The El Paso Chusmas bid farewell to their first General Manager yesterday. Yesterday was Joyce Wilson’s last day at the helm of the city on behalf of the El Paso Chusmas. To write that her tenure at the city was tumultuous is an understatement. As El Paso’s first city manager, Joyce Wilson taught the city the dangers of how an out of control city manager coupled with a weak city council allows special interests to drive the city’s public policy to the detriment of the taxpayers.
As you all know, the city changed from a strong mayor form of government to a city manager based one on February 2004. There were two major sides to the debate about the charter change; those that argued that a city manager based system would bring professionalism and continuity to governance and those that argued a loss of accountability of those that set policy. The charter change was approved by eight percent of the voters.
Those that supported the city manager governance model argued that accountability existed with the ability to remove a city manager with five votes from city council. If the mayor vetoed the removal, six city council votes could override the veto.
After the voters approved the change, then mayor, Joe Wardy convened a committee made up of his executive assistant, a city staff member and two city council individuals to facilitate the transition. On August 2004, Joyce Wilson was appointed the city’s first city manager.
Wilson was the former deputy county manager for Arlington Virginia, before coming to El Paso. She had also previously worked as the assistant city manager for the City of Richmond Virginia and the as the city administrator for Yuma Arizona.
Immediately upon assuming the city manager position, Joyce Wilson focused on transitioning from the mayor-based model to the city manager led governance system. She established the processes that city government uses today for governance.
Joyce Wilson has been credited with fundamentally changing and upgrading the city’s transit system into a usable transportation system for the city. In 2011, the city was awarded an award for its transit system. Shortly after Joyce Wilson took the helm as the city’s city manager, Joe Wardy was defeated by former long-time city representative John Cook. He took office as mayor in June 2005. Cook was reelected in 2009.
Shortly after Cook took office in 2005; it became evident that John Cook saw the city’s mayoral position as nothing more than being the city’s ambassador instead of the driver for public policy. Supported by Ray Caballero disciples, mainly Susie Byrd, Beto O’Rourke and Steve Ortega as well as Ann Morgan Lilly, who seems to be present only to support the Caballero trio, Joyce Wilson took control of the city’s public policy agenda.
The city manager governance model traditionally allows for the elected officials to establish policy direction that the city manager is supposed to implement. In the case of El Paso, Joyce Wilson implemented a city public policy as determined by special interest groups bypassing the elected officials. Seeing the inherent weakness in John Cook’s administration, Byrd, O’Rourke and Ortega allowed and encouraged Joyce Wilson to take control of the public policy agenda and mirror it after Ray Caballero’s downtown revitalization agenda.
Although by 2010, many community activists were decrying the public policy agenda as beneficial to a select group of wealthy individuals and detrimental to the city’s tax base it wasn’t until 2012 that the truth about the true detrimental ramifications of the Caballero-led public policy agenda started to be proven.
The city’s local newspaper was instrumental in allowing the harmful public policy agenda to be implemented as it stood by silently. The El Paso Times, masquerading as a newspaper sold its building to the city who was under the tutelage of Joyce Wilson. However, as much as the local daily tried to keep community dissent in check, in 2012, community activist Stephanie Townsend Allala and others began to publish emails that they had gathered from various open records requests.
Those emails revealed that Joyce Wilson was clearly leading the charge to demolish city hall, build a baseball stadium and issues millions in city debt to fund the extravagant ballpark. As per the emails, Joyce Wilson referred to the community activists questioning the rush to demolish city assets and issue significant debt as “crazies” and city representatives opposing the public policy as having the “beginnings of dementia”.
Although the public policy agenda of downtown redevelopment was first proposed by Ray Caballero the fact is that the individuals that benefited the most from the public policy agenda are Bill Sanders, his father-in-law and Paul Foster and Woody Hunt who are now using a ballpark paid for by the taxpayers.
In October 2013, Joyce Wilson submitted her resignation and applied for two openings as city manager, one in Fort Worth and the other in Lee County Florida. She was not hired by either community. Although she had resigned from her contract that was set to expire later this year, Joyce Wilson had stated that she would stay on as long as necessary to help the city transition into the next city manager.
Yesterday, Joyce Wilson officially relinquished the city manager’s position, although remains on as a consultant.
Anyone who looks at Joyce Wilson’s tenure at the city can clearly see that there is one indisputable fact, the city’s ballpark folly would not exist today were it not for Wilson’s work as the city’s first city manager. For that alone, Foster and Hunt should forever be grateful to the El Paso Chusma’s first general manager and are likely very sad to see her go.