For many years now, Eddie Holguin has publicly complained that Joyce Wilson and her staff have provided incomplete or erroneous information to city representatives on action items before city council. My own recent experience with my open records requests has forced me to question whether city staff has purposely providing me the wrong information or has actively thwarting my search for public information. Although I noticed a hint of irritation by Oscar Leeser at the information he had been receiving from city staff at recent city council meetings it wasn’t until the October 29, 2013 meeting that I noticed outright frustration from him.
When you get an opportunity take a look at the back-and-forth between the Mayor and city staff and especially Joyce Wilson on the October 29, 2013 city council agenda item number 12A; “Discussion and action to separate the pilot bike share program from the larger program in order to implement the pilot project.” The item was put on the agenda by Michiel Noe and, according to him it was scheduled to be on the MPO agenda later. Start at around the 2:21 mark of the video to see what I’m commenting about. (You can find the video at the city’s website under the TV/Video tab then click on “All Videos”)
As you see the video, look closely at the dynamics between Joyce Wilson and Oscar Leeser.
During the discussion of bringing an alternative “bike share pilot-program” notice Leeser’s use of “I have a little bit of a problem here” and him pointing out that he had understood that the original bike-share program would not need additional funding. As the presentation is about to be made, Oscar Leeser states; “what you are saying today is that now you are asking for funding”, adding “that would be completely different from what the council voted earlier” where no city funding was required.
Oscar Leeser repeatedly interjects that city council “wanted to make sure it [bike-share program] was funding itself.”
Noe reminded everyone that the original funding source from the State was “not going to happen”.
As per the item, Joyce Wilson was proposing using “supplemental funds” from federal and other sources to create a pilot program.
Marty Howell, Chief Sustainability Officer for the city made the “pilot project” presentation to city council.
According to his presentation the pilot project would create eight stations (five downtown and three at UTEP) for $400,000 in startup funding of, which $300,000 would be used for operation and maintenance for the first two years plus an additional $100,000 for a “feasibility study”. Marty Howell said that the “feasibility study” was not the proper language rather that it was more like a “master plan” for the final system.
During Howell’s presentation, Oscar Leeser stated “Mr. Howell, I’m a little confused here.” He added “Can you give me a definition of a pilot program?” He the added “because if you are going to pay $100,000 and then there is going to be a feasibility study…and if you are going to tell me we are wasting federal monies then that’s foolish”. He then added; “You and I had this discussion yesterday”.
Oscar Leeser continud to add, “I’m a little confused why you brought this up again after our discussion.” At this point Joyce Wilson added “just for clarification…the feasibility study will be done after the pilot program…we want to reserve the funds so that they are available.”
The Mayor went responded “it was going to maintain itself…the city was not going to have to maintain it. It doesn’t make sense to me…I don’t understand how we can present the council…and then give them something to vote on and pass on it…and then bring it up again…I find it to be a real joke…I don’t understand it…and I’m not up for being bamboozled.” (at about the 2:31 mark)
Watch closely Leeser’s facial reactions in the video as Joyce Wilson tries to further explain it.
Oscar Leeser interjected, “this was not the presentation that was presented to us yesterday…and I’m insulted, to be honest with you that this was not the presentation that was presented to us prior to coming out here”. (at about the 2:34 mark)
Oscar Leeser then abruptly stated, “cancel the item”. As the discussion about Leeser’s cancelation request progressed, Wilson appeared to me to be obviously upset while she interjected that they should just “delete the item”.
The item was deleted unanimously.
In my opinion, his irritation at Joyce Wilson was in ample display during this presentation.
Notice the choice of words and phrases used by Oscar Leeser in open session; “confused”, “wasting federal funds”, “then that’s foolish”, “doesn’t make sense to me”, “I find it to be a real joke” and my favorite “I’m not up for being bamboozled”. Those are very telling choices of words.
Obviously I do not know if in fact Oscar Leeser is feeling “bamboozled” by city staff however his obvious irritation seems to indicate so. At yesterday’s city council meeting Oscar Leeser was absent therefore we did not get the benefit of observing his interaction with Joyce Wilson’s staff members. Of course we also didn’t get to confirm the rumor of whether Cortney Niland was going to play musical chairs as she was the presiding officer for yesterday’s meeting making her seat location moot.
Interestingly, frequent community activist Lisa Turner told Lily Limon and Cortney Niland to “behave” and stop “acting like children”. She suggested that they “act like adults” and settle their difference in private.
If, I’m right about Leeser’s apparent questioning about the information he is receiving from staff than I would expect to see some changes at future city council meetings, especially on controversial items. I feel like further outbursts from Oscar Leeser would be result if in fact Joyce Wilson is trying to “bamboozle” him.
It’ll be interesting to keep an eye on the dynamics of city council and city staff in the upcoming meetings.