smoke-episd1The fact is that although this phrase is in the common vernacular it is not exactly true. There are many instances where smoke does not signify there is a fire. However, appearance is everything. This is especially true in the political realm. It is even more important that the appearance of impropriety not be suggested in the city still recovering from a public corruption scandal.

Knowing this it still surprises me that the unelected board of the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) would allow even the hint that corruption may exist especially when they were put in place because rampant corruption required that the State take over and remove the elected officials.

The issue of the health insurance is an important issue however; the conversation has been taken away from what would benefit EPISD employees to who could corruptly be making money off the deal. The fact is that we don’t have many facts about whether changing the insurance provider is beneficial to the employees, and more importantly the taxpayers, because as usual the public conversation is masked in innuendo. The local news media is nothing more than a public relations extension for the government entities they purportedly report on.

As a result, the community is left to wonder if this isn’t another corrupt move to line the pockets of a few.

There are currently two major points in contention. One is that the current health insurance provider is too expensive for the EPISD employees and that there are alternative private options for them. The other is that the current board president is pushing forth the change to benefit his own business interests.

One current teacher shared with me that the current health insurance provider costs them $217 a month, down from the previous provider of almost $600 a month for about the same coverage. The rhetoric from the politicians, on the other hand, is that the current provider is too expensive. The news media reports cloud the issue even further with incomplete 60-second bytes and self-serving pronouncements on both sides of the debate.

Because of this, we have no idea about whether the change is appropriate or not. What we do have is that the process is tainted with the stench of corruption.

The simple solution to the whole debacle would have been an articulated argument about making the change being led by someone not connected to the health insurance industry. If the current cost, is in fact, too expensive for the employees of the school district then why is the move to change health providers being led by someone in the industry, and not an employee?

Some will argue, what better then to have someone that understands the complexity of the insurance industry looking for a cheaper alternative. It is a valid argument but one that fails when the context of the whole issue is connected.

Dee Margo was appointed by officials of the State of Texas because the previous school board was so riddled with corruption that the only alternative was to remove the people’s choice and replace them with appointees. In a Democracy, the removal of elected officials is the worst result of a community who has let corruption dominate the whole process. As a result, the people’s vote must be set aside and the whole system cleansed from the inside out.

Dee Margo, as an unelected official, was supposed to be part of the cleansing of the corruption stigma permeating throughout EPISD. He was supposed to instill trust into the school district. Instead, what the taxpayers are being forced to witness is a health-insurance industry connected individual who has made his living from selling health insurance look to remove the current health provider and replace it with one from the private sector.

Does Margo stand to benefit from the transaction? I don’t know and I know that he will argue that his only interest is looking out for the employees of EPISD and the taxpayers of the community. So why does it stink so much?

According the news sources that I have read, not one has reported that Dee Margo has abstained from voting or participating in the health insurance discussion. The public perception, whether true or not, is that he is leading the effort to replace the health insurance provider. Why?

Dee Margo’s job was to bring back trust to a political entity that was so riddled with corruption that its elected officials had to be replaced with appointed ones. How can trust be brought back if the appearance of impropriety rests squarely on the shoulders of the board chair?

A simple recusal would have been all that was needed, however even that appears to have been too much for Margo.

Martin Paredes

Martín Paredes is a Mexican immigrant who built his business on the U.S.-Mexican border. As an immigrant, Martín brings the perspective of someone who sees México as a native through the experience...

2 replies on “If There is Smoke There Must be Fire”

  1. Corruption in El Paso is like a drug addict or alcoholic. Until you admit you have a problem, it won’t end. Perhaps the real problem is that El Paso has been corrupt so long, corruption or unethical behavior isn’t recognized or just accepted.

    Smoke and fire? And here I thought it was pollution clouds over the county.

    The school system problem is not be taken lightly. Its serious enough to keep families or corporations from moving here. A couple of years ago, we heard the story, from a reliable source, that a professor had accepted a position at UTEP until his wife read about the school system issues. The professor then declined the position. Look at the high school drop out rates, look at the number of college graduates that can’t compose term papers among other problems. The standards at UTEP need to be raised not lowered to accommodate certain students. That’s not helping them. Once they travel out of El Paso they can’t compete.

    The salaries and benefits packages paid to the “experts” rival the Saudi family.

    Until the corruption and unethical behavior ends, all the prepaid PR titles will not do a damn thing for EL Paso.

  2. “previous school board was so riddled with corruption”
    Probably more incompetence than corruption and that is what enabled the real corruption of Garcia et al.

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