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 8 represents South El Paso, Downtown and the areas around the University of Texas at El Paso. City representatives get paid $51,600 a year. This is a nonpartisan position.

Who’s running for this seat?

Bettina Olivares, 35, is chief of staff to an El Paso city representative.

Chris Canales, 30, is chief of staff to an El Paso city representative and a professional soccer referee.

Rich Wright, 65, is a blogger and history and culture tour guide.

Cruz Morales Jr. is a write-in candidate and not on the ballot. He did not respond.

Candidate Questionnaires

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?

Bettina Olivares: The increase is primarily due to two factors, a need for more services for a growing city and the prioritization of critical services. There are always opportunities to tighten belts, however, there are two routes that are key to reducing the city’s reliance on residential property taxes. One is to disincentivize urban sprawl and incentivize revitalization in the inner city. Two is to create an environment suitable for small businesses to thrive and large businesses to choose El Paso to house their services. This creates new taxing sources — commercial property, hotel revenue, and sales.

Chris Canales: First, the city should get voter approval for all capital projects to give people a more direct say in what their tax bills look like. As to efficiencies, the city’s Lean Six Sigma program of process auditing and streamlining has already saved millions. As someone trained in LSS and cutting waste, I’ll dive into these process improvements to find every opportunity for savings. The city has many overly complex processes that could be made more cost-effective with technology and modern techniques.

Rich Wright: The simple, common-sense approach to reining in higher taxes is to stop spending money. Higher taxes are bad for the economy, and the city is seeing the results of their fiscal profligacy today, as people flee the city’s taxing jurisdiction for neighboring communities like San Elizario and Horizon City. The city’s strategic plan includes no cost component, or cost-benefit analysis. Common sense dictates that we can’t keep spending money, but common sense is uncommon at City Hall.

Cruz Morales Jr.: No response.

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?

Bettina Olivares: A council-manager form is well suited for city governance. We have an election system where almost anyone can run for office, no matter their experience, merits or training. The council-form of government seeks to place an experienced and knowledgeable executive to run administration, goals and budget. But more important than the city manager role, is the role of council. A group of electeds, representing different areas of the city, have oversight over the city manager and have the final vote on what policies go forward. It is a collaborative effort that requires organization and balance of roles.

Chris Canales: Council-manager is the modern way to run a city government. Anyone can be elected mayor regardless of qualifications. Having a strong mayor directly in charge of all city departments puts long-term planning at risk and can lead to replacement of staff with political appointments. In council-manager government, the council can hire a qualified management professional with specialized education in operations, budgeting, etc. to execute the policy direction determined by vote of the entire council.

Rich Wright: Our two city managers have been disasters for El Paso. They were both hired from out of town. Part of the reason that crime is low, and that El Paso is such a friendly city, is that we all live here. If you cheat someone, the odds are good that you will see that person in the future, on the street, or in a grocery store. El Pasoans remember, and there are much less than six degrees of separation between El Pasoans. I am willing to consider a transition to a strong-mayor form of government.

Cruz Morales Jr.: No response.

What steps should the city of El Paso take to address climate change?

Bettina Olivares: There is no doubt we are living within a climate change crisis of worldly magnitude. The city can help reduce its environmental impact by creating walkable/cyclable safe streets to reduce our reliance on personal vehicles. This can be done through complete streets, as well as providing tree and landscape cover. In addition to walkability, improving public transit and investment into the electrification of fleets can reduce vehicle pollution. There is also a need to work more closely with utilities to reasonably and effectively meet goals on renewable energy, diversifying energy resources and water efficiency.

Chris Canales: My degree is in sustainable development from Columbia University, and I also worked in that field earlier in my career. Action to address climate change is very important to me. There’s a huge opportunity to be a leader on solar energy by deploying solar panels at city facilities. We can also mandate sustainable practices for the city’s hired contractors, electrify the city’s vehicle fleet, make HVAC systems more efficient, and reduce emissions and environmental degradation from transportation.

Rich Wright: The city should encourage higher population density and better transportation options, like mass transit and cycling. More trees, to reduce the heat-island effects and absorb CO2 in the atmosphere. We should eliminate the $28 minimum charge that El Paso Electric imposes on customers with rooftop solar, and get the Electric Company to pay a fairer price for electricity delivered back into the system.

Cruz Morales Jr.: No response.

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?

Bettina Olivares: Salary caps should be implemented with every future contract of current and future city managers. Salary increases are built into the city manager’s contract based on an annual evaluation by City Council. I want to review the evaluation process and measures it’s based off of. If we are going to give raises based on an evaluation, it should be one directly tied to meeting the strategic goals of the city. We  should remain competitive with other cities in order to retain and recruit high caliber for this position, salary and benefits should also be reflective of our city population, median income, and city employee pay.

Chris Canales: After the most recent extension, the city manager now has a contract that runs through 2029. I don’t see a need to make any more additions to the contract before it expires as has been done in the past, and I do not plan to support any more proposed additions in the future.

Rich Wright: The current contract is a disaster for El Paso taxpayers. We need to get out of that contract even if it means firing the current city manager and eating that golden parachute the last City Council agreed to. His retirement compensation will only grow the longer he is retained. I recommend that the next modification to his contract be termination.

Cruz Morales Jr.: No response.

What is your stance on abortion rights? What should City Council do, if anything, to support access to abortion?

Bettina Olivares: Women’s rights, my rights, are being stripped away in alarming strides. The city has limited purview over issues like abortion, but we do have it over our Police Department and how city funding is used. Which is why it was upsetting when council had the opportunity to deprioritize funding for our Police Department to investigate instances of abortion and it didn’t pass. It is extremely disturbing that any city would prioritize the investigation of such a deeply personal and medical issue. I have and will continue to fight for women’s rights.

Chris Canales: I am firmly pro-choice; I believe 100% in a pregnant person’s full bodily autonomy and right to choose what is best for their own situation. It’s a waste of police resources to investigate cases of abortion, and I will vote to make those investigations their absolute lowest priority. I will support pro-choice lawmakers at the state and federal level who continue the fight to reverse harmful abortion bans, and I will ensure that El Paso is welcoming to those in transit to abortion services in New Mexic.

Rich Wright: I am pro-choice. But I don’t think the city needs to do anything to support abortion rights at this time. The recently proposed City Council amendment to de-prioritize abortion law enforcement was hollow virtue signalling, because, to the best of my knowledge, there currently is no enforcement of the law.

Cruz Morales Jr.: No response.

Read more about this race

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.

YouTube video

Back to Voter Guide