The El Paso Tribune - El Paso Texas Political Commentary
Susan Austin and Indecisiveness
April 1, 2005 - Roy Gray
I take my duties and responsibilities very seriously. When I decided to run for the District 1 Representative seat for City Council I approached the responsibility as candidate as seriously as I performed my duties as a Marine for the 33 years. Part of that responsibility is thorough preparation.

I respect my current Representative, Mrs. Austin for the effort she has given to make this community a better place to live. But as I observed her performance over the past term I became convinced we should not confuse effort with performance. I witnessed inconsistency, indecisiveness, and an extreme reluctance to effectively communicate with the citizens of District 1 on the issues of the day. I observed she has had difficult times arriving at a decision to vote and it seemed to me she was an erratic voting member of the City Council.

To that end, and in my effort to prepare myself for challenging the incumbent, I took the time and effort to review the voting record of Mrs. Austin from June 10, 2003 until present. What I concluded was consistent with my observations and that is she is at best ineffective and at worst detrimental to the progress of District 1. To back up my claims I have developed a summary of Mrs. Austin’s voting record and made it available on my website, for your review. To not be repetitive on the specific votes on that summary I will provide some of my interpretations of how her voting record is out of step with the citizens on the West Side.

The West Side is highly active in voting compared to the other districts in El Paso. In the last Mayoral and City Council election the previous administration was soundly defeated in District 1 by the largest margin in recent history. The voters of District 1 sent a clear message that they disagreed with Caballero administration’s policies. This message did not get through to Mrs. Austin for when she had the opportunity to vote for a Caballero friendly issue she did so. On June 17th and October 17th of 2003 she twice voted with the Caballero appointed Housing Authority of the City of El Paso (HACEP) to allow the Suncrest Townhome Complex to be built just inside the border for District 8 contrary to the District 8 Representative and his constituent’s wishes. This vote was cast to the detriment of the neighboring school, Morehead Middle School, which was in District 1 and would have been severely overcrowded. Fortunately in spite of Mrs. Austin’s vote the measure failed.

The contentious relationship between the Wardy administration and the Caballero appointed HACEP board of commissioners dominated the news in 2003. There were reports and reasons to believe that the commissioners of HACEP were engaged in questionable practices that were costing the taxpayers dearly and the Wardy administration took steps to regain control of a subservient appointed board. On April 20, 2004 Mrs. Austin voted against the Wardy administration’s efforts, and with the Caballero appointed HACEP board, to prevent appealing a court case that issued a stay to the appointments of additional board members to regain control of what was termed a stated “rogue” board and executive director.

Another example is on August 19, 2003 she had the opportunity to vote against reappointing Mr. Caballero’s law partner to the Housing Finance Corporation. The HFC under the Caballero administration was a disaster that resulted in millions of dollars of low interest loans going to waste due to the policy of herding potential homeowners into central El Paso. Mrs. Austin voted in favor of the status quo rather than appoint a highly qualified person that happens to be the President of the El Paso Realtor Association.

Regrettably there is another example of Mrs. Austin’s being out of step with the West Side electorate and that is a vote she cast on October 21, 2003 where she was the lone council vote against repealing and revising the Caballero administration’s proposed charter amendment language. Had I been the representative during these votes, I would have taken the pulse of the constituents and realized that the policies of the previous administration were a direction 180 degree opposite from the majority of voters on the West Side and voted accordingly.

Another general issue that resonates with the West Side voters is of course the high taxes and specifically property taxes. District 1 desires and expects the city to take measures that would work toward the goal to avoid property tax increases. Another lone council vote cast on December 22, 2003 by Mrs. Austin was against revising the fee schedule for tolls crossing the international bridges. This action to have a very moderate increase in toll fees created an increased revenue stream in the millions of dollars to help balance a volatile budget. Mrs. Austin’s policy of providing financial relief to a segment of people that, by and large, do not pay into the tax base of this community at the expense of the budget concerns me. However, juxtapose that with her refusal to provide financial relief to a segment of our population that has paid into the tax base for dozens of years by her vote just 13 days earlier against providing a tax freeze for the elderly and the disabled and I am just downright perplexed and so are her constituents.

When given the opportunity to save some money in the budget I suspect the West Side voters would have a favorable opinion toward that potential tax saving measure. On November 4, 2003 Mrs. Austin had the opportunity to vote to stop the financial hemorrhaging of our tax dollars in funding the much controversial Onate/Equestrian Statue. She voted against returning the funding to private sources. Had I been your Representative I would have voted the opposite and that would have put the council in a tie for the Mayor to cast the tie-breaking vote. We all can then speculate as to which way the Mayor would have voted.

In another chance to save tax dollars Mrs. Austin again disappointed the voters of the West Side. Recently the subject of refurbishing the ninth floor of city hall was debated and defeated. The City Manager determined it would best serve El Paso to spend approximately $236,000 (minus carpet) to renovate those spaces in order to have her staff more readily available. The money was to come from very old certificates of obligation that is just lying there accruing interest. Mrs. Austin voted in favor of spending this money in this manner then was quoted in an El Paso Times article as saying that council was arguing about “nickels and dimes”. This cavalier attitude toward the same amount of taxes that about 300 homes contribute to the city coffers flies in the face of the conservative tax policy the West Side expects from their representative. Had I been your Representative I certainly would have voted against that measure. In fact, I intend to find out how many of the old certificates of obligation are still lying around and work diligently to use them to pay down the city debt meanwhile lowering your tax burden as a homeowner.

The list goes on. Of all the issues Mrs. Austin had to grapple with during her time on Council I would say the voting record indicates that increasing the regulation for the Sexually Oriented Businesses (SOB) was the toughest. However, the West Side citizens do not have a tough time determining that the SOBs are blight to our community and harms our attempts to increase economic development. The District 1 voters I have spoken to see this issue as one to take a stand on and are will to risk legal action in order to create a SOB unfriendly environment. Hopefully this will thwart additional SOBs from opening. The series of votes cast by Mrs. Austin on September 30, 2003 is a sterling display of discombobulation. It appears she had a very difficult time with her moral center conflicting with her legal training as a lawyer.

One issue she did not have a difficult time reaching personal consensus occurred nine days before Christmas in 2003 when she is was the lone member presently sitting on council to vote against an ordinance that would allow a church to build its house of worship on less than 3 acres of land. It is hard for me to grasp a set of values that has great difficulty to arrive at regulating SOBs but no difficulty refusing a church to be built on less than 3 acres of land.

The growth of El Paso is probably the number one issue for us as a community to come to grips with for even the tax issue is driven by growth. In the community growth decision matrix council members’ face, there is very important concept property owners expect their Representative to be vigilant for…and that is zoning. When you review Mrs. Austin’s voting record on zoning there is a common thread I ask you to recognize. That thread is she has voted for development at the exasperation of the existing homeowner’s concern for their quality of life and property value. In assigning the use of the $10,000,000 reserved for her district, Mrs. Austin determined the best use for that large sum of tax dollars was to provide for drainage and road improvements in the Upper Valley that leads to areas of increased development. This development was vehemently opposed by the residents of the Upper Valley and to this day still do not want the $3.58 million earmarked to widen the Upper Valley road. Had I been your Representative I would have convened a board of stakeholders from all over the West Side to best recommend how to spend that money for the betterment of the entire West Side. I can assure you this money would have benefited the entire West Side and not just one specifically selected area for perhaps one specific reason.

I will conclude with one last example that proves my assertion that Mrs. Austin should not have the privilege to be your Representative for another term. On July 27, 2004 she made a motion to expand the list of finalists for the City Manager position from three candidates to four candidates. When the vote was taken she voted against her own motion. I guarantee when I am your Representative I will keep my eye on the ball and not vote against my own motion. Enough said!!!!

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