6/18/2006

Council shoots down proposal to restrict eminent domain: El Paso (TX) Times, 6/14/06

By David Crowder

Divisions on the [El Paso TX]City Council over the Downtown redevelopment plan, the use of eminent domain and rules governing some discussions with the public sparked a series of rowdy confrontations at Tuesday's council meeting.

More than 40 people alternately applauded and booed City Council members as they debated what to do with East-Central city Rep. José Alexandro Lozano's proposal to ban the use of eminent domain for private redevelopment Downtown.

Then they angrily piled out of the council chambers, shouting insults at council members who killed Lozano's proposal on a 4-3 vote without hearing from people who had signed up to speak.

Mayor John Cook said he regarded Lozano's proposal as being out of order and premature because the place for public comment was at the series of continuing public meetings, not on short notice without hearing from the consultants who developed the plan or its supporters.

"If the property owners are not satisfied, we are not going to move forward, period," Lozano said to cheers from the audience. "We have to kill this plan unless the owners give us permission to continue."

Boos greeted Cook when he said, "If you're finished with your soapbox, I would entertain a motion to postpone this until the first meeting in July."

Voting down Lozano's proposal were West Side city Rep. Ann Lilly, West-Central city Rep. Susie Byrd, East Side city Rep. Presi Ortega and South-West city Rep. Beto O'Rourke.

Northeast city Rep. Melina Castro and East Valley city Rep. Eddie Holguin supported Lozano.

The same 4-3 split later downed Holguin's proposal to alter the rules of order at City Council meetings by reinstituting a policy that allows members of the public to place items directly before the council for discussion and action.

The council did away with that practice last July and now requires the public to go through a council member to place agenda items.

But council meetings begin with a public comment session, which has led to squabbles because council members aren't allowed to debate the issues raised by speakers.

"This council is completely out of control," H. Vanoy Barton said. "If we can't put items on the agenda, is this America?

"We have a constitutional right — and I think that trumps City Hall — to petition our government for redress."


El Paso Times: http://www.elpasotimes.com