Veronica Escobar’s follies continue to cost the county taxpayers money they can ill afford to spend. In case you missed it, Aileen Flores reported that Steve Norwood, the county’s first chief administrator, was fired on Monday. In “El Paso County fires chief administrator,” Aileen Flores wrote that Norwood was “fired for cause.” As is expected in corrupt-laden El Paso, the taxpayers are not allowed to know why he was fired because it was all conducted in secrecy, better known as “executive session.” It is starting to become a pattern in El Paso, hold secret meetings, aka executive session, so the ugly truth doesn’t come out.
Escobar is quoted by Flores as stating that the firing was because “it did not workout. He was fired for cause, he was terminated for cause.” We just aren’t allowed to know what the “cause” was. Did he steal money? Did he show up to work while intoxicated? Did he not do his job? These are important questions that the community deserves to know from their first-ever, county chief administrator.
Even though we do not know the reasons, we do know that it is the county’s taxpayers that will lose even more money in a Veronica Escobar-led folly. It is as if the El Paso Children’s Hospital wasn’t enough for the taxpayers to suffer from.
Steve Norwood was hired by the County in December and he started working at the County in January at an annual salary of $191,116. The position was approved by the county commissioners on July 21, 2014. Veronica Escobar, Vince Perez and Pat Abeln voted to create the position. Carlos Leon and Sergio Lewis voted against creating the position. Veronica Escobar had been pushing for the creation of the new position since 2011. A previous attempt by her, failed on a two to two vote.
In September of 2014, the commissioners’ court voted to contract Colin Baenziger & Associates at $23,000 to conduct a search for the county’s new administrator. Vince Perez was absent on September 4, 2014, when the vote was taken to hire the recruiting firm. It passed unanimously. The Colin Baenziger & Associates recruitment brochure listed the salary to be “projected to be around $181,900.”
The Employment Agreement between the County and Norwood went into effect on January 12, 2015 with Norwood starting work on January 18, 2015. The contract called for a starting annual salary of $191,116. Norwood’s resume states that he was making $200,000 as the City Manager for the City of Round Rock. According to the contract, Norwood accrued 20 days of vacation leave “immediately upon beginning employment.” [link to contract]
Steve Norwood’s employment contract specifically made Norwood, an “at-will” employee, giving the commissioners court the authority to terminate him “at any time, for any reason, or for no reason.”
Section 6, subsection D specifies the reasons that Norwood may be terminated for “just cause.”
They includes, “misfeasance, malfeasance and/or nonfeasance in performance” of his duties. The contract also states that an “indictment, conviction or a plea of guilty or no contest to a non-traffic related misdemeanor or felony crime, whether or not adjudication is withheld” is another reason for terminating him.
Finally, the contract lists “neglect of duty,” “violation of substantive County policy, rule, or regulation” and “the commission of any act which involves moral turpitude, or which causes the County disrepute.”
The contract adds that a “violation of the International City/County Management Association Code of Ethics or the El Paso County Code of Ethics” are also grounds for termination.
The contract also specifies that the taxpayers are responsible for “accrued unpaid salary and compensable benefits” if he is terminated “with cause.”
In addition to the vacation leave, the contract also agreed to pay Norwood “up to $13,000” for relocation expenses. It is unclear how much the County paid Norwood under this provision.
Taking into account the salary of $191,116 and dividing it by the number of expected workweeks gives us a weekly salary of $3,675.31. Multiplying that by the 38 weeks that Norwood worked at the County gives us a total salary of $139,661.78. We add to this amount the accrued vacation amount of $14,701.24 and we get a total of $154,363.02.
Now take that amount and add the recruiting fee of $23,000 and you get a total cost of $177,363.02.
Unfortunately, we are not done yet; we still need to add the relocation costs that could be “up to $13,000.” We don’t know what the amount was, but let’s just assume it was half of the budgeted amount.
That gives us a total of $183,863.02 that the taxpayers have spent on Veronica Escobar’s latest folly.
That amount does not include the costs to remodel the offices, additional taxes paid for by the county and the amount that the county will spend to replace Norwood.
In the best-case scenario, the taxpayers have spent almost $200,000 for a Veronica Escobar led effort. We haven’t even begun to discuss the amounts that the taxpayers have spent and will spend on the children’s hospital debacle.
How many more Veronica Escobar follies can the county taxpayers handle? That is the question all of you need to be asking yourselves today.