Mayor Leeser: Smoke and Mirrors

Yesterday’s city council meeting was nothing more than an exercise in bureaucratic smoke-and-mirrors by Oscar Leeser and Joyce Wilson. As excited as many were about the two items; 1A and 1B, in the Additions to the Agenda that basically added Oscar Leeser to the workflow in authorizing additional rental, and or purchases for city hall as well as the construction of the ballpark, in the end the items do nothing for the taxpayers of the community. Item 13, the city manager’s report back to council on the directive regarding the request for personal guarantees from the ownership group accomplished nothing as well.

Many people, including myself, were excited about items 1A and 1B that seemed to indicate that the mayor was about to show much needed leadership for the city’s future direction. Item 1A; “Discussion and action regarding a Resolution to revoke authority granted to the City Manager by the motion of City Council dated November 6, 2012, with regard to the leasing or purchasing of office space and parking in the Central Business District required for the relocation of City operations as a result of the relocation of City Hall” was nothing more than “closing off” a project that had been completed.

The original authorization to the city manager was to act on behalf of the city to acquire and negotiate office space for city hall to move into prior to the demolition of the city’s building. Because of the necessity for timely action due to the fast-track of the ballpark, the city manager was afforded expanded powers by city council. Now that the majority of the rental and purchase agreements, if not all, have been completed, yesterdays city council’s action was nothing more than housekeeping.

Likewise, item 1B; “Discussion and action regarding a Resolution modifying the authority granted to the City Manager in connection with the awarding of Solicitation No. 2013-109R to Jordan Hunt, a Texas Joint Venture for the construction of the ballpark and requiring the exercise of all such authority be made in consultation with the Mayor of the City of El Paso”, although on the surface, this seems to be that the mayor is getting involved directly in the decision making process of the ballpark, in reality he is just demanding that he be kept in the loop and that no more surprises be brought to city council.

Both items were unanimously adopted by city council on a motion made by Lily Limon and seconded by Carl Robinson.

In some ways the passage of the items is a good thing in that, at least, the mayor is showing leadership by publicly stating that he is now in the loop in the negotiations. But in reality, what does this action really accomplish?

Any modifications to the existing contracts already in place would have to come before city council for a public vote. Therefore, although the mayor is publicly stating that he is in the loop, the actual contract modifications and issuance of bids will still have to be voted on by city council.

About the only thing these action items accomplished was that city council can no longer blame the city manager for surprises because, conceivably, there should be no more surprises as the mayor is expected to know everything beforehand and would presumably alert the city council before the items enter the public realm. The problem is that those actions have done nothing to repair the damage that has already been perpetuated upon the community by the ballpark ownership group.

Item 13 in the Regular Agenda; “City Manager: Report back to Council’s June 25, 2013 directive regarding outreach to MountainStar Group, LLC for personal guarantees.” clearly shows that the ownership group got what it wanted and was not about to offer any personal guarantees. And the public discussion seems to indicate that Mayor Leeser’s stance on the ballpark fiasco is to let it be. He wants no more surprises and is unwilling to deal with the past.

During the discussion, Oscar Leeser clearly laid out that he will not entertain any modifications to any of the contracts with MountainStar Sports Group and will not even consider discussing the lame-duck city council’s action which raised the budget from $52 million to $64 million. Leeser’s position is that the city has “binding contracts” in place and that he will not risk the liability that could potentially come from renegotiating parts of the agreements. Although Eddie Holguin correctly pointed out that the city could and should renegotiate the additional $12 million, Leeser held stead-fast that it was impossible to reopen negotiations with the ownership ignoring the fact that the ballpark owners had themselves renegotiated the additional $12 million during the last week of the lame-duck city council session.

Oscar Leeser’s clear message to the Foster-Hunt group is that as long as they are not asking for more money they are welcome come back to council anytime. In other words, the rhetoric has gone from “can the city afford a ballpark” to “let’s build a world-class ballpark with the $64 million the city has already committed”.

The taxpayer’s are clearly stuck with the ballpark fiasco.

The discussion also sent out two other clear messages for the community. The first is that Leeser supports and trusts the actions of Joyce Wilson. The rhetoric of the items rescinding the city manager’s authority was nothing more than a façade of taking on a leadership role at city council. Leeser doesn’t seem to want to challenge the city manager’s or the city attorney’s assertions and accepts them for what they are. When told that the agreements with the ballpark group were ironclad, not once did he even seem to want to challenge that assertion.

My biggest disappointment from Oscar Leeser came when he meekly accepted the fact that the ownership group was not going to offer personal guarantees. Leeser turned the ownership’s obvious rebuttal into see what I accomplished? According to him, the ownership group has graciously accepted to cap the cost to $64 million and not ask for any more money.

I’m sorry, but that to me is not leadership, it is more like he has abdicated his leadership to those that he is supposed to be leading and to those who got the taxpayers to fund their playground. This was further reinforced when Joyce Wilson, clearly, unable to articulate her responsibilities to the community that pays her salary, meekly asked Leeser for “assistance” as Holguin interrogated her repeatedly for whom she works for; the ownership group or the community. This exchange was brought about because Wilson stated that it was the ownership group that requested the increase from the original $50 million.

In fact Oscar Leeser worked feverishly to reinforce the notion that his two agenda items were not a reflection upon the city manager’s ethics, but was, in fact, “two heads are better than one” illusion. He alluded numerous times that Wilson favored the two actions.

For her part, Joyce Wilson continues to hold on to the fantasy that the ballpark will be paid for from the HOT taxes and the revenues generated by the ballpark. As has been the case throughout this fiasco the numbers indicating that this will not be the case were ignored completely.

The meeting also showed that Cortney Niland is now on a full-court press game plan of trying to redeem her public persona as a supporter of the demands of the electorate. Clearly she has been rattled by the results of the last election. During this meeting she first brought up the illusion that she is trying to raise “millions” of revenues by tolling commercial traffic at the Paso del Norte bridge and ended the day by telling the mayor that she supports the “tone of leadership” that he is setting.

I’ll be exploring Niland’s fantasy of raising revenues by tolling commercial traffic from Mexico in my next post but her actions clearly indicate that she is considering a future run for office.

As for Oscar Leeser, at this point, his actions have been nothing more than smoke-and-mirrors with no real concrete activity. As I feared, it seems that Leeser is looking to make the baseball fiasco disappear behind the issue of the current budget session that will keep the community focused on today’s taxes rather than the economic fiasco that is sure to come from the ballpark.

As for the ownership group, the message delivered to the community by their attorney was clear and to the point; they got everything they wanted and there is nothing more to discuss. The ownership group will not offer personal guarantees. Oh, but they will bring some issues for council to discuss in the near future. What those “issues” are, are unclear at this point.

And notice how silent Oscar Leeser is in regards to the emails that they do not want to release? It’s starting to look like Leeser just wants everyone to accept the ballpark and move on.

In closing, I’m sorry to have to write that nothing has changed. The voters just went from a guitar-player mayor who just rubber-stamped everything the city manager told him to one that just doesn’t want to rehash old items for fear that some very powerful people will get angry. As for the taxpayer, well, they continue to be liable for a ballpark they did not want.

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