In His Own Words
By Rep. John Cook, District 4
Posted on October 3, 2003
The following is an excerpt from Rep. John Cook's weekly newsletter to constitutents: "The NorthE-news Letter" on October 2, 2003.
If you would like to receive a complete copy of this newsletter, please e-mail Rep. Cook's office at Districtfirstname.lastname@example.org.
City Council in Review
A public service update of City Council Meeting of September 30, 2003
I am going to break from my tradition of highlighting all the important issues that were discussed at the council meeting. What I will address is one single item that took up a great portion of the meeting.
Item 24A SOBs Win. Community Loses
After three years of public hearings, research, deliberation, and compromise the council passed a diluted version of the ordinance that will regulate sexually oriented businesses. The vote on approving the amended ordinance was split four to four, forcing the mayor to break the tie. Let me preface my comments by saying I do not mind losing on issues, however I get very upset when people bend, stretch, manipulate and break the rules to get their own way.
On Monday evening, I asked Mayor Wardy where he stood on the ordinance. He stated we would pass the ordinance with the amendments that Representative Cushing was proposing. I had no knowledge of Cushing's proposed changes to the ordinance, but evidently Wardy knew exactly what lay in store for Tuesdays public hearing.
Once the City Clerk began reading the caption into the record, I immediately raised my hand and pressed my button on my console requesting to be recognized. From my vantage point at the mayor's right hand, I have a clear view of his control panel and saw that no other representative had requested to speak on the issue. As soon as the clerk completed reading the caption, I quickly moved to approve the ordinance as it was crafted by the city attorney's office and Scott Bergthold, the attorney we had retained to assist us in developing a strong, defendable, tested ordinance. Representative Power provided a second to that motion. Representative Cushing then read off a litany of changes, asking them to be amended to the ordinance. I refused to accept his amendments and asked the mayor to take the public testimony. We subsequently took public comment for over an hour. When it was time to vote on the issue, our attorney asked if the mayor had recognized me to make the motion. When I asked if he had indeed recognized my motion, Wardy denied me that respect and instead recognized Representative Cushing, despite the fact that he had never pressed the "request" button or raided his hand to be recognized. Wardy then allowed Cushing to make a motion to accept the amendments he once again read into the record.
Quite frankly, I have sat through more than one hundred days with this administration. I have sat quietly and patiently as time after time and week after week members of council have blurted out motions and spoken out of turn. Both the mayor and the city attorney have allowed them to do so with impunity. For both of them to have had this sudden awakening to the fact that we have rules of order and conveniently apply them to force my motion off the floor was petty and sophomoric. In retrospect I should have expected as much from two novices to our municipal government. I find it insulting that a rule that has been violated time and time again would be spontaneously enforced when I had made a motion on an issue of such importance.
What ensued from that point on would have been comical had it not made us
look like the "Silly Council". Certain members of council, who I
will not name, struggled with motions, reconsiderations, deliberations, and
requests that the City Attorney and City Clerk help them figure out what they
were doing. Had I not been so upset at the collusion that got us to this point,
I would have laughed aloud. I have seen student councils that were able to
conduct their business with more professionalism and clarity than our body
displayed. Finally, they realized that they had only voted on Cushing's amendments
and had failed to move on the ordinance itself. Hello. This stuff is not rocket
Voting with me against the weakened ordinance were Representatives Power, Escobar, and Rojas. I thank them for caring about making El Paso a model city. You may ask yourself why Wardy would have treated me the way he did. I know I've asked myself that same question. While only he knows for sure, I suspect that he did not want to break the tie by voting against a strong, defensible, and tested ordinance, but found it more politically correct to break it by voting in favor of a more conservative ordinance.
As the council meeting progressed, I felt compelled to repeatedly comment as other representatives freely violated the same rule that had been imposed on my motion. Frustrated with my disruptive comments, the mayor and Cobos both became angry and upset at my sarcasm. I would point out that the mayor never recognized Cobos and did not chastise him for speaking out of order while he cast his derogatory remarks at me. Instead the mayor had the audacity to tell me he had been patient with me and declared that I was out of order.
There is another issue here that upsets me greatly. It was quite obvious that Cushing, with the mayor's blessing, had presented his amendments to certain members of council and had not made them available to others. While I am not a legal scholar, I suspect such "behind closed door" deals are a violation of the spirit, if not the letter, of the Texas Open Meetings Act. There is no way that council members could possibly have considered and deliberated the rapid fire amendments that Cushing presented in approximately 30 seconds unless they had conspired on them before the public hearing. I may have been born yesterday, but I guarantee you it wasn't late at night.
A final issue that troubles me is that for some unknown reason, my private e-mail address had mysteriously been removed from the distribution of e-mails addressed to the district. The problem was fixed shortly after the vote on the SOB ordinance. Am I becoming paranoid?
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