Tommy Gonzalez was City Manager from June 23, 2014 until today. Although Col. (Ret.) Cary Westin is now Interim City Manager, Gonzalez will stay on through June 29 to help facilitate the transition.
It is fitting to examine the legacy of Tommy Gonzalez, who managed our City for 3,273 days after leaving his job in Irving, Texas, where he had faced a criminal complaint.
Rep. Cassandra Hernandez, that paragon of virtue, and Reps. Isabel Salcido and Rivera have touted Gonzalez’s achievements, citing the completion of numerous bond projects and the replenishment of the City’s rainy-day fund. They rushed to his defense when he was fired on February 28, but to no avail.
Let us recount the other achievements of Tommy Gonzalez:
1. Our City has raised our property tax without fail every year since Gonzalez assumed office, eight times in a row, increasing the City’s share of our total property tax from 25% to 29%.
2. The population of the City of El Paso has declined from its peak of approximately 683,583 inhabitants in 2017 to only 677,456 as of May 2022, as thousands flee to cities and towns with lower taxes and/or seek employment where there is more opportunity. The other major Texas cities have seen robust population growth while El Paso shrank from the 19th largest city in America to the 22nd and saw its representation in the Texas House of Representatives decrease by one seat.
3. Our City has issued more than a half-billion dollars in non-voter approved debt in the form of certificates of obligation so that we now owe $851,565,991 in principal and interest, one of the highest such burdens in Texas. In 2017, the maximum CO issuance permitted by the City was increased to $100M, and we have seen several $100M issuances since then.
4. Gonzalez is paid $424,595 per year plus benefits, which is absurd by any standard. If we had kept him on until 2029, he would have been paid another $3 million plus benefits.
5. Our City has raised the salary and benefits of Police and Fire to astronomic levels, contributing to an increase of $37 million in the operations budget in the last four years alone (according to Bob Moore).
6. We have suffered huge cost overruns on the QOL bond projects, including $20M+ for the Children’s Museum, $10M+ for the Mexican-American Cultural Center, and $10M+ for the Eastside Sports Complex.
7. Gonzalez gave us the Great Wolf Lodge debacle, which included the “Great Wolf Lodge Land Swap.” The City acquired 44 acres in northwest El Paso from Paul Foster in exchange for 2,313 acres of land in the northeast that the City insisted was of equivalent value. This happened even though City Attorney Karla Nieman told us that if Great Wolf Lodge withdrew from the deal, the land swap would be cancelled.
8. The City then created TIRZ 13 for Paul Foster’s 2,313 acres, the greatest corporate giveaway in El Paso history. We are talking about a half-century of 75% property tax forgiveness for anything he and his business partners build there until the year 2070!
9. Joe Pickett is suing the City for its creation of a $30 million slush fund that is drawn from at least three “fees” on our water bills and then spent arbitrarily. Under Gonzalez’s direction, City fees have increased dramatically, from permitting to parking meters.
10. The City negotiated scores of 380 agreements with developers behind closed doors, more than a quarter-billion dollars worth, and an untold number of these did not yield the promised results, to the detriment of taxpayers.
11. Gonzalez tried every which way to implement the disastrous and highly unpopular arena project, which displaced 39 people and threatened their historic barrio with mass demolition. He also supported the useless $800K feasibility study and its inane recommendations.
12. Gonzalez perverted the QOL bond so as to construct four waterparks, which have lost $4.5M so far, plus utilities costs.
13. Gonzalez failed to create a successful financial plan for Peter’s trolleys, which had $5.6M in operating losses in the first two seasons and are still insolvent.
14. Gonzalez continues to support the Ballpark, which can only survive financially with an annual $3.9M hotel occupancy tax subsidy. The City never released figures supporting its claim that the Ballpark is an economic engine for downtown. Meanwhile, the City leases publicly-built parking facilities to Foster’s company for 55 cents per parking space during events, which are then sold to the public for at least $10 each. We are locked into our contract with MountainStar Sports Group for another two decades.
15. In 2016, the City’s independent investigator determined that Gonzalez violated City policies and procedures when he approved multiple controversial road projects and appointed a new financial advisor. The projects had been ordered by District 2 Rep. Larry Romero and cost a total of $871,777, and Gonzalez was found to have “recklessly disregarded City policy” when he rubber-stamped them.
16. Gonzalez stayed silent while our electric utility was sold to a group of Wall Street investors. The total future economic impact on the taxpayers is incalculable.
17. Gonzalez was given the authority to transfer up to $1M between departments or projects without City Council oversight.
18. Gonzalez appointed several incompetent and/or objectionable sycophants to positions of power within the City, demoralizing their subordinates.
19. Gonzalez has been remarkably unavailable for media interviews. His office has issued numerous dishonest media releases claiming, among other things, that our taxes have been lowered and that our bond rating “increased” to AA+.
20. Gonzalez has consistently pushed the agenda of the local Oligarchs. It was revealed he was using his personal email address to communicate with Paul Foster.
We sincerely hope that Col. Westin will do a better job of managing our City now that he has assumed office and that he will present a budget in August for FY2024 that will achieve the no-new-revenue tax rate.
We wish him every success!
Photo of Roman Emperor Caligula courtesy of De Agostini via Getty Images.