Would this work?

July 31, 2015

Most of us recall that the voters approved the sale of $120 million of bonds to build our children’s hospital.

Somehow the county hospital got in the act and is charging the children’s hospital $10 million a year for rent.  It looks like the county hospital thinks it got a free building from the taxpayers and the right to charge rent.  Talk about taking candy from babies.

Now the children’s hospital has declared bankruptcy.

What would be wrong with us offering free rent of the $120 million building to a hospital organization that would operate here in El Paso?  Would the Shriners or St. Jude or some other organization be able to make a go of the hospital if they did not have rent expense?

We deserve better

Brutus


Don’t blame me

July 30, 2015

The Times Sunday, July 26, 2015 editorial carried the heading “Editorial: Higher wages, better opportunities required to stem El Paso’s exodus”.

Brilliant!

If wishes were horses beggars would ride.

What has the Times done to help here?

Their editorial fails to mention the high  taxes that stifle growth and spending in our community.  They fail to mention our decaying roads and infrastructure.  They don’t talk about our needless spending on luxuries that we cannot afford.  Spending what little money we have on basic necessities instead of pork projects cleverly cast as ones that improve “Quality of Life” was not part of their piece.

Instead they wrote “The public and private sector leaders of El Paso’s economic development efforts must focus on creating and retaining jobs that pay higher wages.”

They also suggested “That means improved governance and government services, as well as improvements in our entrepreneurial infrastructure.”  The failed to mention our former city manager, the financial mess she left us with, and the fact that she now heads the largest organization responsible for getting El Pasoans jobs.

Nor did they mention that they helped lead the charge to bring the current crop of failed “leaders” and vacuous spending on things like a digital wall to our city.

We deserve better

Brutus


Challenge to the Times

July 29, 2015

The Times seems to have difficulty understanding reality.

They suggest that employers should pay higher wages.

Okay fine.  Go right ahead Times.

Please raise your wages so that you can attract experienced talent that knows how to, has the time to, and is allowed to write pieces that expose the waste fraud and abuse that permeate our local governments.

The Times might argue that they cannot do that because they are in an industry that is declining.  They don’t have enough money they might say.

Would they understand this reality that many of us live with or would they somehow excuse themselves since they seem to think that they are so special?

Would the Times dare to publish their existing wage scale and then bravely increase it in an act of economic leadership that would help our community?

We deserve better

Brutus


Improved capital improvement program

July 28, 2015

Reality Checker asked that we post the city’s email in its entirety.

 

City of El Paso implements 
changes to improve
Capital Improvement Program

 

The City of El Paso is once again reaffirming its commitment to restoring public trust by being transparent and making changes to address concerns raised by City Council last summer when they hired City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.

When Gonzalez arrived council asked him to assess certain areas and develop solutions, if necessary, to address their concerns related to the City’s:

  • Fund balance
  • Revenue projections
  • Ballpark subsidies
  • Capital improvement projects

“Council was justified in having concerns in all these areas. We continue to find deficiencies in operational issues and organizational processes and procedures,” Gonzalez said. “An audit requested by council in the fall of 2014 has allowed us to identify and address issues with the fund balance. Revenue projection concerns were taken care of through our new budget process, which is now tied to the City’s strategic plan. Our Chief Financial Officer successfully resolved ballpark subsidy issues. Where we are continuing to face challenges is with our capital improvement projects.”

CIP Background

The Engineering and Construction Management Department was recently reorganized recently to overhaul the department and to add additional resources and personnel to strengthen the Capital Improvement Program and to address contractor issues, payments, performance and delivery on projects.

Significant changes include:

  • Adding additional engineering staff
  • Providing weekly updates to Mayor and Council on capital improvement projects
  • Creating the CIP Team consisting of several departments that are receiving the completed projects. The change has allowed for operations and maintenance costs to be included in the projects, something that was not factored into the plans in 2012.
  • Implementing a CIP Quarterly Report to update Council and to enhance transparency and communication on projects
  • Initiating an internal audit that was conducted in September 2014 to assess the Capital Improvement Program budget process

“What we’ve found as we dived deep into the CIP operations is that there is more work to be done. Through our reorganization in this area, we are addressing deficiencies related to operations and procedures,” Chief Financial Officer Mark Sutter said.

New Changes

Effective immediately, Airport Director Monica Lombrana will serve as an on-loan administrator to the Capital Improvements Department while continuing with her airport duties.  Her extensive experience with state and federal grants and reimbursements will be an asset to the Capital Improvements Department, which manages projects funded through state and federal grants.

The special assignment of Ms. Lombrana comes on the heels of City Manager Gonzalez recently requesting an internal audit to examine all aspects involving city construction projects, including those funded partly through state and federal grants.

“I had requested the audit on July 1 because I have been asking staff for improved tracking of all documentation related to construction projects. Now, after learning that we had errors in our submittals seeking state and federal funding I am even more confident that this audit is clearly justified and necessary,” Gonzalez said.

The City was recently informed of errors in documentation submitted for projects through the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO). On Wednesday, July 15, 2015, the City for the first time received a document from the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), which it had shared with the media prior to providing it to the City, indicating that the City is pending approximately $21 million in reimbursements from TxDOT.

A review by the City shows the pending reimbursements based on the state’s Letter of Authority for the projects are closer to $9 million, not $21 million and the City is aggressively pursuing 100 percent reimbursement.

For example, as per the state’s Letter of Authority (LOA) the Country Club project total is $14.7 million, which includes the city’s match. The City is pending $3.9 million in reimbursements from TxDOT not $11.3 million.

 

Country Club Project

City Match

$6.8 million

TxDOT Match

$7.9 million

Project Total

$14.7 million

 

“TxDOT will continue working closely with the City of El Paso to assist them in obtaining their pending reimbursements for these important projects,” El Paso District Engineer Bob Bielek said.

Additionally, the City is bringing in two engineering and consulting firms, Freese and Nichols and HNTB, to assess the Capital Improvement Department’s policies and procedures and recommend sound solutions to improve their operational efficiencies and delivery of project management, and to manage the Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) submittal process for transportation projects.

“The community trusted me with the responsibility to change the way city business was done,” Mayor Oscar Leeser said.  “I knew there were business practices that needed changing and for that reason, shortly after taking office, I requested a full audit to help identify issues that needed immediate attention. Everyone wants instant change, but the issues we have now have been in existence well over three years and corrective action and implementation cannot occur overnight. Additionally, as the audit progresses I know we might find more issues that will also need to be addressed. One major change that we have done is to hire a new city manager with a strong financial background, who has the ability to lead the City and to make the necessary changes for the City to prosper.”

What a mess.  We can only hope that the new team can clean it up.

We deserve better.

Brutus


Restoring public trust

July 27, 2015

The city sent out an email the other day.  It is quite remarkable in what it tells us about the prior regime.

From the email:

“The City of El Paso is once again reaffirming its commitment to restoring public trust by being transparent and making changes to address concerns raised by City Council last summer when they hired City Manager Tommy Gonzalez.

When Gonzalez arrived council asked him to assess certain areas and develop solutions, if necessary, to address their concerns related to the City’s:

  • Fund Balance
  • Revenue projections
  • Ballpark subsidies
  • Capital improvement projects

“Council was justified in having concerns in all these areas.  We continue to find deficiencies in operational issues and organizational processes and procedures.”  Gonzalez said.  “An audit requested by council in the fall of 2014 has allowed us to identify and address issues with the fund balance.  Revenue projection concerns were taken care of through our new budget process, which is now tied to the City’s strategic plan.  Our Chief Financial Officer successfully resolved ballpark subsidy issues.  Where we are continuing to face challenges is with our capital improvement projects.”

The email goes on to say that they have essentially fixed the first three but are still working on the issues related to the capital improvement projects.

They acknowledge that public trust has been destroyed.  They are telling us that the prior administration left Mr. Gonzalez with a real mess.

They are telling us that they don’t have their arms around the capital improvement projects and that more bad news is coming.

We deserve better

Brutus


Forced confessions

July 26, 2015

Texas house bill number 1378 has been signed by the governor and is scheduled to take effect January 1, 2016.

The bill requires local governments to be much more open about their debt.  The governments will be required to disclose their total debts but also each individual one.  From the law:

(D)  the combined principal and interest required to pay all outstanding debt obligations on time and in full;

(E)  the combined principal and interest required to pay each outstanding debt obligation on time and in full;

Unfortunately:

 The requirements to compile and report information under Section 140.008, Local Government Code, as added by this Act, apply only to a fiscal year ending on or after the effective date of this Act.  That puts us into 2017 or 2018.

The local governments could voluntarily publish the information before the end of their next fiscal year but I doubt any of us expect them to.

We’ll be on the lookout.

We deserve better

Brutus


Waiting game

July 25, 2015

The list of things that El Paso ranks number one on continues to grow.

Recently we learned that the wait times for certain types of patients at our VA facilities are the longest in the VA system–that’s nationwide.

In typical fashion our elected representatives and paid managers put some of the blame on us not having a permanent director.  We know the story–“we can’t solve the problem now because …”.

Evidently it is okay for the interim director to not get the problem solved.  We need to wait for a permanent director.

Does an interim manager have no power?  If so, why have one?

We deserve better

Brutus


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