“He doesn’t do anything, nothing,” says Maria. “All he wants is money, money and more money.”
“Isn’t he the guy that was saying a few years back that if he didn’t get a raise or something his wife was going to leave him, or he was going to move out of town…man, he makes all the decisions. He’s like a king up there,” says Troy.
“I don’t know,” says Elsa, “but we could use what he makes as pay for a year to do many other things in El Paso. He needs to be away from here.”
That’s residents giving their opinion of one particular city employee: Tommy Gonzalez, City Manager for El Paso.
Virtually from day one, Gonzalez’s performance – and his very position – have been a lightning rod for residents. From his salary, to the specifics of his contract, to the decisions he has made, no other city position has drawn as much attention or ire as the City Manager’s seat.
Fed up with what he considers a lack of dedication to the residents of El Paso, one resident has taken action to remove Gonzalez’s job from the City of El Paso’s line up.
When I covered the various events surrounding President Trump’s visit to El Paso, I shadowed Sam Williams – who ran as the independent candidate for the 16th Congressional District – and now was collecting signatures to do just that.
As I followed Williams around the crowd awaiting the President’s rally, the opinion of everyone I spoke to was that Gonzalez must go. Mr. Williams was there collecting signatures to do just that.
To assist in that task, Williams has founded the El Paso Grassroots Coalition, a federally- recognized Political Action Committee (PAC)
“We started the El Paso Grassroots Coalition as an independent body to get people elected that actually care about the City of El Paso and the needs of El Paso,” said Williams. “The problem that we’ve seen so far and lately is that most of our representation that we elect doesn’t represent the people, they wind up representing some type of business or special interest group. That’s evident by some of the projects that the city’s done recently. They don’t really benefit the citizen, even though they call it a quality of life project.”
In 2004 the City of El Paso amended the City Charter in order to create the Office of City Manager and to have a City Manager run the city, essentially removing day-to-day management from City Council.
“Well, the problem is that we’ve had two city managers in El Paso already and it’s, it’s been a massive failure for the city,” Williams shares.
So, what is the function of a city manager?
According to Study.com, a city manager is responsible for directing a variety of administrative processes that allow a city to operate. It is their job to implement and oversee policies crafted by city council. They are also responsible for documenting and presenting the city budget as well as interfacing with the community to develop new programs.
Williams – and many others – feel these roles have been reversed.
“You know, for the citizens of El Paso, it’s costing us a lot of money to have this office,” Williams began. “Now a city manager government works well if you have somebody that has a vested interest in the community, that really cares about what is happening and how the people respond to what projects are being done. And what I’ve seen so far is that our Mayor, City Council have given all of their power to the City Manager. That’s not the way it is to the City Managers supposed to answer to the Council and the Mayor. But when you watch what’s happening at the City Council meetings, they answer to the City Manager.”
The newest contract for Tommy Gonzalez pays him just over $350,000 per year, pay increases of five per cent per year and a $6,000 annual car allowance. Additionally, the City of El Paso will be paying for an Executive Health Exam for Mr. Gonzalez.
The last pay increase for Mr. Gonzalez was in August of last year when his salary was raised to just over $330,000. The rate of pay Gonzalez is receiving is supposed to be based on a comparison made of other cities who employ a City Manager.
As for the pay rate, the cities used for comparison were (with their population in parentheses) Austin (790,390), Phoenix (4.19 million in the metro area), Tucson (520,116), Oklahoma City (579,999) and San Antonio (1.8 million).
Going into this story, I was advised by several people that I would not hear back from Mr. Gonzalez or any member of his staff.
I did reach out to Gonzalez for comment. His only direct communication to me was a Dear Constituent letter.
My next email was to Laura Cruz-Acosta, with the City of El Paso. I was told I must direct any media inquiries to her. After asking, I verified my deadline, and then never heard back from her, or anyone connected to the City Manager’s office.
By deadline on Friday, I had not had any response from the City Manager’s office
“If the guy does a bad job, you can’t fire him,” says Williams, speaking of one of the many benefits of the new contract. “We don’t have any say; we had no say in this contract. When one of the councilmen leaked it, you know, it got it out. It made people aware of what was going on at City Council level and what they were doing.”
“We need to cap public salaries, and we can base this off of, especially for executive level, base it on the federal pay scale for level three executive schedule. Cap it on that, and that’s it,” says Williams. “Tie any pay raises or anything like that to the federal cost of living increases.”
As for what the public can do now, Williams points residents to social media and the petition that he and the El Paso Grassroots Coalition has, you can contact them directly.
“They can reach out to us on Facebook at El Paso Grassroots Coalition. You know, send it, send me a message. I’ll get somebody to you with a petition to sign it. You know, it’s the only way we can voice our opinion at this point,” said Williams.
“They can call me, when I’m in the office, it’s (915) 261-7115. If I don’t answer, I will get back to you. Now, there’s no message on that phone. That’s why I recommend using Messenger on Facebook because we’re able to store those messages and respond faster.”
Williams added that he will be in front of the El Paso County Courthouse on Monday, 25 February, at 9 a.m. collecting signatures.
I do invite you to listen to the audio of our conversation above, as there is so much more that we discussed and is available for you to download as well.
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