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?
Chris Canales, 30, is chief of staff to an El Paso city representative and a professional soccer referee.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Read more about this race
District 8 runoff candidates seek political office for first time
City Council candidates, Chris Canales and Bettina Olivares, who are facing off in the city’s runoff election, serve as chiefs of staff for sitting city representatives. Here’s more about them.
City reps’ chiefs of staff among District 8 council candidates
The winning candidate will take the seat being left open by city Rep. Cissy Lizarraga, who is not seeking a second term this election, and have a key voice in the future of Downtown.
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.