City Council to Issue $68 million in Certificates of Obligations and Fund DIMS and Project Arriba

Information AlertNext Tuesday, August 27, 2013, city council’s agenda includes two annual controversial topics and the issuance of $68 million in Certificates of Obligation. Annually the three items have brought forth controversy and therefore it will be interesting to see how the dynamics of the new city council handles them.

The first item is the controversial DIMS program by District Attorney Jaime Esparza. As some of you will recall the DIMS program is an Esparza created program where those arrested are first processed by the local police department by calling an attorney, working for the District Attorney’s office, to determine whether there is enough information and related elements that the DA’s office will likely pursue a case against the defendant. If the DA’s attorney, in conjunction with the police department, determines that the case is likely to proceed to prosecution then the individual is arrested and their bond is set according to a bond schedule that the DA’s attorney uses.

The controversy surrounding this issue is that the bonds, of those arrested, are set by a bond schedule rather than a third, detached party such as a magistrate. Although Jaime Esparza has stated that an accused eventually is brought before a magistrate, those that decry the process point out that a magistrate is brought in after an accused has been processed through an arrest, thus eliminating the opportunity for a magistrate to determine probable cause prior to the actual processing of the accused.

Others have pointed out that the process gives the police department and the district attorney’s office an opportunity to coordinate the underlining facts of the alleged crime at the time of the arrest, thus giving them an opportunity to coordinate the accompanying documentation during the process of arrest.

Others have also pointed out that the close coordination between the two entities gives either an opportunity to handle an arrest based on the people involved rather than keeping the process independent and equal among all. Some have argued that VIPs are identified prior to the actual arrest and that the district attorney’s office is given the opportunity to intervene in the process.

For its part, both the city and the district attorney’s office has offered that the DIMS process saves taxpayer funds in that the police officers are allowed to return to the field sooner and that those accused are processed more efficiently allowing them to attain bond liberty quicker. The district attorney has also stated that by determining on the onset whether a case is prosecutable the accused is given the opportunity to avoid the arrest process, and expense if the district attorney is unlikely to proceed with prosecution.

The city funds the attorneys that man the DIMS processing desk. In Tuesday’s agenda, the amount being requested is $238,665.28 for funding through August 31, 2014. (3J)

The next item on the agenda involves Project Arriba.

The agenda points out that on November 27, 2012, city council authorized a $200,000 grant to Project Arriba to manage 180 participants, 60% of which must be at, or below the 100% DHS poverty rate, graduate 35 participants in nursing, healthcare, education and information technology as well as “other demand occupations”, and place 30 participants in jobs that pay a minimum of $12.36 per hour.

As a result of that action, Project Arriba is now requesting $1,250,000 over five years to be paid annually in order to manage 100 participants, graduate 44 per year and place 38 in jobs earning at least $14.00 per hour each year. In addition, Project Arriba must demonstrate that it has secured matching funds for each year from state or federal programs. (9B)

There is also a Notice of Intention to Issue $68.5 million in certificates of obligations (12A), from existing authorizations. The projects proposed are existing projects from previous council action from as far back as 2008. Notably, they include the Luther Building renovations and the El Paso Streetcar Project. This issuance combines multiple street projects, including the above notable projects from various previous CO issues into a new issue, if approved by council on Tuesday.

There is also an item providing a presentation from the local utility companies asking them to explain their billing statements. This item was added because of a citizen’s request for an explanation about his bill on July 23, 2013. The electric company, the natural gas company and the water utility are expected to give a presentation. (12B)

And finally, there is also an action item asking city council to authorize the city attorney and the city manager to “obtain preliminary information” from the Texas Gas Service Company for “earningsfrom El Paso customers. This is a result of the city denying the company’s rate adjustment request in April, 2013. (12C)

Although I expect city council to stay true to previous council actions when voting on these items, they are nonetheless the first time these items will be addressed by the Oscar Leeser administration. None of the items have entered the public blogosphere discussion and therefore there will be little, if any public discussion, much less any citizen-driven activism on any of the controversial items.

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