Yesterday, we broke the news on our Facebook page (@elpwatch) that city representative for District 3, Cassandra Hernandez had posted two agenda items (18 & 19) for Tuesday’s city council meeting to deliberate overriding the mayor’s veto of the 2021-2022 budget and the issuance of the certificates of obligation. When Hernandez posted the two items for the mayor’s veto, there was no veto in place to override. Aaron Montes, of KTSM, broke the story a few minutes later that Oscar Leeser had vetoed the certificates of obligation approved by city council at their last meeting. Leeser did not veto the adopted budget.
Because of Hernandez’ posted agenda items, El Paso Politics contacted Cassandra Hernandez’ office through her city website asking for comment about her two agenda items. We also attempted to contact the mayor’s office through individuals close to him to inquire on whether the mayor was going to veto the budget, tax rate or the certificates of obligation. We were unsuccessful. What prompted our query was that on Friday morning rumors of an impending veto by the mayor became known to us.
It wasn’t until about 11:00 am that the mayor’s veto of the certificates of obligation were confirmed by Aaron Montes through the KTSM website.
The mayor filed the required paperwork for the veto at the city clerk’s office at 10:53am.
The reasons provided by Leeser in the city clerk filing announcing the veto of the certificates of obligation included that the city “cannot continue issuing debt,” and that the “unexpected COVID-19 public health crisis” requires the city to “tread carefully in issuing any additional debt.” Leeser’s veto declaration pointed out that El Paso owes $541 million in certificates of obligation. Adding the interest incurred by the debt, El Paso taxpayers owe about $851 million in certificates of obligations before adding the COs approved by council last week, according to Leeser.
It should be noted that when Hernandez filed her agenda items, a veto by the mayor was not yet known, prompting the question as to why Hernandez requested two agenda items to discuss an action that had not yet occurred.
Hernandez’ two agenda items contemplated a veto by the mayor for either the budget, the certificates of obligation or both. Certificates of obligation are city debt issue without voter approval. According to the Legistar agenda system used by the city, Hernandez posted her two items (see note 1 below) before Friday, before the mayor had issued his veto.
Bettina Olivares, Legislative Aide for Hernandez, responded to our request for a comment from Hernandez’ office on Friday afternoon. In the response, Hernandez is quoted:
“I placed the veto override items on the agenda as a precautionary measure in the event that the Mayor utilizes his veto authority. With limited time to meet agenda posting requirements and the deadline before any budgetary items go into effect, in addition to, there being a super majority from City Council supporting the budget and debt issuance, I felt it was critical that members of council had all options in front of them when considering the final adoption of the budget. Members of council have full legislative and financial oversight of the budget and these items are reflective of the authority granted to members of council as prescribed by the City Charter.”Cassandra Hernandez email, August 27, 2021
The mayor vetoed the $96 million in certificates of obligation approved by city council at last Tuesday’s meeting later Friday.
Because the mayor has not vetoed the budget, Hernandez’ item discussing a possible veto of the budget by the mayor will likely be deleted. However, the item to act on the mayor’s veto of the certificates of obligation will be debated and likely voted on. To override the veto, city council must have six votes. The certificates of obligation were approved on a vote of 6 to 2.
Note 1: The 713-page city council agenda full packet produced by the city’s Legistar system shows that Hernandez’ two agenda items were printed on Friday, August 26, 2021. The relevant pages are 259 & 260. The meta data for the PDF file shows that the packet was generated at 5:52 am, presumably El Paso time.