Wednesday, August 12, 2015

City Manager Raise Was Premature

It seems as if every El Paso blogger has had something to say about the City Manager's pay raise. I wanted to think through that issue before weighing in. Here goes:

I agree with David Karlsruher that the city manager's performance review and compensation does not belong in the public arena. Mr. Tommy Gonzalez is an employee and has a right to have such matters discussed in private by our elected Representatives. I further agree with David that, if we don't like Council members' decision, we can recall them or just not re-elect them. (Recalling a city council representative is just about numerically impossible unless, of course, you have a mega-church with an entranced audience.)

There's a "but" here as you might suspect. BUT what should be a matter of public discussion is what the Council finally decided to do. Because Mr. Gonzalez is unarguably the most important city employee, his salary increase by Council becomes a matter for public discussion and debate. I had already decided to vote against raising council salaries before they pulled the proposal from the city charter election. Higher salaries aren't what entice good people to run - big money in El Paso guarantees who gets elected. Just look at Niland, Noe and Romero. With Council's premature decision about Tommy's salary, they spent their salary increases. 

Why do I say that the salary increase is premature? I speak as an environmental activist as well as a taxpaying citizen.

First, Mr. Gonzalez's goals for the City (and they are his goals de facto and not those of Council and certainly not those of El Pasoans) have nothing to say about the environment, open space, conservation, ecosystems, etc. "Attractiveness" is not the same thing as controlling sprawl, being cognizant of the scarce resource of water, protecting the beauty of our mountains, desert and wetlands, and providing trailheads, parks, connectivity and open space for recreation.

Mr. Gonzalez's staff met with members of the West Texas Urban Forestry Council Board. Most of them were the authors of our city's Tree Care Manual, our approved tree list, and (when it was a reality) our Tree Board - a now defunct and forgotten "sub-committee" of the Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. In spite of the seeming enthusiasm of the City Manager's staff, nothing has been done other than shuffling the organizational chart and re-assigning the City Arborist, a good step for sure. The promised consultations, the resurrection of the Tree Board and following the Tree Manual have not come to fruition.

I understand that Mr. Gonzalez inherited some problems. On the other hand, he has had one year to make a difference on some projects. The destruction/reconstruction of the San Jacinto Plaza Park is a good example. While on this topic, let us recall that Tommy Gonzalez readily ordered taking down El Pasoan's treasured holiday Christmas tree until this blog started a public outcry. Niland didn't like the shape. She said "jump" to Tommy and he asked "how high". 

This jumping is another matter that concerns me because we've seen it in other cases. Gonzalez seems to be impulsive and this characteristic may be the biggest concern.

It has been argued that we would lose our City Manager if we didn't offer him a salary commensurate to other larger cities in Texas. Yes, but, those salaries go to full-time employees. Full time. When Council raised his salary, they also gave him more vacation time. He will not use that "vacation" time to take the kids to Hawaii; he will use that "vacation" time to do more paid consulting work. In other words, we have a part-time city manager who is also a part-time paid consultant. The City Manager should give up his consulting work and become the full-time City Manager of El Paso, Texas. Then let's talk about a commensurate salary.

Finally, I don't believe the financial numbers. I don't believe that the city is doing as well as Gonzalez claims. If so, instead of raising our onerous property taxes, why doesn't Council cut them? Hmmm?

Gonzalez may eventually deserve a higher salary. End the consulting, be less impulsive, be more transparent, listen to tree experts and don't just dictate planting larger trees in smaller spaces, and care about environmentalism - then and only then should he be up for the raise.

Council should be held accountable in the arena of public debate. I wouldn't not support a council person for election on the basis of one issue. However, when it comes to next budget time when they do seek public input, they each better listen carefully. I hope that they hear now that the raise was premature.

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