The city representative is one of nine members of the City Council (including the mayor), which makes policy-making and budget decisions for city government including the Police Department, Fire Department and city parks. District 1 represents the West Side and Upper Valley. City representatives get paid $51,600 a year. This is a nonpartisan position.
Who’s running for this seat?
Dave Jones did not respond.
Freddy Klayel Avalos, 37, is a real estate developer and property manager, and former EPISD trustee. He suspended his campaign but will appear on the ballot.
Candidates were asked to limit their responses to 100 words. Responses have been lightly edited for grammar.
Over the past 10 years, the city’s portion of the property tax bill has increased at a much higher rate than other taxing entities. What efficiencies in city government would you support to minimize the need for tax increases?
Dave Jones: No response.
Brian Kennedy: We have a billion-dollar bloated budget and we’re a billion dollars in debt. City Council basically rubber stamps our budget after a two-day review. That used to take a month. I favor a return to accountability through a department-by-department review. We are currently management top heavy which shortchanges the public service we are actually tasked to provide. You can’t make progress by hiding from the numbers. Our future hangs on financial health.
Analisa Cordova Silverstein: I would support collaboration with other government tax entities on shared public services. I would also propose recruiting large businesses to offset our homeowners’ taxes. Another collaboration opportunity would be with non-profits to write grants that are available for neighborhood projects. We could also collaborate with private funders on sponsorships for quality-of-life projects. Collaboration and evaluation is key when approaching tax investments.
Freddy Klayel Avalos: Everyone says they want lower taxes, and then complains when cuts are made. We have to have leaders on council that will make the hard choices. That was my commitment to voters when I ran for EPISD trustee and I am the only candidate in this race that has faced those hard choices as an elected official. It’s not about what efficiencies you will create, it’s about what choices you’re willing to make to ensure the best result. That’s the bold vision I want to bring to City Council.
Deliris “DMB” Montanez Berrios: Opposition to certificates of obligation as voters have a say so. Prioritization of city projects according to their emergent need to serve our constituents. Inmediate debt collection on former elected officials’ city past expenditures.
Lauren Ferris: Generally speaking, the budget needs to be reevaluated to determine where cuts could be made or how our funds can be spent more efficiently. I have been a sale shopper my whole life, I always try to be efficient with use of my personal funds and would do the same with our tax dollars. To start with, I would further inquire about our Chapter 380 Agreements and if businesses are truly holding up to their end of the deal. If not, then we are giving away tax incentives at our expense and that could be an area we recapture some funds.
Erin Tague: We need to stop incurring debt and cut spending, which means we will need to make sacrifices. Let’s start with City Council salary. Social programs and quality of life projects are also areas where spending ought to be reduced. I would also be interested in exploring alternative ways to fund projects our constituents want, for example encouraging the formation of a non-profit to raise funds to build a public park.
The city of El Paso used to have a strong-mayor form of government, but since 2004 it transformed into a council-manager government, which limited the mayor’s power. Which form of governance do you prefer and why?
Dave Jones: No response.
Brian Kennedy: I favor a city manager form of government for all the same reasons it was originally adopted: continuity, potential savings, professional management, the idea of less favoritism. We’ve gradually drifted a long, long way from that, gradually expanding the scope and power to create a fiefdom. The city manager reports to City Council. You’d never know it. Council has basically abdicated its power and responsibilities. It’s time to re-balance that.
Analisa Cordova Silverstein: I prefer a council-manager form of government specifically because we have a population of over 679,000. We have eight elected officials, passing ordinances and directing the manager to carry out policies versus only having one elected official doing so in a strong mayor form of government. There is more representation for the districts in a council-manager form of government. The city manager is the council’s executive director and they carry out direction from council down to the departments. It is more efficient, effective, and is best to keep the momentum of progress. The city manager is also a non-elected position, which can be good for partnerships with the non-profit, government, and business communities. Sometimes a mayor might have personal conflicts with those that did not vote them in or that could interfere with city staff.
Freddy Klayel Avalos: There’s a reason so many cities have adopted the form of government, particularly major cities. It’s a best practice. Too many people wrongfully equate Tommy Gonzalez with the form of government. He won’t be here forever. We will have another city manager at some point to ensure public services. Let’s not get caught up in personal feelings about the city manager and have a frank conversation about how it just makes sense that organizations have an administrator that can be held accountable.
Deliris “DMB” Montanez Berrios: The overwhelming advantages of the council-manager form become apparent. It encourages neighborhood input into the political process, diffuses the power of special interests, and eliminates partisan politics from municipal hiring, firing, and contracting decisions. With that said, we need a city manager 100% and above committed to our community.
Lauren Ferris: A city manager form of government works when you have a qualified individual that truly cares for the City he or she is hired to represent, with proper accountability and management of their power. Checks and Balances. I also believe if the voters of El Paso choose to have a mayor form of government, that that is what we must abide by as well as the mayoral candidate that is elected. We would need to look at the cost of switching the form of government, pros and cons of doing so as well.
Erin Tague: I am certainly for the strong-mayor form of government, because it is representative of the people. One of the counter arguments is that the city manager is a professional who has continuity through various iterations of City Council elections. This however pretty much boils down to an unelected bureaucrat with no term limits.
What steps should the city of El Paso take to address climate change?
Dave Jones: No response.
Brian Kennedy: Conservation of renewable resources, integration of solar power, green initiatives … this is an area where it’s hard to do enough. I don’t think creating a new government department gets us any closer. Interestingly, shifts like this usually take some investment. Most of our freedom to implement new technologies and nimbleness to take swift action is tied to our financial health. Right now, we are moving further away instead of closer.
Analisa Cordova Silverstein: In the current city of El Paso strategic plan, all of the departments have specific direction on how to incorporate green initiatives in their department. I think there are things that can be considered in the future such as a community climate commission, incorporating a community composting program, and having tax-incentive rebates for weatherizing your home. If we could incorporate solar energy as much as we can to city run buildings to save on our energy bills.
Freddy Klayel Avalos: As a founding member of the RREAC, I have long been an advocate for dealing with climate change. We should — after we’ve gotten our debt under control — look at how we can improve mobility in El Paso that encourages mass transportation in a much more meaningful way. Other major cities have found ways to move large quantities of people efficiently and I think we can do the same. But more than a small nostalgia project, we need to move people more efficiently. We should also offer financial incentives to business that have meaningful green energy policies and business plans, such as B-Corps.
Deliris “DMB” Montanez Berrios: Incentivizing zoning and land uses that allow people to live closer to where they work. infrastructure funding to improve and upgrade wastewater and stormwater systems to manage and reduce overflows. Introducing new technologies that reduce energy consumption. Policies in each of the identified topic areas intended to reduce emissions and promote sustainability: Buildings and energy, land use and urban form, transportation and fuels, consumption and materials management, natural systems and community wellbeing.
Lauren Ferris: First, I would meet with various stakeholders and interested parties such as Ground Game Texas and Sunrise El Paso who has already developed a Climate Change Charter Amendment. I believe a few points in the proposals need to be further vetted, such as municipalization of EPE, but overall implementing those changes would be a great start. We are the “Sun City,” however do not utilize our solar energy the best we could. Second, we need to try and work with our sister cities as we all share the same air and what happens in one location can and does easily affect the other.
Erin Tague: We need to be good stewards of our resources, and education is the first step. After that, I believe the government should enact policy that fosters a creative and competitive environment. I do not believe government should subsidize or restrict specific industries, as that violates the principles of limited government and free enterprise.
The City Council has amended the city manager’s employment contract multiple times to add more benefits before the contract was set to expire. How do you plan to address future changes to his contract?
Dave Jones: No response.
Brian Kennedy: The way the current adopted city manager contract is written there are few palatable choices. The only “future changes” available are you either live with it for seven more years, you can terminate, or you can increase pay and benefits. (Wait! We’ve already done that.) Gonzalez must agree to any changes.
Analisa Cordova Silverstein: I think that his contract should only be evaluated every June when his evaluation takes place. I would like to make sure that we are keeping him accountable and meeting key performance indicators. I am happy to see there is a cap in place.
Freddy Klayel Avalos: No other candidate in this race has held a controversial administrator accountable. When I ran for school board I made a commitment to the community that I would hold him accountable and I kept my word. That controversial administrator no longer works at EPISD. We should do everything we can to attract the best talent possible, and we need to offer a fair package that will attract the right talent without negotiating behind closed doors.
Deliris “DMB” Montanez Berrios: First of all, the City Council members must sit behind closed doors and have a serious conversation with our city manager and go over the job description and the expectations. If the city manager wants to leave for another job opportunity, he is not 100% committed to our community. The city will gain by losing in the long run. Our Sun City deserves the most qualified elected officials vested in the interests of our own community.
Lauren Ferris: We are many years out from the city manager’s current contract expiration, so I believe this is again premature, just as the last revision to his contract. However, if it were to be brought up again during my time, it would be an answer dependent on what future changes are proposed. Do the future changes include an increase to his salary and benefits at the cost of taxpayers? Are future changes to amend his severance package for the benefit of taxpayers’ dollars? I would carefully weigh the proposed changes, if any, prior to making a decision.
Erin Tague: I think it needs to be voided and if required then paid out and then wish the city manager well on his next endeavor. In the long run it would be more cost effective to do so and move back to a strong-mayor form of government.
What is your stance on abortion rights? What should City Council do, if anything, to support access to abortion?
Dave Jones: No response.
Brian Kennedy: I respect a woman’s right to self-determination on matters concerning her own body and health. However, due to the precedent of state and federal law, passage of the previously proposed resolution by El Paso City Council would have been unenforceable. Every member of the police takes an oath to enforce the current laws of Texas. The adoption of a knowingly unenforceable ordinance is lip service that has zero effect on the issue and is, in itself, disrespectful.
Analisa Cordova Silverstein: As a woman, I feel our bodies should not be governed. As a municipality, we should have our women’s commission review how we can keep women’s bodies and identities protected while still being cognizant of our state and federal laws. There are other issues related to women that need to be addressed aside from abortion such as harassment, equal pay, and abuse reporting response times. If de-prioritizing criminalization of abortions is re-introduced, I would vote for it, because there are far more dire cases that our limited police force need to address. It is a very private and individualized matter for women. We need to think and act about how we can make our city safer for women.
Freddy Klayel Avalos: I think El Paso voters want the right level of government to deal with the appropriate level problems. Let me be clear — I believe a woman’s personal freedoms and privacy are her rights, and hers alone. Full stop. The city is not the best level of government to deal with the many related issues and problems facing the federal government.
Deliris “DMB” Montanez Berrios: Abortion rights stop when they are detrimental to another human being. We need to educate our youth generation and address parenthood by providing a better quality of life to each household to prevent unwanted pregnancies. I do support abortion rights if a criminal crime has been committed such as rape or incest. Our political organizations need to stop using abortion rights as a political stance and as an excuse to commit sins by violating our commandments. One must repent and do better day in and day out.
Lauren Ferris: I would not advocate the City Council to take any action contrary to the law that could potentially put the city at risk of any liability or legal battles. This is an issue left to the state, therefore the City Council can elect to confer with our state representatives to encourage a change in law to provide safe and accessible healthcare for all women. The Austin City Council recently passed the GRACE Act, which I believe our current City Council attempted to do. This would be a policy decision vs. legal as we don’t have the legal authority to supersede the state law on the issue.
Erin Tague: I am not just pro-birth, I am pro-life. Science has proven that upon conception there is a unique, living organism with a unique set of DNA, so it is no one’s right to end the life of that developing baby. We have an amazing resource in the Westside Pregnancy Center, which provides support including assistance with Texas benefits, dress for success and resume writing classes, young fathers mentoring, and they are also working to build three tiny homes to provide temporary housing for homeless pregnant women. City Council ought to support access to life.
Read more about this race
The six candidates running to represent the City Council district that covers West El Paso and the Upper Valley discuss what sets them apart from the competition and what issues are most important to the area.
The El Paso ISD school board must decide whether to appoint someone to fill the remainder of Freddy Klayel Avalos’ term representing the Franklin High School area, or wait until the May 2023 election.
City Council candidate videos
El Paso Matters and PBS El Paso created a digital series to show you where City Council candidates stand on key issues.