Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Message from Our County Commissioner, Veronica Escobar

May 6, 2009

Happy Spring

Good morning! I hope you have been enjoying our gorgeous springtime. There’s a lot going on at the County, so I have much news to report to you.
Children’s Hospital Board Nominations

The El Paso Children’s Hospital is looking for great board members, and so is the County. This is a wonderful opportunity for you to be a part of the founding board of directors at our children’s hospital. The County is designated with having two positions on that board; we can submit six names for consideration to the existing board members, and they will select from those nominees. Nominees should have extensive board experience, no conflict of interest, and possess skills outlined in the bylaws.

All of the information you need can be found on the website, including the bylaws, the board packet and the application. If you would like the County to consider you, please fill out the board application in the packet and submit to my office by May 15, 2009. You can submit it to me via email or fax (543-3817) or snail mail. If you have questions, please call my office at 546-2111.

Commissioner Anna Perez and I will review all of the board applications on behalf of the Commissioners Court, but the full Court will vote on the names we decide to forward. We need to select our six nominees for those two slots before the end of May so the full board can be ready this summer.

In other El Paso Children’s Hospital news, construction is well underway. It’s so exciting to visit the Hospital District campus now because of all the construction activity. If you can’t swing by to watch it, you view it on the hospital's earthcam.


El Paso County is facing some of the same budgetary challenges that other governments are. In the final quarters of this fiscal year, we are realizing a $6 million shortfall, the result of shortfalls in sales tax, fee collections (like passports, filing fees, title deeds, etc) and a drop in intergovernmental revenues from the federal government. Next fiscal year, which begins in October, will be even more challenging.

Commissioners Court asked our department heads to find 2% cuts for the remainder of this year in order to address the $6 million shortfall and we will need 3% in additional cuts next year. Although 5% doesn’t sound like much, it truly is extremely difficult, whether the departments are small or large. We already have many of our folks in the County doing a lot of work with very few resources. To cut back even more will be painful for everyone involved.

In addition to the cuts we asked for from departments (all of which we approved on Monday), we implemented a hiring freeze, we are evaluating furloughs (potentially having four of our holidays be unpaid instead of paid), and other cost-cutting measures like cutting non-mandated services. On Monday Commissioners Court agreed to hold monthly meetings to discuss and continue to take action on more of these options; we will closely monitor our revenues and make adjustments to the current budget monthly if necessary. Our budget hearings for FY 2010 will take place in August, and that will mean implementation of more cost-cutting measures. Indeed, we are all hoping the economy recovers soon.

Ethics Bill

I’ve received many inquiries on the status of the Ethics bill, which the County Board of Ethics and the County Commissioners Court forwarded to the state legislature. Here’s the latest: the original bill was voted out of the Senate (our senate sponsor is Sen. Eliot Shapleigh); the House version (our sponsor is Rep. Marisa Marquez, and the co-author is Rep. Chente Quintanilla) has evolved and is significantly different than what was presented originally. Over the last two months, our House sponsor has received input from our state delegation, sheriff, district attorney and other stakeholders to modify the bill so that it will be supported by everyone.

To read the latest substitute, you can find it on the County Attorney's page. The breakdown of the changes Rep. Marquez incorporated into the substitute is as follows:

Strengthened checks and balances by limiting elected officials' access to
information brought before the commission;

Ensured the cost for the county remains low by created a rotating three person committee to review and weed out frivolous complaints;

Changed the standards on appeal to trial de novo, which would allow for a new trial at district court level;

Eliminated all criminal penalties for those appearing before the commission;

Provided that HB 2301 can not interfere with an employee’s collective bargaining or civil service agreement.

The modifications made to date make the County’s proposed Ethics Commission very similar to the existing Texas Ethics Commission, and I am very grateful to everyone who has worked to get the bill as far as it has gotten. It is our hope that the Calendar’s Committee will soon allow the bill to move to the House floor where its merits will be debated.

Happy Mother’s Day

This Saturday is election day, with some important municipal races up. Don't forget to vote.

To all of you who are mothers or who have been molded by a great mom or who are lucky enough to be married to a great mom, Sunday is the day to celebrate! I’d like to thank all the moms in my life starting with my own mother, who has been a blessing in my family’s life and a tremendous role model for me. My thanks also to all the great mothers I am also surrounded by who are great friends to me, who work with me, provide inspiration to me, and who play a significant role in my family’s life. And finally, my thanks to my family -- I am very lucky to be a mother of two amazing, fun, and wonderful kids.

I hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend.


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