This is going to be one of those long posts that some of you hate. I can’t help it because there is so much to discuss about Tommy Gonzalez’ pay raise fiasco. Despair not, I’m breaking it up into two sections, I will devote the next seven short paragraphs to the fact that El Paso has lived up to its backwards, small world mentality that everyone thinks about when you mention El Paso. In the subsequent paragraphs, I’m going to delve deeper into the various issues that this fiasco has raised. It has always been my contention that El Paso does not have a clear historical record about the various issues it faces and thus the context is often lost about today’s issues because there is no record to rely on. As a consequence, I have been trying to create an ongoing public record that we can look back to as new issues arise or old ones reemerge. The final paragraphs will help keep the public record intact.
For those of you chomping at the bit for the unvarnished truth here it goes. What we all witnessed yesterday, in regards to Claudia Ordaz’ agenda item about Tommy Gonzalez’ pay raise, is a clear example of how government operates in El Paso. It operates in an opaque fashion where a select group of individuals, though their money, place elected officials in government so that they can control the public policy agenda.
Although the political rhetoric was thick in political talk and public perception deflection about whether Tommy Gonzalez deserved the pay raise or not, the fact remains that the issue at hand is that the process was wrong.
The process was wrong.
That is the issue that faced city council yesterday and the result is that city council proved that El Paso is nothing more than a backwards provincial town still run like an old-style godfather-led type of government. That is why corruption is rampant within the city.
Yesterday’s city council agenda item proves that El Paso cannot be the city it strives to be because it is so backwards it doesn’t even realize that it is.
As is typical in an oligarchy, the elected officials do not comprehend the magnitude of their ineptitude and thus you get what you witnessed yesterday. It was a clown show led by elected officials elected at the behest of monied people putting bodies in place for their public policy agenda.
Those of you that hate my long-winded and in depth articles can stop reading at this point, as I will focus the rest of my blog post on creating a public record for future reference.
It Could Have Been Stifled
I have to give credit to the city council for not doing something I expected them to do and that is to move to delete the item. Under their rules, any of the proponents could have moved to delete the item and upon a second could have stopped the discussion without comment with a majority vote. They had the votes to delete the item and no one made the motion.
What the reasons for this is unclear to me at this point. It is possible that no one understood where Peter Svarzbein was leaning towards and rather than force the mayor to cast a tie vote, they decided to allow the measure to be discussed.
It could have been as simple as no one thinking about deleting the item.
I don’t know and I’m not sure we will ever know.
The Culture of Corruption
City council found itself in the mess of embarrassing itself because of its culture of corruption. At its most basic core, the fact that this became the issue that it did is the result of the taxpayers of the city having no trust in their government officials. Taxpayers and the electorate do not trust their government to act in their best interest. Because of that, city council, yesterday demonstrated to the world how inept it truly is.
Tommy Gonzalez’ Future in El Paso
Much of the rhetoric yesterday focused on how great Tommy Gonzalez is, as the city’s second city manager, and how it would be a shame to lose him to another city. We have all heard the rumors of Tommy Gonzalez’ family not being happy in El Paso. It was also alluded that other cities may be looking at him.
Whether these things are true or not are immaterial now because city council yesterday irreversibly damaged its relationship with the city manager. City council clearly showed that it could be swayed by political pressures regardless of the damage it can do to those around them.
Who, among you, would be willing to work in an environment where you are promised a pay raise today and it is subsequently rescinded the next day because of political pressure?
Tommy Gonzalez, and his family, were told clearly that El Paso is not the vibrant and growing city it purports to be but rather the provincial town where back door politics rules the day.
Do you really believe that simpleton political rhetoric can fix that? As soon as the opportunity arises, Gonzalez will jump at the chance to leave the city as quickly as possible.
If an opportunity does not arise, then it has just been proven that the raise was not necessary at all.
In both scenario, El Paso lost because of its own ineptitude.
There is only one reason Claudia Ordaz put the item on the agenda. Whether she acknowledges it or not, the fact is that she voted for the raise and then voted against it. In other words, she put the agenda item simply to embarrass certain city politicians.
It was plain and simple revenge because of how she was embarrassed on the MPO issue.
On the other hand, Claudia Ordaz gave us an opportunity to witness, first-hand, the ineptitude and the continued corrupt manner in which city government is run.
It is important to reiterate that this would not have been an issue had city council openly posted the original item and informed the community properly about what they were considering.
There are those that will argue that it is a personnel issue that the community should not participate in. To those individuals, I simply point them to the soliloquy that Cortney Niland used to articulate why Tommy Gonzalez deserved the raise.
Had city council openly discussed the item, then Niland’s list of accomplishments would have dissuaded some of the naysayers and would have kept the city from exposing its ineptitude to the world.
Several individuals commented that Cortney Niland’s list of some 20 plus items showing Gonzalez’s accomplishment is one of the longest comments made by an elected official during a city council session.
Let’s face it, Niland pretended that this was her “due diligence” for her initial vote but we all know that it was an attempt to explain her vote and embarrass Claudia Ordaz.
Regardless, it proves that if the city had a culture of openness not only would most informed individuals have embraced the pay raise for the city manager but the clown-show put on yesterday would have been averted. Best of all, Tommy Gonzalez and his family would be looking at staying in the city rather than contemplating an exit strategy today.
Larry Romero both acknowledged that he was the one that initiated the pay raise and he also demonstrated what a typical El Pasoan is. It has been established that Romero was the one that pushed forth the raise for the city manager and marshaled it through to the actual vote.
Rather than accept that as a fact, he instead looked to blame others for the public misconceptions. First, he blamed the city attorney, Sylvia Firth-Borunda, for the way the item was posted, and second, he tried to deflect attention about the controversy towards the local newspaper. In blaming Firth-Borunda, Larry Romero told the public that it was she that worded the posting of the original item on the agenda.
He also lambasted the local paper’s editorial board for writing that the community was surprised by the city manager’s raise. Romero argued that the local newspaper should have known that the original agenda item, regardless of its ambiguity, was about the pay raise, because the reporter told him that he shouldn’t be “coy” about it.
Apparently, the rumors were that the item was for a raise and the reporter was doing what she needed to do to confirm it by reaching out to a public official. Larry Romero posted the item on the agenda so obviously it was he that the reporter assumed would know the reasons behind the posting. When the reporter asked, Romero responded that it was an executive session item and thus could not comment on it. In other words, Larry Romero refused to confirm the rumors while at the same expecting the newspaper to be aware that the rumors were correct.
This is what a typical El Pasoan does, when caught with their hand in the cookie jar they respond by blaming others instead of taking responsibility.
The public discussion cemented once again that city council discusses items in executive session in order to keep them away from the public. The discussion proved two things. The first is that Oscar Leeser wants to keep public dissention away from the public. It was revealed that in executive session, Leeser told the city council members that questions that could lead to disparaging remarks should be made in executive session and not in open session.
Oscar Leeser is trying desperately to keep the lie going that El Paso is a modern city able to compete with other cities in the country. To do so he is trying to control the public discussion. Regardless of how you feel about this, it is important to note that executive session is reserved, legally, to very narrow issues. Keeping city representatives from expressing points of view that may not be palatable is a misuse of executive session.
What has been happening is that executive session is being used to keep the truth behind closed doors.
The other issue with executive session, that was revealed yesterday, is that the information that is released to the community is not the same information that city council sees in executive session. I am not writing about information that is legally allowed to be kept from the public.
In yesterday’s discussion, it was revealed that the “market analysis” that was created and presented by Larry Romero and was the basis of the pay raise is not the same that was released to the news media and the community.
I have always felt that the city keeps two sets of information, what it releases to the public and what the truth is. Yesterday it was shown that this is true.
This reinforces the reasons for yesterday’s debacle in that the community has no trust in the city.
There are no two ways about it, Peter Svarzbein was elected on a “progressive” platform but in reality is nothing more than a puppet for those that funded his campaign. Before his supporters start bellyaching, consider that Peter Svarzbein is yet to cast a single vote for the “progressive” agenda.
Instead, when an issue is between the “progressive agenda” and that of his campaign contributors there is no contest, Peter Svarzbein has so far voted for the contributors.
I have always believed that the “progressives” of the city is nothing more than a label bestowed upon a candidate, by the oligarchy, so that they can hoodwink someone into office. Every progressive down from the Ray Caballero regime, on down has embarked upon a public policy agenda that has supported a very narrow group of individuals that have benefited from their votes.
Peter Svarzbein proved that with his vote yesterday.
Whether you agree with all, none or just of a few of my comments herein is immaterial because I truly believe that what we all witnessed yesterday clearly demonstrates how dysfunctional the City of El Paso is.
For those of you that privately send me emails asking me to tone down my “hatred” for El Paso please remember the fiasco that you all witnessed yesterday because it is now a matter of public record. It clearly proves El Paso is not yet ready to join the ranks of modern cities anywhere in the world.