Harsh?

October 22, 2014

A  22 year old man was convicted a few weeks ago of setting a fire in the Coronado Tower building.  He was sentenced to five years in a federal prison followed by three years of supervised release.

He evidently confessed so  he is now guilty and should be punished.

What caught my eye first is that he was prosecuted in the federal system instead of ours here in Texas.

Why?

Interstate commerce

The fed’s position was that the Coronado Tower is involved in interstate or international commerce.  By that rationale almost every building in El Paso would qualify.

Why did the feds prosecute the crime instead of the state?  Could it be that they are interested in keeping their volume up to justify their size?  Is Texas incapable of administering justice in a toilet paper fire case?  Don’t the feds have enough to do without handling cases that can be handled by the state?

Five years

Another thing that caught my attention is the severity of the punishment.  I can’t help but wonder what kind of a citizen he will be at 27 years old having spent five years in prison.

Have we lost our bearings here?

We deserve better

Brutus


Good appointment

October 21, 2014

Also on the Tuesday, October 21, 2014 city council agenda is an item that would appoint John Karlshruher to the Camino Real Regional Mobility Authority.

I’m not in favor of the existence of the authority.  To me it is just another way for council to do things that we don’t want and then deny responsibility.  I recognize that some good can come from the authority but would prefer that city council not hide behind an appointed board.

If the Karlshruher in question is the one that I am thinking about, he is eminently qualified.  His company’s web site includes this statement from him:  “I bring a no-nonsense approach to applying engineering principles to construction with the firm knowledge of the needs of the owner and the design professionals.”

No kidding.  His reputation for competence, honesty, and straight shooting are well deserved.

On the other hand

Part of the executive session will evidently include consideration of the software piracy case that an out of town vendor has brought against the city.

Companies rarely sue their clients.  It isn’t good for future business.  In this case two companies have taken the unusual path of taking their client into federal court.  There evidently was at least one mediation session that has failed to bring results.

The former city manager, the former chief financial officer, and the former budget chief are no longer with the city.  The city is using out of town lawyers to defend itself.

This doesn’t look good for the taxpayers.

We deserve better

Brutus


Well refined zoning change

October 20, 2014

The Tuesday, October 21, 2014 city council agenda has an item on it that proposes changing the zoning of a city owned parcel from R-5 residential to S-D special development.

The backup material shows virtually every city department either recommending the change or at least not opposing it.

Neighborhood opposition

According to the backup material:

“The San Juan Neighborhood Association was opposed to the rezoning request citing concerns over commercial uses close to their existing homes and submitted a petition with 32 signatures from the association members.  The petition did not trigger a 211 based on State Code requirements.”

Well I guess if the petition did not force a 211 then the city ought to go right ahead and ignore the neighbors.  By the way Texas local government code section 211 gives property owners near a proposed zoning change the right to protest the change.  If they meet the requirements of the code city council would have to have 75% of it’s members vote for the change in order for it to take place.  Since the petition did not qualify council can do this with a simple majority.

In order to have qualified the petition would have to have included signatures from the owners of 20% of the property area within 200 feet of the land in question.  In other words this is not one man one vote, this requirement is based upon a percentage of the area around the land in question.

Wonder why?

Take a look at this graphic:

refinery

It’s nice to know that oil refineries have rights too.

It is interesting to note that four of the people who signed the petition gave their address as TxDOT and their phone number as a TxDOT office.  Which office?  A TxDOT document lists the phone number in a list of district environmental coordinators.

The people promoting the petition probably did not know that the signatures had to be from property owners within 200 feet of the land to be rezoned and that they would need to get about 40% of those owners to sign since about half of the land appears to be owned by commercial interests.  Somehow I doubt that our city staff went out of their way to explain this to the San Juan Neighborhood Association.

We deserve better

Brutus

 


What’s fair here?

October 19, 2014

The  Tuesday, October 7, 2014 city council approved the purchase of a private residence and the land surrounding it to provide a place for the aquatic center that we authorized as part of the 2012 bonds.

The city approved spending $275,000 for the property.  The property is  valued at $113,865 by the central appraisal district.

City staff tells us that the taxpayers are getting a good deal.

How can that be?  Is the central appraisal district wrong here?  Has the property owner been benefiting from a low valuation?

Is the city giving our money away?

Good choice

It looks like the city is actually right here.  The property is adjacent to an existing city park.  That will allow them great flexibility when configuring the aquatic center into the combined properties.  The center will be close to the North/South freeway and thus be quite accessible.

The central appraisal district has the land valued at $1 per square foot.  They have the surrounding properties valued at about $1.50 per square foot.

The city could have used its power of eminent domain to take the property.  I’m glad they did not.

Maybe lightning struck here and the property owner just won the lottery.  Obviously the land is worth more than it is on the tax rolls for.

We have to wonder how many other undervalued properties we have on the tax rolls.

We deserve better

Brutus


EPISD maintenance

October 18, 2014

According to the “Facility Master Plan Draft Background Report” on the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) web site the district will decrease in size by about 5,200 students between now and the 2019-20 school year.  The report indicates that the district currently has about 61,000 students.

The district is trying to develop a strategy for dealing with the excess facilities that they will have.

Should they operate all of the existing schools at below optimum capacities or should they close some and consolidate student bodies?  Don’t be surprised if they even consider building new schools that are better located.  Texas law requires the school district to provide transportation for students that live more than two miles from the school that they would normally go to.

A disturbing part of the report addresses “Current Condition Cost” for each school.  While the report does not explain the meaning of the term, looking at the sample chart below we can reasonably conclude that the term means “repairs/improvements that need to be made”.

episd-current-condition

The report lists over $101 million dollars for elementary schools, $45 million for middle schools, and $86 million for high schools.  That comes to over $232 million.

The EPISD has deferred a lot of maintenance here.  What will they ultimately do?  Believe it or not they will probably propose a bond issue.

Also, remember that the central office is on city land and we are being told that the district will have to move in a couple of years.  The cost?  District officials are telling us $40 million.

We deserve better

Brutus


Disappointed

October 17, 2014

We have disappointing news that our new city manager has the entitlement mentality.

When he agreed to come to El Paso part of his compensation package was an allowance of $10,000 for moving.

Now in the Tuesday, October 14, 2014 city council meeting we saw the city increase that amount to $26,000.

Try asking for that kind of treatment from your boss.

A deal is a deal.

You can read his original contract here.

We deserve better

Brutus


Spend, don’t think

October 16, 2014

Our city  has once again decided to spend our money without thinking.

As we know, members of council have switched seats because they cannot get along together.

When the new city council room was built the city added room for two more members.  The two new city council positions are the result of changes in our city charter.  Those positions will be created when our population reaches one million residents.

One of our council members decided to vacate her position and then bumped another out of her existing seat.  As a result one member does not have the electronic equipment that the others have.

We learned this week that the city is going to spend approximately $6,800 setting up the new seat.

Why?

Without getting into the discussion about who should sit where, a question needs to be asked.

Why not move the equipment from the vacant position to the newly occupied one?  The city might have to hire some expert equipment movers to do this if the city staff cannot handle it.

Either way we would have some labor cost but would not need to buy new equipment.

Where was management on this?

Would anyone be surprised if the next thing we hear is that “it isn’t fair, she has new equipment and I don’t”.

We deserve better

Brutus


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