I wrote the following editorial that was published in this Sunday’s El Paso Times advocating for a Pre-Trial Office in El Paso County. I am glad to announce the Office was approved in today’s Commissioner’s Court Meeting.
Vince Perez: Criminal justice reform can save money and keep El Paso safe
By Vince Perez / Guest columnist
POSTED: 05/03/2015 12:00:00 AM MDT
County Commissioners Court is responsible for overseeing the budgets of a variety of entities that make up our local criminal justice system including the Sheriff's Office, the county jail, the district and county attorneys' offices, the public defender and more than 20 District and County Courts.
In all, the county spends more than $170 million every year (about 75 percent of the total county budget) to provide these vital services. Nearly all of your property and sales tax dollars paid to the county are used to fund these functions.
The single most expensive component of this system is the county jail. Last year, more than $70 million of local tax dollars were spent on the Downtown and East Montana jails alone.
While the jail generated $14 million in revenue last year to offset some of these costs, El Pasoans spend more on incarceration (per capita) than nearly all of the 254 counties in Texas. One night in the Downtown jail costs taxpayers $104 per individual.
In fact, the size of the jail budget grew from $55 million in 2008 to $70 million in 2014, even though the jail housed slightly fewer detainees in 2014. These high costs are simply unsustainable, and our community must implement new strategies to reduce the overutilization of our jail system, without compromising public safety.
Unfortunately, America's jails have become America's largest mental health institutions, and in Texas, property taxpayers are shouldering this burden.
Here in El Paso, it is estimated that anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of local detainees have an underlying mental health condition, and many (if not most) are not receiving the appropriate treatment that could help them stay out of trouble and out of jail.
Many individuals are also chronically homeless. Although it would be more cost effective to treat these types of underlying conditions, there are insufficient services to help these individuals, and our jail is often the only resort.
While many people may assume that the majority of detainees in the county jail are violent criminals (and many are), the reality is that the majority of individuals who go through the jail are often booked on non-violent offenses. Many low-risk defendants have stayed in the jail for days or even weeks longer than necessary because they couldn't afford the court-imposed bond.
Meanwhile, many individuals with criminal histories who may pose a higher risk to the community have often been released from the jail, without supervision or conditions, because they were able to pay the bond quickly.
Currently, there is no designated office at the county to conduct a comprehensive risk assessment or mental health evaluation on individuals who come through the jail.
Such an assessment would analyze a detainee's criminal history and determine whether they have been previously diagnosed with or demonstrate symptoms of mental illness.
This information would be transferred to the jail magistrate judge and can be used at the judge's discretion to determine under what conditions (if any) an individual should be released while they await their next court appearance (which could take weeks or months). Judges have broad discretion to impose conditions such as ignition interlocks for those charged with DWI, or drug testing for those charged with drug-related offenses.
My office has been working on an ambitious initiative to create an Office of Criminal Justice Coordination in El Paso. This office will consolidate several positions throughout the county to help conduct more thorough criminal history and mental health assessments for local detainees and to better monitor individuals who are released with conditions.
This reform is long overdue and has the potential to save millions of taxpayer funds by reducing incarceration costs.
This initiative is also a unique opportunity to bring together the many key stakeholders throughout the criminal justice system to help reduce the overutilization of jails and improve outcomes for thousands of El Pasoans every year.
Vince Perez represents Precinct 3 on El Paso County Commissioners Court.
Source: Vince Perez: Criminal Justice Reform Can Save Money and Keep El Paso Safe (EP Times)
Other Media Outlets:
Commissioners to Vote on New Pretrial Office May 4 (KVIA)
El Paso Commissioner Perez Presents Pretrial Services Office Plan to Council of Judges (EP Times)
Flaw in El Paso's System Puts Repeat Drunken Drivers Back on the Road, Despite State Law (KFOX)
Last night my staff and I were out in Tornillo to help with the situation that is affecting many families in Tornillo. If you have any relatives that live in Tornillo, please pass this information along to them. Thank you!
**URGENT MESSAGE FROM TORNILLO WATER IMPROVEMENT DISTRICT**
April 21, 2015
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Francelia Vega, 915.799.1034
TORNILLO WATER DISTRICT EXPERIENCING CRITICAL WATER WELL OUTAGE
SEVERAL LOCAL AGENCIES WORKING TO ASSIST RESIDENTS WITHOUT WATER SERVICE
TORNILLO, TX— The Tornillo Water District is currently experiencing a critical water well outage, potentially affecting approximately 3,000 customers. The outage is due to a mechanical malfunction of one of the two major wells that service Tornillo customers. The water well will undergo repairs beginning tomorrow morning until water service is restored. Tornillo residents are asked to limit their water use and utilize water service for only basic needs.
The El Paso City-County Office of Emergency Management has coordinated emergency services for residents with various local agencies including the Sheriff’s Office, the El Paso Water Utility, the Lower Valley Water District, the Red Cross, the Emergency Service District #2 (that provides fire protection in the area), the County of El Paso, the Office of County Commissioner Vince Perez, the Colonia Initiatives Program from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office, the Tornillo Independent School District, the Fabens Independent School District, the El Paso Water Improvement District #1, in addition to the Tornillo Water District.
Currently, the El Paso Water Utility is providing Tornillo residents with access to drinking water at the Tornillo ISD Administration Building (19200 Cobb Street)—residents must bring their own containers and will be limited to 5 gallons of water per household, per day (24 hours a day). The Red Cross is also establishing a comfort shelter for residents that will have portable showers, restrooms, and drinking water located at Amador Field House at the Fabens High School Football Field (NE G Ave and 3rd Street in Fabens). The comfort shelter will open at 7:00 am, tomorrow April 22, 2015. The Red Cross comfort center will operate from 7:00am to 12:00pm and 5:00pm to 9:00pm.
The County of El Paso will also offer shuttle service for Tornillo residents who are in need of transportation service to the Red Cross comfort center. The shuttle service will begin tomorrow at 10:00am to 12:00pm and 5:00pm to 9:00pm.
Thursday and Friday (if still necessary), the shuttle service will begin at 8:00 am. The shuttle will leave the Tornillo ISD Administration Building at the top of every hour (8:00am, 9:00am, 10:00am 11:00am 12:00pm, 5:00pm, 6:00pm, 7:00pm, 8:00pm, 9:00pm) and leave the Red Cross comfort center at every half hour mark (8:30am, 9:30am, 10:30am, 11:30am, 5:30pm, 6:30pm, 7:30pm, 8:30pm)
Residents can contact the Tornillo Water Improvement District for more information and critical updates at 915-764-2966 or 19225 Highland Street, Tornillo, TX 79853.
Upwards of 3,000 Tornillo Residents Coping with Water Crisis (KTSM)
Resources Available to Help Tornillo Residents Without Water (KVIA)
Sin Agua Residents de Tornillo (Telemundo)
On April 2, 2015 Commissioner Perez announced that Miguel Fernandez will be his nominee to the University Medical Center Board of Managers. Today the full Commissioners Court approved his nominee. Appointing members to the UMC Board of Managers is one of the most important responsibilities of the County Judge and Commissioners. The board oversees an annual operating budget of nearly $530 million. Local property tax payers contribute approximately $85 million to fund University Medical Center (approximately 16% of the hospital’s operating budget). Board members receive no financial compensation for their service and serve three-year terms and may be reappointed.
Mr. Fernandez is a native El Pasoan and for nearly 15 years has served as President and CEO of Transtelco, a binational telecommunications carrier. In 2006, he also founded a real estate company dedicated to developing and revitalizing properties in the El Paso community. In 2009, he was inducted in to the El Paso Chamber Hispanic Chamber of Commerce Technology Hall of Fame, which recognizes individuals who have made significant contributions to the technology field in El Paso. He earned his degree in business administration with a concentration in finance from the University of Texas at El Paso.
“Mr. Fernandez’s experience in business, finance and project development will be a tremendous asset to the University Medical Center Board of Managers,” Perez said. “He is a successful and innovative entrepreneur, who is passionate about our region’s future and understands the vital role of public health care in our community. He has invested his time, energy, and resources to making El Paso a better place. I appreciate his willingness to serve the community in this capacity.”
Mr. Fernandez has an extensive background in serving the region through various leadership positions. In 2011, Mr. Fernandez began serving on the Medical Center of the Americans Board of Directors, an organization dedicated to the advancement and development of the MCA campus and the Paso del Norte Region’s biomedical initiatives. He also previously served on the City of El Paso Planning Commission.
Commissioner Perez to Nominate Businessman Miguel Fernandez to UMC Board (EP Times)
El Paso County Commissioners Announce 2 Nominees for UMC Board of Managers (KVIA)
Comisionados dan a Conocer Dos Nominados Para Integrar la Mesa Directivea del UMC (El Diario)
This past Monday Commissioners Court awarded the contract to CEA Group to provide sidewalks in Sparks and Westway.
El Paso County officials to award design for sidewalks in Sparks, Westway
Officials to award design for sidewalks
By Luis Carlos Lopez / El Paso Times
Posted: 01/25/2015 05:52:50 PM MST
The Sparks and Westway communities are one step closer to getting sidewalks.
County officials Monday are expected to award the environmental assessment and design plans for sidewalks in the Sparks and Westway areas to CEA Group, officials said.
"We have a lot more people in the community who are walking to school. We have a lot more traffic. It's creating a very dangerous situation," said Commissioner Vince Perez whose precinct includes the Sparks community.
"This would provide sidewalks in the main roadways that would create safe, walkable areas for the children who walk to and from school," he said.
Perez said that projects such as the one being awarded Monday are trying to remedy the "irresponsible development that took place in the 1970s."
Perez said that legislation such as the one state Rep. Marisa Marquez D-El Paso, authored and was later passed into law in 2009, helped in the development of projects such as the one underway in Sparks and Westway.
The law that Marquez authored regulates construction of homes in colonias throughout Texas. It requires home builders to construct homes that are up to standard codes.
Jose Landeros, senior policy advisor for Perez, said the county continues to improve neighborhoods in unincorporated areas. As an example he brought up the county subdivision codes which were updated last year. The updates include guidelines such as requiring developers to include parks and open spaces.
The sidewalks in Sparks, will include handicap ramps, along Nonap Road and Peyton Road East off Eastlake Boulevard near Mission Ridge Elementary School.
The other improvements will be on Bret Harte Drive, Landeros said.
"It allows people to get to the park, it allows people to get to the new school (Mission Ridge) they built and overall it increases connectivity in the area," Landeros said.
The county is sharing the cost of design plans with the Transportation Alternatives Program, a federal program that helps fund projects such as bike lanes and pedestrian improvements. The federal funds are administered by the El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization.
The federal funds will cover 80 percent of the cost. The county will pay for 20 percent, officials said.
CEA Group was one of six firms who bid for the design project.
If the court awards the design plans contract Monday, CEA and the county will then negotiate the payment.
County officials said documents submitted to the MPO in October put the estimated cost of preliminary designs for both Sparks and Westway at about $40,000.
Bidding for construction is expected to take place in the summer, county officials said.
The full cost of planning and construction is estimated at $550,000.
In Westway, located just east of Vinton, the sidewalks will be built on portions of Westway Boulevard, Coach Road and De Alva Drive.
Commissioner Andrew Haggerty, who represents Westway, said he was glad the project was getting underway.
"It's going to do a lot for the communities of Westway and Sparks by giving them sidewalks where people can walk without fear of being hit by car," he said.
Sidewalks for both areas should be completed by the fall.
Luis Carlos Lopez may be reached at 546-6381.
El Paso Times Link
Other Media Links:
KTSM- County Awards Contract to Build Sidewalks in Sparks
I am deeply appreciative to the staff of the Texas Indigent Defense Commission for promptly responding to my office’s request for a thorough review of El Paso’s indigent defense system. The Commission’s findings support the concerns I raised over the inconsistent methods that were used to appoint defense attorneys, and the timeliness of those appointments. The report will help pave the way for historic reforms to our local criminal justice system.
The Commission’s findings provide the County with a unique opportunity to move forward by identifying solutions that will improve the level of coordination among the various offices involved in our criminal justice system. I strongly believe the findings further underscore the need for a County Pretrial Office that will improve collaboration among the Commissioners Court, the Judiciary, the District Attorney’s Office, and others to create more effective processes and procedures for individuals from the time they are booked in the jail to the time their case is disposed.
El Paso taxpayers are currently spending more per capita than all other taxpayers in the state to incarcerate individuals in our county jail. This is simply unsustainable, and we have an opportunity to implement meaningful reforms that can generate millions of dollars in annual savings.
TIDC Report Cover Letter
TIDC Final El Paso Report
After learning the results of Mr. Valenti’s recent evaluation and the Board’s approval of a $120,000 bonus, I am particularly disappointed that he received largely positive marks for his ability to establish and maintain “effective relationships with local, county, state, and federal organizations and officials which influence the District’s ability to serve its community.” I have expressed during our joint meetings with the Board, I have been deeply concerned by the erosion of trust and communication between the Commissioners Court and the County’s Hospital District.
The Hospital District has sent several mixed messages to the public and the Commissioners Court about the organization’s financial needs. This year alone, the Hospital District’s leadership informed the Board of Managers, and the public, that an 8 percent tax increase was necessary to offset a decline in revenues. Days later, that proposal was retracted and other solutions were deemed sufficient to meet the Hospital District’s needs. Weeks later, the Commissioners Court approved a $20 million tax anticipation note to meet the Hospital District’s cash flow needs, but has yet to be provided with any updates on this matter. Finally, awarding the CEO with a $120,000 bonus, particularly after more than 50 employees were laid off only a few months prior, only diminishes the public’s trust and confidence that taxpayer funds are being spent prudently during these difficult times.
Here is a video from ABC 7 Extra where I discussed my frustrations even further with host Maria Garcia.
ABC 7 Xtra: UMC and Valenti Bonus
Other News Outlets:
County Commissioners: UMC CEO Jim Valenti Should Not Have Accepted $120k Bonus (El Paso Times)
UMC Board Member: 'I Won't Step Down' (KTSM Video)
University Medical Center of El Paso Has Yet to Release Information on Bonuses (El Paso Times)
Valenti Email to El Paso County Commissioner Says He Would Not Get Bonus (El Paso Times)
UMC CEO Email 'We expect no bonuses through this year'; $300k in Bonuses Issued Months Later (KFOX Video)
Spanish Media Outlets
Controversia por Bono a Presidente de UMC (Telemundo El Paso)
Comisionados Analizan Desempeno de la Mesa Directiva de UMC (Univision El Paso)
Controversia en UMC por Aprobacion de Bonos (Univision El Paso)
Now that one of Texas' oldest communities is now its newest city, San Elizario must take the next step forward - elect leadership.
A mayor and 5 members of council will be up for grabs in the election that will be held:
***May 10th, 2014
In order to be eligible to run for one of the positions you must meet the following qualifications:
- US citizen age 18 or older
- Resident of Texas for 12 months
- AND resident of the area within the city limits of the City of San Elizario for 6 months prior to February 28th, 2014.
The filing period to run for office is:
***January 29th, 2014 - February 28th, 2014 (No application will be accepted after 5:00PM on February 28, 2014.
For more information please contact the County Judge's Office at 546-2098 or Commissioner Perez's office at 546-2144
Its something we take for granted every day. We turn on the tap in the morning to take a shower or brush our teeth and we expect two things: water to come out and for that water to be clean and drinkable.
While that is something we all expect, the reality is that for many in our community, clean potable water is not something they take for granted. And now, they are one step closer to being able to have the same expectation of clean and potable water. Watch this story for more details.
County Commissioner Vince Perez (PCT 3) was the featured speaker at a breakfast meeting for County Commissioner Patrick Abeln yesterday morning at the Denny’s Restaurant on Transmountain.
Commissioner Perez spoke about several issues relating to the County of El Paso including the budget, clinics, and mandated and non-mandated services. In addition, Commissioner Perez also gave the residents an update to the Tornillo-Guadalupe Port of Entry project.
During his introduction Commissioner Abeln spoke of Commissioner Perez being a “cost-cutter” for the County.
Well the holiday season is upon us!
There was a delivery yesterday of about 800 toys to Alarcon Elementary in San Elizario. The toys were from the Salvation Army and Toys for Tots program that is spearheaded by the Marine Corps Reserve and other charities. This was just one of 44 deliveries going out across Precinct 3 and the County!
A big thank you to all the volunteers and people who contributed to such a worthy cause. Seeing children enjoying toys they would not otherwise have is extremely rewarding.
Here is a round-up of stories relating to the County and Precinct 3 over the month of November along with a brief description of the stories.
November 27th, 2013 KVIA
There are many challenges to managing the budget at the County. Some of the concerns of Commissioner Perez relating to the way process works under our current system are outlined in this piece.
November 26th, 2013 KVIA I-Team
The ABC 7 I-Team did a story on indigent defense in El Paso County. The story talks about who receives indigent defense services and how the attorneys are appointed.
November 25th, 2013 KFOX
The County lacks the authority to intervene in the El Paso Electric Power Plant issue in the Montana Vista community. That is among a few reasons why Commissioner’s Court will not file a lawsuit over the issue. Read more details on the issues involved in this complex topic.
November 15th, 2013 KFOX
Here’s a peek at the new Tornillo-Guadalupe Port of Entry.
November 6th, 2013 KFOX
The process for setting up a new city government in San Elizario will take the hard work of committed community members. Here’s a story on what the incorporation of the oldest community in the County could mean for local residents.
November 5th, 2013 KFOX
San Elizario Becomes a city! Read all about it here.
It is one of the biggest annual events in El Paso and this year Commissioner Perez and team rode in the Sun Bowl Parade. The 3+ mile parade route was full of holiday revelers that make the parade part of their annual Thanksgiving tradition.
There were the usual marching bands, matachines, people riding on horseback and several colorful and unique floats in this years’ parade.
Commissioner Perez joined the County Judge and other members of Commissioners Court in the parade and rode in a pick-up truck decorated for the holiday season. Holiday music and several crowd favorites by Little Joe and Los Tigres del Norte were played by Commissioner Perez’s parade entry.
Commissioner Perez honored five veterans from San Elizario, Texas during their annual Veteran’s Day celebration. Each of the veterans, hailing from the local community and representing several branches of the military, received certificates honoring their service to their community and El Paso County.
Veterans that were honored served in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
Click the video below.
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