Cultural Center: What’s In The Name?

cltrcntr-nameJudging by the comments on my blog and other comments on social media there is much disinformation about the cultural center going on in the many discussions about it. The majority of it lies on the perception of what the voters voted on. In addition, there is an ongoing discussion about whether the taxpayers should be paying for it. Because of the misinformation and ongoing commentary, I wanted to take this opportunity to clarify the two points of contention. Today, I will be addressing the issue of whether it is a “heritage” or an “Hispanic” cultural center. It is not as clear cut as many think it is. On Monday, I’ll address the issue of whether the taxpayers should be paying for it.

As the cultural center debate continues, it is important to accept that the voters approved a cultural center. Where the point of contention lies is on whether it is an Hispanic cultural center or a Heritage cultural center. Therefore, let’s address this.

The election was held on November 6, 2012. Generally, the bond election has been referred to as the 2012 Quality of Life bond election. The City of El Paso adopted ordinance number 017849 “ordering a bond election” for various city projects. In it, various city improvements and projects were listed, including the cultural center.

The ballot listed the cultural center as follows: “Museum, Cultural, Performing, and Library Facilities.” The description stated “The issuance of $228,250,000 general obligation bonds for museum, cultural, multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment and library facilities improvements, including new children’s museum, cultural heritage center and interactive digital wall.” The Spanish version of the ballot lists the cultural center as “Centro de Patrimonio Cultural.” An English translation of “patrimonio cultural” would generally be accepted as “cultural heritage.” Thus, both the English and Spanish language on the ballot coincide.

Those arguing that the voters approved a “heritage” center are relying on the language used on the ballot. The city and those calling it an Hispanic cultural center are relying on the language in the city’s ordinance calling it the “Hispanic” center. Additionally, the city leadership has agreed that the intention and discussion leading up to the adoption of the ordinance referred to the center as the “Hispanic” cultural center. The question then becomes, where did the word change from “Hispanic” to “heritage?”

Joyce Wilson is the answer to that debacle.

To be specific, the language was muddled by those working in conjunction with Joyce Wilson, both as elected officials and city employees. Keep in mind that the ordinance that approved going to the voters for various quality of life projects (017849) was immediately followed by Ordinance No: 017850. That ordinance approved going to the voters to approve the use of HOT taxes for funding the ballpark.

Clearly, as shown by the history of the ballpark, the ballpark ordinance dominated the discussion and the focus of the politicians and voters alike. Therefore, it should come as no surprise to any of you that the transposition of the words “heritage” to “Hispanic” happened in the ordinance itself.

Section four, of the ordinance affixes the wording that the city wanted to use in the ballot. The wording the city council approved read, “The issuance of $228,250,000 general obligation bonds for museum, cultural, multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment and library facilities improvements, including new children’s museum, cultural heritage center and interactive digital wall.” [emphasis mine]

As you can see, the wording that appeared on the ballot was approved by city council on August 14, 2012. Thus, the wording debacle was introduced by Joyce Wilson’s employees and approved by the city council of the time.

Whether the wording was intentionally designed to be ambiguous for political or nefarious reasons is open to debate. It could also be a simple case of a typographical error. Unfortunately, the wording will continue to haunt the cultural center because the debate on the subject, specifically the name, will continue to be acrimonious.

On at least two occasions, the city attorney has opined that the driving document, to settle the name issue, is the ordinance. Unfortunately, the ordinance uses both naming conventions leaving the issue unsettled, contrary to what many may think. If we accept the city attorney’s opinion, it still leaves the question open to debate because the ordinance uses both naming conventions to refer to the center.

Although, city council seems to have accepted the “Hispanic” designation it has not officially approved it. The city attorney has opined, however her opinion can be challenged, as it is only an opinion not settled by any official action by a governing body. More importantly, her opinion itself is contradictory because she has stated that the driving document is the ordinance, yet the ordinances used both names to refer to the cultural center.

The only way the name issue can be settled is for city council to approve a motion officially designating the cultural center at the “Hispanic” cultural center, or any other name it deems appropriate. Until such action is taken by city council the issue of whether it is the heritage or the Hispanic cultural center will remain unsettled.

On Monday, I’ll be discussing the issue of whether the taxpayers should pay for it, or not. On that issue, the answer is a definitive one.

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