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El Paso Public Department Public Health names interim director

by Erika Esquivel - KFOX14 

Angela Mora is the interim director for the El Paso Public Health Department.

Mora has more than 30 years of experience 13 of which have been spent at the El Paso Department of Public Health.

“We have about 40 different programs that we are offering. I have been the administrator for many of them directly and overseen them. And at various times for the city I have been in charge of different programs, so I have pretty much managed any program we have at the department of public health,” Mora said.

Mora said she has been part of many response teams to pandemics, she helped on teams during the aids and H1-N1 crisis.

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Border generates challenges, cooperation for El Paso and Juárez on COVID-19 pandemic

by Lauren Villagran and Molly Smith - El Paso Times

The mayors of El Paso and Juárez, top doctors from both sides of the border, the Mexican consul and others recently gathered in a sunlit conference room in the Mexican Consulate in El Paso ― their first in-person meeting since the pandemic struck the Borderland.

The two cities inevitably share a single "disease pool," experts say, but are struggling with divided leadership that includes two different countries, states and cities.

"Both places are a problem for each other," said Joe Heyman, director of the University of Texas at El Paso's Center for Interamerican and Border Studies. "We are in a disease pool of something on the order of 2.7 million people between Doña Ana and El Paso counties and the municipio of Juárez."

In a photo shared by the consulate, the June 2 gathering looked like any other cross-border conference but that everyone wore face masks. The chairs appeared carefully positioned about a yard apart.

Participants said the meeting was a chance to intensify the cross-border cooperation on public health policy, which never stopped, but took a hit as both cities were plunged into states of emergency, grappling with a fast-moving, poorly understood disease. The two sides have been sharing information daily, but the meeting opened the idea for "possible alternative areas of collaboration," the consulate said in a statement. 

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El Paso City Council member expresses concern over leaks before city manager, attorney evaluations

by El Paso Times

The El Paso City Council will conduct its annual evaluations of its two highest paid employees in June, with one council member expressing concern about the release of confidential information during the process.

The council discussed the city manager and city attorney evaluation process in closed session at Tuesday's regular meeting, but upon re-entering open session Eastridge-Mid-Valley Rep. Henry Rivera said the council "must protect the integrity of the process and ensure there is no financial liability to the taxpayer."

Rivera placed an item on Tuesday's agenda seeking to have City Attorney Karla Nieman update the council in the coming weeks on amendments to the city's Ethics Ordinance.

Those amendments were prepared by Nieman and the Ethics Review Commission following the December 2018 leak of City Manager Tommy Gonzalez's employment contract recommendation to Channel 14-KFOX days before the council voted on it.

It is unknown whether the council will be changing the terms of Gonzalez or Nieman's contracts this year, as they did in 2018, but both are eligible for a merit raise based on their annual performance evaluations.

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Biggest events of year in El Paso could be cancelled due to budget shortfall

by Mills Hayes - KFOX14

The COVID-19 crisis is having a massive impact on the economy and some of the biggest events of the year could be cancelled because of a multi-million-dollar budget shortfall.

The City of El Paso is expecting to lose $33 million this year because of coronavirus which means that some popular events and service are being canceled even months away.

“We will not have community centers open, we will not have libraries open and available to the public, we will also not have things in the fall like festivals,” City Manager Tommy Gonzalez said.

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City of El Paso budget cuts may have led to retirement of experienced managers; council member frustrated

by Saul Saenz - KVIA.com

Budget-saving measures made in response to the COVID-19 pandemic may have precipitated the departure of experienced managers within the City of El Paso.

El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez told ABC-7 on Wednesday that retirement calculations for employees were being affected by recent salary cuts implemented for city employees. Without mentioning names, Gonzalez said employees who had planned to retire in the fall had moved up their departure dates so as to maintain their level of salary in the wake of retirement.

Robert Resendes, who'd been serving as Director of Health since 2013, and Monica Lombraña, who oversaw Operations and Transportation, have announced their retirement over the last two weeks.

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City of El Paso announces new director of El Paso International Airport

by KTSM

The City of El Paso has announced the appointment of longtime City of El Paso engineer Sam Rodriguez as the new Chief Operations and Transportation Officer and El Paso International Airport (EPIA) Director.

City officials said Rodriguez will begin his new role as Monica Lombrana, the City’s Chief Operations and Transportation Officer and EPIA Director announced her retirement.

In addition to overseeing the Airport, Lombrana provided oversight over International Bridges, Sun Metro and the Performance Office.

Rodriguez will be transitioning into the position over the next several weeks and will work closely with Lombrana to ensure that City operations continue efficiently, officials said.

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City dismisses ethics complaint against District 6 Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez regarding newsletters

by Molly Smith - El Paso Times

The city has dismissed a resident's ethics complaint against East-Valley city Rep. Claudia Ordaz Perez regarding approximately 6,300 newsletters her office mailed to residents outside her district.

Frank J. Garza, an outside legal counsel for the city, notified East-Valley resident Ana Reza of the dismissal of her Nov. 25 complaint in a Dec. 20 letter the El Paso Times obtained Monday.

"Having reviewed all the letters distributed by Respondent (Ordaz Perez), I have determined that these letters refer only to matters of public interest and do not contain any reference to a political campaign or ballot measure, and therefore did not confer a campaign advantage upon Respondent or any other party," Garza wrote.

In late September, Ordaz Perez's District 6 office mailed 16,000 newsletters to residents in the 79907 Zip Code notifying them that the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality denied a medical waste facility's registration to operate in the Mission Valley. The letter emphasized the efforts of Ordaz Perez and her husband, Precinct 3 County Commissioner Vince Perez, in fighting against the facility.

In an emailed statement Monday, Ordaz Perez said, in part: "Each newsletter had a clear public purpose, which is why the ethics complaint was promptly dismissed by independent outside legal counsel ..."

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City official says study on whether to buy El Paso Electric may cost millions, take years

by Vic Kolenc - El Paso Times

It likely would take millions of dollars and several years for the city to study the feasibility of acquiring El Paso Electric, according to a city official's analysis.

And it would cost the city hundreds of millions of dollars per year in financing costs to buy the utility at $4.3 billion, Robert Cortinas, the city's chief financial officer, told the City Council during a  lengthy discussion on the issue Tuesday.

At least three members of the nine-member City Council indicated during the meeting that they might favor the city doing a feasibility study instead of the City Council approving the pending $4.3 billion sale of the 117-year-old utility to the J.P. Morgan Chase-advised Infrastructure Investments Fund, or IIF.

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Mayor Dee Margo talks about issues facing El Pasoans during State of City address

by Shelby Kapp - KTSM El Paso

On Thursday, El Paso Mayor Dee Margo delivered his ‘State of the City’ address at the convention center in Downtown El Paso.

Margo took a moment to remember the victims of the August 3 shooting but focused on what the city is doing to improve safety. He said crime in El Paso has decreased.

“We only had 18 murders in 2018, this is totally an anomaly this is not us. We are safe we are one of the safest cities in the nation and we will continue to be so,” said Mayor Margo.

He credits this safety to investments made in public safety. Margo also said one of the most important investments for the future is the multi-million dollar Public Safety Bond that was recently approved by voters. Margo says it’s long overdue.

“Our police headquarters is in a building built in 1947, the parking garage is collapsed. It would cost $6.1 million to fix the parking garage, it’s ridiculous. It’s not hardened from a security standpoint and it’s not user-friendly,” said Mayor Margo.

Margo also addressed the cities financial state saying it’s in good shape but that the city is working to attract more commercial investment.

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City Council dissolves TIRZ 12, further research conservation easement option

by Tatiana Favela - KTSM

The City of El Paso is one step closer to honoring the will of the voters who chose to save the land around the controversial “Lost Dog” trail in Northwest El Paso forever.

Last Tuesday, City Council voted to officially dissolve “Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone No. 12”, otherwise known as TIRZ 12.

This move essentially eliminates the possibility of development within the thousand acres of land in Northwest El Paso, which is what preservationists are calling for.

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Cassandra Hernandez to face three in special election for District 3 City Council seat

by Aaron Montes - El Paso Times

Incumbent Cassandra Hernandez will be first on the ballot in a special election against three challengers who are looking to replace her on the City Council.

She'll face Ana Duenez, Robert Vandivort and William Veliz in the Nov. 5 special election. The candidates are competing for the District 3 seat representing East-Central El Paso. The filing deadline was Thursday night at 5 p.m. 

Shortly after the deadline, the names were drawn for positioning on the ballot. Hernandez, 32, will appear first and is followed in order by Duenez, Veliz and Vandivort. 

On Sept. 3, the City Council voted 4-3 for the special election to fill a presumed vacancy in Hernandez's seat. 

The majority of the City Council agreed that Hernandez lost her seat following an inadvertent Facebook post by a former campaign volunteer announcing that she was running for mayor. 

Early voting in the November election begins Monday, Oct. 21, and ends Friday, Nov. 1.

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City attorney explains steps moving forward following councilwoman issue

by Marisa Saenz - KFOX-14

Following a Facebook post made by Rep. Cassandra Hernandez that she was running for mayor, the city explained what steps have to be taken moving forward Thursday.

This all started with a Facebook post Hernandez said was a mistake.

The post said she was running for mayor.

Hernandez said that an administrator of her Facebook page posted the announcement, not her, but the city says that by law, she must give up her seat.

City Attorney, Karla Nieman says there are three rules that apply to this instance.

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Drop in $1 billion bond proposals with focus only on public safety

by Tatiana Favela - KTSM.com

From $1 billion to just over $413 million dollars. That’s the amount the City of El Paso is now looking at when it comes to proposals for the upcoming bond election.

City staff started off by focusing on five priorities for bond proposals including police, fire, streets, public health, and animal services.

“We’re working hard and are spending our dollars I think appropriately. But the taxpayers are tired of any increases,” Mayor Dee Margo said.

The city’s strongest focus and top priority though, has been public safety.

On Monday, City Council held a special meeting and went over three different bond proposition options. Council ultimately came down to a vote that would take streets, public health, and animal services out of the picture.

“The two primary most important items are a Eastside Regional Command center. We have no police out in our most populous growing area. That is a true public and life safety need. And in the Northwest, we need another fire station with EMS on Transmountain. That again is another life safety issue,” Mayor Margo explained.

Staff presented to council updated police and fire bond proposals that removed fleet and equipment needs such as radios, crime scene scanners, bomb suits, and more.

That dropped $178 million from the original public safety bond proposals.

“It’s not ideal. I would like everything that was put down on paper initially but I could live with that. It’s a lot far better than what we’re having to deal with right now,” Chief of Police Greg Allen commented.

City representatives Alexsandra Annello and Cassandra Hernandez suggested bringing back the original proposals including all of the public safety’s needs.

However, the rest of council voted to continue with those reductions.

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City of El Paso considers $1 billion budget proposal, increase in property tax rate

by Aaron Montes - El Paso Times

The El Paso City Council could adopt a budget of just over $1 billion for the 2020 fiscal year and a 4 cent increase in the property tax rate. 

The council heard the city's initial proposal for next year's budget during a special session Monday at City Hall. Budget discussions resumed Tuesday and will continue until Thursday.

The city expects to see certified property valuations by July 25, and staff estimates are projecting a 2.2 percent increase for El Paso homes. The proposed tax rate will be announced four days later.

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Why the city of El Paso says it's important to give businesses tax incentives

by Portia Baudisch - KFOX 14

Giving tax breaks to businesses is a controversial topic when it comes to how the city collects money.

Some residents wonder why businesses are getting a discount but citizens are paying the full price.

Top Golf and the Alamo Drafthouse are two examples of businesses that benefit from tax incentives offered by the city.

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El Paso City Council passes code of conduct rules, but not all representatives on board

Aaron Montes - El Paso Times

11 June 2019

City Council passed a new code of conduct Monday that includes discouraging city representatives from voicing personal opinions or statements contrary to established city positions.

The code also cautions representatives when talking to the media and reinforces the mayor's position as "the designated representative of the Council to present and speak on the official city position." It covers elected officials' conduct with city staff, each other, the public and boards and committees. 

In the section "Elected officials conduct with other public agencies," the code reads, "If the official is representing the City, the official must support and advocate the official City position on an issue, not a personal viewpoint."

It's unclear how the code will be enforced by city officials, but repercussions for intentional and repeated refusal to follow proper conduct, such as removal from special appointments or reprimands, are spelled out in the city's laws.

The council passed the code of conduct with a 4-2 vote, despite pushback among council members, who felt the council needed more time to review the code before approval. City Reps. Sam Morgan, Claudia Ordaz Perez, Henry Rivera and Isabel Salcido voted in favor of approving the code. Reps. Alexsandra Annello and Peter Svarzbein voted against.

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Businesses invited to open house meetings on city’s updated noise ordinance

El Paso Herald-Post

22 May 2019

The City of El Paso will be hosting a series of open house meetings to update the business community, particularly restaurants and nightlife establishments, about changes to the noise ordinance.

The changes take effect on August 26, 2019, and will require businesses with outdoor areas that are within 350 feet of a residential property to apply for the new outdoor amplified sound permit.

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