Hubris, and an Attack on Democracy

They felt the wind and thought it was their own breath.

When El Paso blew up, say from somewhere around 2008 until 2012, because of the expansion of Fort Bliss and the influx of refugees from the violence in Juarez, our city “leaders” couldn’t believe how smart they were. What they saw as their success spurred them to take risks. That success gave them license to gamble on an expensive capital improvements program.

Whether of not the citizens wanted it.

The extant regime decide to disguise their goals because they thought they knew better than the voting masses.

In a way, they attacked democracy. Instead of giving the citizens a real choice, they sanitized the options. They bundled the Quality of Life projects so the voters wouldn’t get to cherry-pick their favorites. If you thought El Paso would benefit from a Children’s Museum, or libraries, you had to support an arena they disguised as a Multipurpose Performing Arts Center.

Why did they do it that way?

Because they thought they knew better than us. They ignored the Wisdom of Crowds. They thought the voters were too ignorant to know what was good for them, so they tricked the citizens. They spent hundreds of thousands of dollars convincing El Pasoans that those Quality of Life projects were necessary.

Part of their pitch was that the projects were cheap.

Remember, our past CFO promised us that our property taxes wouldn’t go up very much. But that misdirection was based on inflated expectations of our community’s population and income growth, and false assumptions about the projects’ cost.

Here’s an October 26, 2015 article from the El Paso Inc.

[El Paso City Manager Tommy] Gonzalez, who hired Freese and Nichols to do an overall analysis and a second firm, HNTB, to delve into transportation issues, said he is ready to do what’s necessary to get things moving.

That includes pushing ahead with the Downtown quality of life projects – an arena, children’s museum and Hispanic cultural center.

The city is seeking a private sector company to select the best site for the $180-million arena and to manage the project.

“We have got to get beyond the fact that in 2012, they didn’t budget for inflationary increases, they did not budget for the operation and maintenance of those projects.

“We have to get beyond that; tell the council straight up this is what it’s going to cost.”

. . .

In all, the projected cost of projects the city is looking at is $1.3 billion.

They used lies. Con games. Bait and switch.

That doesn’t sound like democracy to me.


  1. So I have to call you on this, but if you actually read the link to “Wisdom of Crowds” you would notice that at best they “may” be more accurate than experts and in cases where you don’t have enough diversity they can easily be much worse. The Wisdom of Crowds only applies in situations where you can be fairly certain that you are getting a reasonably diverse group participating.

    Unfortunately voting is nothing like that and in many cases you only get the most fired up people bothering to show up to vote. This is why our wonderful city voted to take away benefits from unmarried couples a few years back. That’s a topic that really is none of our business, but you had a few asshats who were really fired up and eager to force their religious view on the rest of us even though objectively we had already been warned that the City would be sued if it implemented that change and that lawsuit would easily be far in excess of what paying out those benefits would be. Did that matter? Nope, the asshats carried the day and City Council ended up passing a new ordinance that did away with their ordinance.

    Hell, even our form of “democracy” isn’t really democracy, we rely on a system of representative democracy where we pick someone to represent us at City Council and those are the folks that make the day-to-day calls. It’s disingenuous to act like we really care about true democracy when we abdicate so much of the running of our government to other people. Yeah it sucks that so man politicians appear to be so easily bought by special interests but we don’t do enough to change that. Not enough of us go to community meetings for projects or to reps monthly meetings so they only hear from a few people who do go and voice their opinions.

    One thing I find so irritating about the recent fuss over the arena is how many of those people most likely didn’t vote or don’t go to meetings to talk to the reps. Yeah protests get you some publicity but in a sense they are too easy to ignore because you always end up with idiots who can’t speak and who blather on about non-issues or separate issues so the message gets confused and diluted. I’ve made a point of getting to know my rep and whenever possible department heads (who often go to community and rep’s monthly meetings) and that’s been beneficial to me when I’ve needed help with something at the City. I’m certainly no Paul Foster or Woody Hunt, but my rep knows me and is willing to listen, make a few calls, and help me out whenever possible.

    In my opinion you need to lay off the conspiracy theories and accept that not enough people give a shit in useful ways and that’s how we end up where we are. If people would make an effort to learn the system, get to know the people in it, and show them that you regularly give a shit about what’s going on, things would change. I’ve seen plenty of stupidity in the City and I can’t think of a single time when it seemed to actually be malicious. Most often messes seem to be some combination of trying to make everyone happy (which will NEVER happen in El Paso) and trying to make improvements to the city with some amount of laziness or ineptitude thrown in to make things interesting. Throwing around accusations of conspiracies and malfeasance just makes everyone twitchy and defensive and they are less likely to listen to useful comments or suggestions.

    1. I disagree sir. And they, the elected officials, get very mean and personal if you exercise your right to free speech and oppose them. Look how they treated dr. Max grossman, stephanie townsend-ayala and so on. What did grossman and ayala do? The bonds and the certificates of obligation are always rammed down our throats and always with lies, minimal tax impact. People don’t vote. They’re tired of the lies and being beaten down. Voting requires trust and a belief in the system. It requires hope. It requires some honesty which is hard to find.

  2. I enjoy our discussions.

    But it’s hard to believe that the process by which the City offered the Quality of Life bonds was anything less than a conspiracy. They hired a consultant to advise them on how to get the bonds passed, and he advised them to disguise the arena and bundle it with a lot of other projects.

    To me, that exceeds the scope of representative democracy. That seems to epitomize backroom dealings. Maybe the City should have invited us to those private meetings. Maybe if the City had publicized their intentions before they voted on the ballpark, you’d have an argument. But that was all a done deal, and there was no dissuading them, despite a very vocal opposition.

    You seem to be saying that constant vigilance is the only way to get honest representation. Why isn’t honest, above board, representation the default? Our representatives should seek out dissenting opinion, instead of just kowtowing to their patrons.

    Sure, our representatives might be amenable to discussion about something like bike lanes. But try to talk to them about some of the big ticket items. They don’t listen.

    At least, that’s been my experience.

    1. The issue I see with inviting “us” to those meetings is that you would never get any sort of consensus on anything. I’ve been to many public meetings where the City is saying “you told us there was a problem on your street and we are proposing to spending $$$ to do ____ to fix that problem and that’s really the only legal option we have” and you’ll still have people complaining because they just don’t like it and don’t want it and their opinion should matter more because “I pay my taxes!”

      Or you’ll have things like the streetcar where TxDOT had earmarked $100M for a certain type of project. San Antonio lost out on the money because they weren’t ready with their streetcar and TxDOT looked around and said “Hey El Paso, you have ‘shovel ready’ plans to build your streetcar? Well here’s the money you need, have fun.” Yet you will always have people (even professors and other people you would expect to know the story better) complaining that the money wasn’t used to fix I-10 or their residential street because they don’t care to understand that a) TxDOT was only going to give the money to a city that had a specific type of plan like the streetcar ready to go and b) that money couldn’t be used to fix a city street because that’s not how TxDOT operates.

      We have a chronically disinterested population that just doesn’t seem to care to even try to understand and keep up with the issues even when the details are in the newspaper or on the 6 o’clock news and yet they want to randomly have a say in what is or is not done without stopping to consider that the people making decisions aren’t going to listen to them because they often jump in complaining about things like the streetcar or the stadium or the arena instead of the topic on hand.

      In my experience you don’t need to be constantly vigilant you just need to show the powers that be that you care and you show up (when appropriate) and pay attention and they will listen to you. Those meetings that most reps have every month is a great place to start. I’m always amazed how it’s almost always the same group of people who show up and chat with each representative and lo and behold the reps will listen to them. I’ve seen exchanges where a rep changes their mind on something or asks City staff to take something into account because person X talked to them about it. What’s even better, the more people support something the easier it gets to get the changes you want, BUT they have to know you a bit before the shit hits the fan. If the only time they see someone is when there’s a problem and that person is upset and cranky, you rep is not going to be as predisposed to hear you out. Throw in some rambling and bitching about something completely off topic and people get written off. However, if they know you from meetings and they know you’re generally calm and reasonable then they’ll take notice if you contact them with a problem or an issue.

      That’s not hard, but people don’t seem to want to put in the time to be involved consistently before there are problems and then they’re surprised when no one listens to them. Quite possibly because the powers that be are listening to the people they know and who they have had interactions with who might be telling them the opposite of what other people are incoherently ranting and raging about.

      1. steve ortega? susie byrd? you are extremely pro on spending taxpayer dollars with no regard to whether taxpayers actually benefit from the expenditures. you are most definitely a politician. veronica escobar?

      2. tbh I stopped reading when you posted “If people would make an effort to learn the system, get to know the people in it, and show them that you regularly give a shit about what’s going on, things would change.” and then as I write this I same the rhetoric of showing them you care.

        I’m not sure what you see but they don’t pay attention to you if you don’t a) Influence b) money Why? cos all they care about is their image and reelection. Majority of the council does not have the best interest for the residents of El Paso and that is fact.

        These projects are shown to be a forgo (google Dennis Zimmerman, Brad Humphreys C-SPAN) and a burden to tax payers but somehow ya know they’re still pushing this because they care about you and me 😉

  3. Bike lanes are a waste. Once in a great while you will see a bike dude. All the lies about it helping fat people and with lanes they could become world champions. Yep, buy me some Jordan jersey and my basketball game will improve enough to get a pro contract.

    The crook administration was nothing but lies and shell games. Joyce outplayed him and pushed her agenda like greased lighting. Remember when she used to sling herself back into her chair when anyone dared to question her.

    FT Bliss was built on the idea that it was the money maker. Despite that was only a temp fix. They also convinced the citizens that they had enough influence to bring the troops from Germany to FT Bliss. Those decisions are made by DOD, p congress not the local yokels and geopolitics. The troops were redeployed throughout the former soviet bloc to stop Russian land grabs.

    Now we are stuck with new empty houses, more empty building, partially occupied apartments. They’re now selling the idea that if they keep building people and businesses will move to El Paso. Not happening until the school system becomes top tier, corruption is stopped, taxes are lowered and wages increased. And, the political musical chair games stop. They think no one does research before moving. They thought the lie of being the safest city would do it. The locals believed it until it was revealed that was a lie. Irvine California had that title. So they tried various explanations to justify the lie. A couple of months ago they tried the same again. Once again it was revealed that was a lie. In five out of six surveys, El Paso didn’t even make the top ten.

    The newly elected council campaigned on no increase in taxes. That was a lie, in less than a month, boom they increased taxes along with every other entity within 50 miles.

  4. For the rest of the story. The partners benefits was passed because cook broke the tie. Why did he vote for the package ? No conspiracy theory or rumor here. His daughter was unmarried with children and her current spouse was a live in. “He voted for the package because a no vote would be a no against his daughter”. So it wasn’t about him being concerned about same partners or gays.

    We can agree that part of the problem is drone voters and nonvoters. The other problem is agreement among the reps to vote a certain way regardless of how the people think. So they go thru the motions of gathering public input. Why does this happen ? They know there is no repercussions for ignoring the city. People scream, moan, threaten but at election time once again the drone voters show up and the nonvoters stay away. Nothing changes.

    Stupidity is the reason for the bad decisions ? if there is no collusion anyone that stupid doesn’t need to be in office. In El Paso, the crooks and bought just rotate the positions. So nothing ever changes.

  5. One thing no one has mentioned about that program to get approval for unmarried spouses was that there were a lot of people covered who shouldn’t have been. The city was going to tax us to help take care of grandchildren? The details were lost in the brouhaha over the unmarried and same sex partners. I had no problem with either but it’s much like Social Security. THAT started out as a supplement to retired pay; it now includes medical expenses for everyone in the immediate family, college tuition for dependents up to the age of 26, and other “benefits”. I’m not a fan of either the city’s benefits or Social Security since it’s not the government’s job at any level to support either your lifestyle or your needs above what you’re paid.
    As far as the quality of life bond, our big problem is twofold. The city lied by omission or by direction, the voters here are apathetic, and those who actually see the truth are too few and not among the kingmakers. Truthfully, no one knows how many of the 100,000+ people who voted for Bond Number 2 actually cared for or voted for all 6 items. If you wanted a children’s museum, you had to vote for the other five; if you wanted the Digie Wall, you had to vote for the other five. Texas Statutes doesn’t have any opinion on this but it should. No municipality should be allowed to bundle bond issues and the bond issue should show how much will be spent for each project.
    Finally, the city didn’t do due diligence or research on how much the projects would cost nor the effect the projects would have. Any person with a cursory examination on the Internet can draw up dozens of reports on how ball parks and arenas affect cities. Just like the “glorious” trolley project that’s supposed to “revitalize” downtown, we are being hoodwinked. How soon after it’s complete are they going to expand it at taxpayer expense? How soon are our taxes going to raise because they didn’t factor in upkeep and maintenance? How many people, when they vote, don’t realize that the city and county (all taxing entities and service companies) that we’re around 4 billion in debt, if not more. This in a city that’s way below the statewide average on income.

  6. Rest of the story about the trolley folly. The hidden secret is they know it will cost 1 million dollars a year to maintain. They want to talk about THAT.

    So where does the rest of the story come from? Got it right from the last administration ! Someone in the know.

    Keep an eye on the tracks, someone is trying to sneak in a few extra blocks that weren’t part of the project.

    1. Go look at the city budgets over the last few years. Interesting reading though rather dull. The city has had to add money to the ballpark bond payment every year, and the total is going to be 20 million extra in payment. Sun Metro (I’m doing this off the top of my head) has a budget of nearly 200 million. They only make around 90 million from fares. Yet they have enough in a rainy day fund to pay for 100 passenger buses that aren’t even half filled most of the day. Incredible amounts of waste when you start looking through the budgets.

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