions of Rudy Montiel tended to leave the impression that this may have been the actions of maybe one or two individuals, but these last minute legal and political maneuverings by the Housing Authority can only come under the direction of one entity, the Commissioners of the Housing Authority. It is obvious that the driving force behind Investment Builder’s Inc. is money and as a private for-profit corporation they have every right to protect their interests. The problem arises in the Housing Authority’s apparent attempt to circumvent the authority of the City. Regardless of the underlining causes, the Commissioners of the Housing Authority are clearly demonstrating that they have no intention to be subservient to the City of El Paso as required and in effect are stating that they don’t answer to the taxpayer’s of El Paso.
These series of articles have not even touched on the allegations leveled against the Housing Authority by former employees as the proper channels for these seems to be the law enforcement agencies of our community. What has been established is that there is a possible issue of “clustering” that the Housing Authority seems to want to ignore in complete disregard to its own mandate. Although technically not illegal at this moment, nevertheless the truth is that the Suncrest Project would have violated a new State statue being implemented in September, had the project being proposed after September. Nevertheless there is no doubt that clustering is a serious consideration that must be taken into account in regards to this project. But the Housing Authority seems to be oblivious to this. By this action alone, the Commissioners of the Housing Authority are disregarding the will of the City of El Paso, which they ultimately answer to.
Unfortunately this saga does not even begin to end here. Not only are we dealing with a rogue agency completely ignoring the will of the City of El Paso but it also appears that the basis of the application for the Suncrest Townhomes Ltd. project itself may be faulty. An examination of the application submitted by the partnership, a partnership in turmoil as one partner is suing another, seems to have contradicting statements in it. In the application, signed by Ike J. Monte on behalf of the partnership, the questions asking if the “applicant” had previously been “been delinquent on filing of any federal or state tax returns”, the form was marked as “no”. Yet, an examination of public records clearly shows multiple state and federal tax liens filed in which Ike J. Monte is specifically named in 2001. The El Paso Tribune was unable to get anyone at the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs on the record to clarify this, but the Texas Administrative Code states that “An Application will be ineligible if a member of the Development Team has been or is [submitting] (3)(b)(a) fraudulent information, knowingly false documentation or other material misrepresentation has been provided in the Application or other information submitted to the department”. The question is whether in the eyes of the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs the “applicant” is Suncrest Townhomes, Ltd. a company that appears to have not been formed yet which leaves it with a clean tax record or the signer of the document, Ike J. Monte. To be fair, it is possible that Ike J. Monte may have been named in the Federal Tax Liens but not actually have been the party who is alleged to have owed the taxes as different jurisdictions treat corporations as separate entities. Nevertheless, it is assumed that at the very least, Ike J. Monte appears to have technically violated the misrepresentation provision of the Texas Code, but of course, only the proper authorities can make that determination. In fact this is not the first time that Monte has been subject to this same scrutiny regarding this same issue as attorney Steve Raney raised these same issues in a letter to the Texas Department of housing and Community Affairs dated July 23, 2001.
This saga, to the embarrassment of El Paso, continues to play out in public, yet the Housing Authority Commissioner’s response has been to allow an employee of theirs to publicly challenge the authority of City Council and the Mayor before another governmental body. Rudy Montiel, completely disregarded the will and direction of his employer when he in fact insinuated that City Council and the Mayor were misinformed, an apparent case of insubordination. The Housing Authority’s partner is in fact suing the Authority. One would expect that a Board would take these allegations and problems of community perception seriously and at least pay lip service to it publicly. Yet, to date, no action has been taken by the Commissioners of the Housing Authority of El Paso besides telling the City Council by its actions that it does not intend to serve the will of the community. They haven’t even bothered to start an investigation of these serious problems. This forces the community to question whether the Commissioners of the Housing Authority even acknowledge that the true authority of this agency is the taxpayers. Their disregard and lack of action on these items should be sufficient grounds by which the community should demand accountability, after all disregarding an apparent action of insubordination could be indicative of more serious problems to come. The taxpayer’s monies cannot and should not be subjected to possible abuse, there is too much riding on this, not to mention the welfare of the people the Housing Authority says it serves.
Unfortunately for the Taxpayer, we aren’t done yet. Not only do we have a potential clustering problem, a potential problem of insubordination, a public fight between the Housing Authority and its partner, Ike J. Monte but also we must now add a potential circumvention of the procurement laws. From the mountains of paper whose only apparent function is to mask the true nature of the entity, it is hard to discern who the true controlling party is of the Suncrest Townhomes. There is no doubt that Paisano Housing Redevelopment Corporation is subject to government oversight, regardless of their stated non-profit designation. There is also no doubt that the application for Tax Credits for the Suncrest Townhomes, Ltd. project was submitted by Ike J. Monte, giving the appearance of a for-profit entity. The complex paper trail seems to indicate that the Suncrest Townhomes project was given preference over more qualified applicants because of it’s “non-profit” designation, yet it also appears from the evidence that this non-profit is in fact an extension of the Housing Authority of El Paso, a government agency. This forces the question of whether the taxpayer, the ultimate source of funds for both the Housing Authority and the proposed Suncrest Townhomes received a guarantee that this is the best use of the taxpayer’s monies. Of course, opponents will try to paint this as an action of one developer against another. Whether this is true is not the issue, the issue is whether the public is getting the best value for their money. Only open, public competition assures this. Unfortunately, the only way to determine if in fact the taxpayer is benefiting from this relationship is to follow established protocol and allow all vendors to bid on the project. Yet, the Housing Authority seems to hold on to the notion that this is not a government project which means the taxpayer has no say in this action, yet the intent to use taxpayer monies still exists. No bidding has been held for the Suncrest Townhomes.
On the other hand, if this project is truly a for-profit endeavor then the designation that gave it priority over more qualified vendors needs to be immediately removed in order to level the playing field. The Suncrest project cannot have it both ways, benefit from the partnership of the government agency yet avoid following established government procedure. By allowing this to continue unchallenged, the taxpayers will be the ultimate losers now and in the future. Not only are the tax monies subject to abuse but also by allowing this to continue only empowers those who wish to steal from the public trough. If nothing else, one would think that the Housing Authority would be anxious to dispel any rumormongering and address these issue for the simple reason of maintaining the public’s goodwill. Instead of addressing the issues, the Housing Authority continues to hold on to the notion that this issue is just about a few “disgruntled employees”.
Regardless of the disposition of the Suncrest project, the Housing Authority of El Paso has an obligation to the citizen’s of the community. These issues need to be immediately and effectively addressed to the satisfaction of the taxpayer’s. There is no smoking gun; because if one existed the protagonists would be lined up in front of a judge right about now. Instead what we have is a preponderous of the evidence that seems to suggest serious problems not only with the Suncrest project but also the Housing Authority itself. There are too many unanswered questions and piles of papers that seem to forget one thing, the taxpayer; after all, they fund the project. Taken individually, each apparent issue should be sufficient to question the actions of the leadership of the Housing Authority. Taken together, there is no doubt that this is much more than just about competitors or the Authority’s favorite – disgruntled employees. Regardless of the position one may take on this issue, the fact remains that the Suncrest Townhomes is a serious problem for the Housing Authority of El Paso and one that needs to be addressed today, not tomorrow.
The Commissioner’s of the Housing Authority and Rudy Montiel seem to be oblivious to these allegations as their inaction, except to publicly distance themselves from the authority of the City Council speaks volumes. Their disregard for these issues betrays a sense of complete disdain for the public’s right to know at best and at worst some serious problems that may threaten to bring the Housing Authority crumbling down upon itself. This is more than sufficient indication that not only is it time for Rudy Montiel to step down but also time for the complete revamping of the board itself. Many questions, but no apparent answers, except for piles of paper creating the illusion that all is fine in fantasyland. Unfortunately, in this case, fantasyland is being funded by the taxpayers. Author’s note: This is the last article of a five part series that started on Friday.