How is it that those involved in the ballpark debacle seem to be able to land lucrative jobs in government work even after bungling their previous job? Last week, the city announced the appointment of Veronica Soto as the new Community Development Director. The city issued a press release announcing the appointment. I immediately posted the announcement on my Twitter feed asking if the local news media would fill in the blanks for you. True to their modus-operandi, the El Paso Times masquerading as a newspaper regurgitated the city’s press release on March 14, 2014. And that was it. Because the local media refuses to inform you I must step in to fill in some blanks for you.
On August 2010, Veronica Soto was appointed the Executive Director of the El Paso Downtown Management District. Prior to that Veronica Soto was the Redevelopment Manager for the city’s Planning and Economic Development Department. She worked in that position from February 2007 through August 2010. The Downtown Management District was created in 1997 by the city to focus on the redevelopment of downtown El Paso.
The organization’s budget is derived from a special assessment levied on downtown property owners. According to the budget period of February 1, 2012 through January 31, 2013, the latest made public by the organization the majority of the their budget, $200,000 was allocated towards “Promotion & Marketing (Advertising)”. Sanitation and security was the second largest expenditure at $187,996 from their total budget of $537,888 budget. According to the public budget, $328,426 came from the assessments with the balance being leveraged from “various interlocal agreements”.
Keep in mind that the DMD’s primary goal is to keep the area around downtown clean and orderly in order to entice shoppers to the area. You might remember that in November there was controversy regarding the DMD’s attempt to raise the tax assessments on the downtown property owners for the 2014 budget. They attempted to raise the assessment from the two cents to 14 cents per $100 valuation on the 522 properties subject to the tax.
In order to do this the association needed to gather petitions from the downtown property owners. The problem arose when some property owners questioned how their properties were counted on the petitions to self-assess the tax increase. Over 50% of the property owners have to vote to increase the assessment.
In an El Paso Inc. article by David Crowder dated November 10, 2013, Soto was quoted as saying that she spent 18 months organizing the push to get the assessment raised. She stated that it there was “time pressure” to get the new rates to the tax office.
Take a moment and consider that Veronica Soto is quoted as stating that she worked 18 months to lobby the owners of 522 properties, most of those properties having the same owners to self-impose, upon themselves, a tax increase. Now connect some dots here.
The largest controversy in El Paso is downtown redevelopment and the imposition of the ballpark stadium. For over a year, the executive director, Veronica Soto, spent her time lobbying about 500, probably less, owners to increase their property taxes. She then admits that it came down to the wire on whether 50% plus one agreed to the increase.
Now let’s look further into the outcome of her 18 month ordeal. It turns out that she had barely reached the 50% plus 1 threshold however; it seems that this was accomplished because at least two property owners were erroneously counted as agreeing because their children had agreed to the increase, yet the actual owners had not. At least one property owner who had not agreed to the increase was counted because she had the same “Hernandez” last name as another property owner yet they are not related.
Soto is quoted by Crowder in response to one of the property owners being lumped in with his child; “It’s my mistake for assuming your dad, who was a founding board member, was also in agreement” to the increase.
Veronica Soto was forced to retract the assessment and ask the Tax Office to issue refunds and a correction notice.
Think about that for a moment, the results of her 18-month work resulted in erroneous information compiled in order to increase taxes that have resulted in the failure of the tax increase. In addition the petitions themselves are questionable at best as “assumptions” were made in order to reach the necessary threshold to increase taxes.
The rest of Crowder’s article exposes how the DMD has split into two opposing forces, some of the original founders that formed the organization to address downtown specific issues and those who are supporting downtown redevelopment through the ballpark fiasco as the cornerstone. At the center of the controversy is none other than Joyce Wilson.
Now consider how Crowder quotes Tanny Berg, one of the original organizers of the DMD; “City manager Joyce Wilson installed Veronica and you’ve got a board made up of people who don’t own property”. Does any of this sound familiar?
I have written numerous times about the culture of scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours mentality that permeates El Paso.
Here we have a woman who failed on an 18-month project that resulted in questions about the integrity of the process. Not only are there questions but the organization was forced to retract its tax increase based on Soto’s work costing it about $66,000 from its budget. This is in addition to the $161,250 budget deficit it was already carrying.
Last week, the city quietly announced the appointment of the new Community Development Director. Veronica R. Soto will be replacing William Lilly on March 24. Among the many common nexuses in this appointment is Joyce Wilson.
As you all know Wilson is on her way out. We also know that Joyce Wilson was able to impose the ballpark fiasco on the community with the help of staff member enablers in strategic locations for funding and support.
Is Soto’s appointment some sort of “job protection” as Joyce Wilson transitions out? How someone who obviously bungled an organization’s budget for 2014 is qualified to work at the city does not make sense. Is Veronica Soto the best El Paso has to offer or is this more of the old scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours?