Part of the problem on why El Paso finds itself in the border of financial doom is the notion that has been perpetuated that government officials should be voting their conscious instead of the needs of the electorate. It is the old argument of elected individuals voting as trustees instead of as representatives of the people’s will. Voters, especially in El Paso, have given up the right to think for themselves and instead hope the government does all of the thinking for them. The online commentary on the news of Billy Abraham buying the old downtown Walgreen’s building clearly demonstrates this.
As you likely know, Billy Abraham is currently in jail. However, just before he was incarcerated he purchased some UTEP land. Abraham purchased the building from the UT system for $401,000, about $31,000 more than the second highest bidder. The public commentary should be about whether UTEP, and by extension the taxpayers, got the best deal.
Apparently and according to various news sources, UTEP sold the land to the highest bidder. The community commentary has devolved not into whether the taxpayers were best served but rather if it was appropriate to sell the land to Abraham.
Marcia Turner was quoted by the El Paso Times as writing a letter to the editor stating that UTEP was “wrong” to sell the land to Abraham. The newspaper quoted Turner as stating, “UT System officials apparently don’t care about the El Paso community.”
There is no question that Abraham owns many properties that have historical significance. It is also clear that Abraham has not taken steps to protect the buildings from deterioration. As a steward of taxpayer monies, it is the responsibility of the Texas UT system to ensure that it receives the best value for the taxpayers, not that it become the arbiter of morality for the community.
Many community members are upset at the UT system for allowing the sale to go through, but the fact is that it did what was right. Had the university system not allowed Billy Abraham the right to purchase the property, by the sole fact that Abraham is not a good steward of private buildings would have been wrong. The operative word being “private” buildings.
Once the building transferred out of the public realm then it is up to the community that wishes to save historical buildings to organize and do so privately. Involving government entities to impose moral platitudes is what has led to the current financial chaos at the city.
It is inappropriate for any government entity to limit or impose conditions on behalf of any public policy agenda that results in costs to all of the taxpayers or a loss of assets that the taxpayers own. Anyone advocating such a thing is advocating giving up the rights of the whole for the wants of the vocal few. Those that want to save the historical buildings should do so on their own dime and on their own time. I even encourage them to do so as history is important for a community like El Paso.
However, imposing the will and whims of the historical preservationists, at the expense of the taxpayers, is patently wrong and should not be tolerated. Replace historical preservationists with sports enthusiasts demanding a ballpark for a professional team and you can clearly see that the government has no place dictating public policy based on the wants of a few over the needs of the community.
I believe that Billy Abraham should be in jail for much longer than what he was sentenced to. After all, he killed someone. However, if his money is good, then the only thing the community should be expressing to the Texas UT system is well done for getting the best value for the taxpayers of the community, even though a criminal paid for it.