City Council Notes & Quotes 8.19.2003
By Sidney Hall Maven
Posted on August 22, 2003
Congratulations to Mayor Wardy on another five and a half hour meeting. What's interesting about the new "layout" of the Council meetings is that all the development, growth and zoning issues were pushed toward the end of the meeting--after a mid-meeting executive session. The media might have all gone on to do other things by that time, but waiting for catfish to bite has taught this old man something about patience.
Park Is for Parking, Not For Trees
The first item up was whether or not to build a recreation center at Album Park.
The Album Park Preservation Association asked the Mayor and Council to "terminate approval for construction of a recreational facility in Eastwood Park (Album Park) and authorize the reallocation of the $4.5 million dollars elsewhere in the City's park system." Although the Album Park Recreation Center was approved by El Paso voters in the 2000 bond election, neighborhood residents are claiming they were unaware of the details surrounding the project; and now that they know, they don't want it. They say losing many acres of park and green space to the rec center and its parking lot would be detrimental to their neighborhood.
Right off the bat, Rep. John Cook scolded the Association's spokesman, Thomas Hail, for referring to Council as "politicians" and "bureaucrats" while "trying to get something" from them. "You get more flies with honey than you do with vinegar" was his advice. When Hail tried to respond, Cook cut him off, "I sat and listened to you rant and rave for awhile." I suppose the good representative doesn't yet understand listening to regular folks "rant and rave" is right there in his job description.
Rep. Dan Power followed right behind, criticizing the group for not being informed. He argued that the bond issue was well publicized in the El Paso Times, in town hall meetings, and through the Internet. He continued: If the residents had wanted to make difference, they've missed their opportunity--the bond proposals are set in stone and "sacred." But really, here on Earth, how many of you studied every line item on the pages of projects they printed in one edition of the Times and handed around at town hall meetings? From what I recall, we just wanted more parks and better parks--and that's what we voted for.
Now, what is all the fuss about?
One other thing. About an hour into the discussion, Patricia Williams--a member of that younger generation that's leaving El Paso in droves--made a tearful, impassioned plea to kill the project and save the park. She said to Wardy, "I voted for you, Mayor Wardy, because while I believe in the central core and the Plaza. You said you'd be the 'neighborhood mayor'. That's why I voted for you." Wardy had nothing to say in response.
The issue will be taken up again at the Bond Oversight Advisory Committee (BOAC) this Monday, August 25th at 3:00 PM on the 10th Floor of City Hall, 2 Civic Center Plaza.
Tourism Plan Step 1 - Vacate Leadership
Rep. Dan Power led item 16A. "Discussion and action on developing an economic incentive package for the purpose of promoting tourism venues & attracting a destination attraction in El Paso." The Council asked the City's Economic Development Department to work with the Convention and Visitor's Bureau to create this package. On a side note, this will be an interesting venture, given the recent resignations of both the Director and the Associate Director of the Economic Development Department.
Charting New Waters, Maybe
Mark your calendars. The City Charter Election has been changed to February 7, 2004. CAO Jim Martinez stated that there will be a special council meeting set for specific discussion on the items to be included.
The Housing Finance Power Consolidation
The deal is done and you all saw it coming. The Housing Finance Corporation has three new members. Michael H. Bray replaces Evelina Ortega. Dan Power replaces Jan Sumrall. And the eloquent Vivian Rojas replaces Larry Medina.
All three members had not completed their three year terms, but were removed, according to Cook, for "social engineering." Either he was talking about driving commuter choo-choo trains, designing and constructing fraternity-homes, or what those nuts at the LBJ school in Austin call "public policy implementation." I'll get back to you when I find out which one.
After council returned from executive session, Steve Ortega spoke about sprawl, smart growth, and the fact that Wardy was elected because he assured the citizens that he would listen to all voices; however, instead of allowing the three individuals to serve out the remainder of their six-year terms on the Housing Finance Corporation, Wardy unilaterally silenced those with a "different philosophy" in this community.
Taylor Moore also spoke, and he discussed the fact that city positions have been politicized, and that experienced city personnel have been replaced by individuals with no expertise in municipal government, and their only qualifications are their loyalty to Jobe. He also said that removing people with six-year terms is political. Wardy told Moore to address the item or "step away from the podium."
Moore reiterated that Wardy has politicized the city, and he asked Wardy to inform him whether or not Stanley Jobe and/or his representatives, Martie Jobe or Luther Jones have discussed any item on the agenda with him. Wardy claimed to feel insulted, called Moore "hysterical" and told Moore that he didn't discuss the items with either attorney. Moore also wanted to know if any recent donations had been made by Jobe to the mayor and council; no one answered the question.
Wardy spoke up and said he asked the HFC members to resign "personally, by letter" to make room for two new council members. Wardy claimed that the City had to send back $21 million in unused monies, which is why he wanted to remove three of the existing board members. What Wardy didn't discuss, though--and what seemed to be inconsistent--is that if the whole board is a problem, then, why not remove the entire board? Susan Austin asked if the previous board members had been removed by the previous Mayor. Ortega informed her that the terms of the previous board members had expired when the new members were appointed.
John Cook and Dan Power both said they were "troubled" by the process of removing members who still had plenty of time left to serve out their term, and council decided to vote on removing each board member as separate items. Item 4K (removal of Lina Ortega), Austin, Cook and Escobar voted "no"; Item 4L (removal of Jan Sumrall), Cook voted "no" and Power abstained; Item 4M (removal of Larry Medina), Cook and Escobar voted "no." Kudos to Ortega and Moore for speaking up on the issue and good for Cook and Escobar for voting "no."
New Developments on the Westside
Interestingly enough, the next item was also about growth.
The issue here was changing Upper Valley zoning in order to allow for more commercial zoning in an area that is mostly rural. A community representative spoke about the fact that the area does not have the infrastructure to support the growth the developers want to create. He also complained about Rep. Austin not being responsive to their concerns and about the fact that residents are not properly informed of zoning changes that will have an impact on their neighborhood.
Even ankle-biter extraordinaire, Ray Gilbert, spoke out against unbridled growth. Rep. Susan Austin bristled when a Mr. Clark (didn't catch his first name), one of the public speakers, stated that up to 40% of her campaign contributions came from developers and builders. Wardy came to her defense and asked him to wrap up. Mr. Clark questioned whether rezoning this area would be payback for developers or for the greater good of the community. Another resident from the area complained that there's no link between the city and the community. The community members from that area want "controlled growth," asked for more public meetings, and said that developers have "no compassion" for the community. Cindy Crosby, former Assistant City Attorney and attorney of record for the developer, said that the developer was there to "service the city."
The council voted to allow the commercial zoning. Power, Rojas and Cobos voted "no."
A Tie-Breaker to Postpone 6 Months
Mayor Wardy cast an important tie-breaking vote on the issue of whether or not to postpone discussion on 3rd party permitting for six months. Third party permitting would allow an outside firm in the private sector to handle the City's permitting. During his campaign, Wardy promised he would see this issue pass because some builders complain that the permitting process takes too long. There were several people waiting to comment on the council item and who had been sitting during a lengthy council meeting who were not allowed to speak because of the postponement. Wonder how those builders feel now? See you guys in six months.
The following item was deleted by CAO, Jim Martinez. No word was given on whether or not this request will be brought back in the coming weeks.
1. Request to fill positions on a temporary basis in accordance with Article VI, Section 6.6-3, of the Civil Service Charter Provisions:
A. Staff Assistant (1)
[Mayor & Council, Jim Martinez, (915) 541-4015]
B. Staff Assistant (1)
[Mayor & Council, Jim Martinez, (915) 541-4015]
C. Public Relations Liaison (1)
[Mayor Joe Wardy, (915) 541-4015]
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