El Paso Stormwater Petition (2009)
If the referendum had been approved, it would have had the same force as an ordinance approved by City Council and will stop the operation of the stormwater utility by the El Paso Water Utilities’ Public Service Board until operational authority is established under City Council.
The petition drive to put the question on the ballot was organized by Gerald Miller, Lee Urias, and Jerry Thiedt. It is the first ballot referendum to reach the ballot in El Paso.
2,022 valid signatures were required to qualify the measure for the ballot and about 5,000 signatures were submitted.
The referendum was defeated.
Reason for referendum
Gerald Miller, a key organizer of the effort to place the measure on the ballot, told an El Paso Times reporter that his reasons for doing this included:
- "The true reason I'm doing this is that the City Council and the Public Service Board were not forthcoming and truthful to the community regarding the stormwater (utility) and the fees they were going to set. The public, myself included, wanted simple answers to questions and instead we got shot down."
- "After we started digging into the issue, we realized the city approved the utility without a master plan on the books. They didn't know how much money would be needed to get the job done. They just started collecting money without knowing what kind of monster they had created."
- "...the level of misinformation that the PSB and some city officials put out. There are so many things that are told to the public that are simply misleading. I'll give you names, too. (West-Central city Rep.) Susie Byrd, (PSB President and CEO) Ed Archuleta and Mayor John Cook."
- "...the utility needs to be under an elected body ... somebody that we have direct control over."
- "This needs to be a city-operated utility with the transparency and accountability that all current city departments have. The PSB is the only department that doesn't have this level of transparency. The PSB board is way more political, even more than City Council. Yet we can't touch them or vote them out of office."
Official files complaint
City Rep. Susie Byrd says that the group behind the referendum effort is not in compliance with state law and is filing a complaint (See petition blocking) with the Texas Ethics Commission and the city's Ethics Review Board.
The complaints will not change the fact that the referendum will appear on the May ballot.
State election code requires a group to file financial disclosure forms if it spends or receives more than $500 in cash or in-kind contributions.
In January, the El Paso Association of Builders let the leaders of the petition drive have a petition-gathering booth for two weekend days at the Jan. 9-11 Spring Home Show at the El Paso Civic Center. Susie Byrd alleges that these booths were worth $1,100.
Byrd also is suspicious about the fact that Gerald Miller's group had an attorney review the signatures prior to submission. She wants to know who paid that attorney and how much.
Elected official Byrd also believes that private political groups are equivalent to taxpayer-funded public agencies, stating:
- "...in the same way they believe the PSB should be transparent and accountable, they need to do the same."