Questionable City Council Appointments

quest-chrctrsFor many years now, I have been connecting the dots for you between various characters that consistently remerge on the El Paso political scene. Many of these characters are clouded in controversy. It is par for the course that in a city, like El Paso that has been mired in corruption for so many years, quality individuals seem to be bypassed for those that are attempting to be revitalized before the community. Just last week, criminal Jaime Abeytia was to be appointed to the cultural center subcommittee by Michiel Noe. Abeytia’s appointment was stopped by the exposure of his criminality on my blog and the resulting social media outcry and mobilization. Yesterday three appointments were made by city council. All of them involved individuals with a history that makes their appointment questionable at best.

Let’s take a look at the three individuals; Joyce Wilson, Paul de la Peña and Luis Cortinas.

All of you know about the legacy that Joyce Wilson has left on the El Paso landscape. This is especially true when you look at your tax bill each year and your water bill every month. As the city’s first city manager, Joyce Wilson has many El Pasoans rethinking the city manager form of government in El Paso. Just this week, a water franchise fee was added to your water bills. This fee is nothing more than a disguised tax needed to pay for the financial calamity facing the El Paso taxpayers. A financial calamity created by the public policy Joyce Wilson spearheaded that included the destruction of city hall and a ballpark the city cannot afford. As if the higher water fee wasn’t bad enough, the new city manager is faced with the unpleasant task of having to convince the current city council that there simply isn’t enough money to meet the debt payments spearheaded by Joyce Wilson.

Tommy Gonzales is facing a city council that still hasn’t faced the reality that the city must raise taxes in order to meet the debt service requirements that Joyce Wilson spearheaded while she was the city manager. Except for Lily Limon (Carl Robinson abstained), who voted against the appointment of Joyce Wilson to the Ad Hoc Charter Advisory Committee (7.1), all of the rest of the city council have their heads so deep in the dirt that they are still under the impression that all is well with El Paso’s economy.

As you think about this appointment, keep in mind that in El Paso politics, each appointment has a political reason for it. In this case, Joyce Wilson has been placed to keep any discussion, about putting the issue of a city manager on the ballot in November, in check. As the city’s first city manager, Wilson should have no part in any discussion about the city manager form of government, but in a city like El Paso, the obvious conflict of interest will be ignored.

The second appointment is Paul Andrew de la Peña to the City Accessibility Advisory Committee. I was pretty surprised to notice that Jaime Abeytia didn’t have any opinion about the appointment of Peña to the committee. As a matter of fact, I was also surprised that David Karlsruher hadn’t pointed out this appointment as well. Could it be that neither noticed it because the name was slightly modified on the city agenda?

Let’s try it this way, remember Paul de la Peña? In 2008, there was some controversy involving the Voter Education Project, a voter registration drive. Back in late 2008, Jaime Abeytia went on an online tirade about not being paid for helping Peña on his voter drive project. Apparently, Paul de la Peña kept promising that the check was in the mail.

As far as I can recollect, Frank Lopez, of the Nonprofit Enterprise Center (NpEC) stepped in and made at least a partial payment to Abeytia, on behalf of Peña.

For his part, David Karlsruher accused Paul de la Peña of raising cash and not completing the promised voter drive. Karlsruher wrote a couple of blog posts accusing Peña of shenanigans with his voter initiative drive. In the end and to my knowledge the monies collected by Peña were never properly documented and the voter education drive seemed to have fizzled away. As for Peña, he disappeared from the local political scene soon after this fiasco only to surface again last Tuesday.

In my years of keeping track of the various characters plying politics in El Paso, I noticed that sometimes they make slight changes to what name they use publicly. To me it seems they do this after their name has been so associated with character issues that in order to be revitalized before the community they must make slight changes in hopes that people do not notice. Paul also uses the name Franceschi as a hyphenated last name. On the city council agenda, “Andrew” was added to Peña’s name. I believe that in this case, the name changes worked because neither Abeytia nor Karslruher seemed to have noticed that Peña was back in the political scene.

Peña leads us to the last of the questionable appointments made by council yesterday – Luis Cortinas, who was appointed to the Hispanic Cultural Center Subcommittee by Carl Robinson.

Back in 1999, then-assistant police chief George DeAngelis delivered a memorandum to then El Paso Police Chief Carlos Leon asking for the removal of Luis Cortinas as Leon’s personal assistant. DeAngelis reported that a confidential source reported that Luis Cortinas was giving drug dealers the license plates of undercover police officers. Rather than investigate the allegation, Carlos Leon instead began an investigation of George DeAngelis. Although Carlos Leon was reprimanded by the mayor, no investigation of Luis Cortinas was ever published. The city paid George DeAngelis $275,000 to settle a whistleblower suit in 2003. Notice how the same connected names always appear? Carlos Leon and Luis Cortinas.

I have written extensively about how the drug trade is conveniently ignored once it gets into the El Paso area. Many blame Juárez but the reality is that Juárez would not be lucrative if it weren’t for El Paso’s access to the consumers, access that I believe has been given via the police department and the politicians.

In the case of Luis Cortinas, a high-level police officer reported that a confidential source told him that Cortinas was working with drug dealers. Instead of an investigation to get to the truth, a convoluted investigation into DeAngelis was initiated and the city paid DeAngelis to settle a whistleblower case. However, this allegation is not the only instance where Cortinas’ questionable actions that needed to be addressed.

In 1975, according to an Internal Affairs investigation, Luis Cortinas allegedly tried to recruit a woman for a drug conspiracy. Another internal investigation alleged that Cortinas gave a ride to a “known narcotics offender” home after being found at a local restaurant drunk. Both of these cases resulted in nothing more than documentation on his police record. In 1981, a gun bought by Cortinas was trace back to him in a criminal investigation in Detroit. Luis Cortinas proved to the investigating officers that he had traded the gun to someone in 1979.

Clearly there are questions about Luis Cortinas that begs the question, are there not any individuals in El Paso without questionable pasts that can be appointed to city boards?

Is El Paso so mired in corruption that the pool of individuals for appointments to city boards do not include people without questionable pasts? Or, is this nothing more than the ongoing corruption of supporting like-minded individuals to keep the political shenanigans in play.