Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Power For Power's Sake

It is a heady intoxication that once achieved is always craved. People jump when you snap your fingers, kowtow to you in all the little ways that make you feel above the crowd, better than anyone else. That is the feeling of power.

            Once again, we have public officials in El Paso caught with their hands in the cookie jar. Dr. Lorenzo Garcia, Superintendent of the El Paso Independent School District (EPISD) was arrested by the Federal Bureau of Investigation in August of 2011 for alleged corruption. The indictment charged Garcia with one count of conspiracy to commit mail fraud, two counts of mail fraud and one count of aiding and abetting theft from programs receiving federal funds. However, the specifics of the indictment are not really germane to this article. What is germane is the underlying cause of this debacle – the good ole boy (and girl) system that is rampant in El Paso.

            The interesting thing is that, in regard to Dr. Garcia, while he was the superintendent, he had a Board of Directors that he had to answer too. In theory, the Board was there to make sure that he followed the rules. The same was true in regard to Robert E. (Bob) Jones, the President/CEO of the National Center for Employment of the Disabled (NCED). In both cases the Boards were made up of prominent individuals who were local powers in their own right. In the case of EPISD, the Board members were elected by the voters of El Paso County. So the question to be asked is how did such improper conduct happen with the eagle eyed members of their respective Boards watching both of these men? The answer is greed and ego.

            In the case of NCED, though each board member was well aware of their fiduciary duty to the Company, they were also aware of Bob Jones’ world famous temper as well as his unending generosity to those that could help him achieve his goals. A phone call from Bob Jones could open doors beyond the imagining of most of us. Keep in mind that the Board members were not average individuals but well off, well educated, powerful people in their own right. Yet none of them dared question what Bob Jones wanted and therein lay the problem that led to prison for Mr. Jones and several others. None of them dated question the President of NCED because he was El Paso’s Entrepreneur of the Year and had the ear of the Mayor, the Governor and even the President of the United States. His ego and success in some odd way became their ego and their success. They felt even more powerful that than actually were because they were directors of a powerful company. The one individuial that did question him was considered a disloyal and disgruntle employee and literally shunned.

            In the case of Dr. Garcia, he ruled as a benevolent despot. He committed EPISD funds and gave out contracts without the mandatory bid process because he was so entrenched in the system that no one dared to question him. In spite of the contractual requirements that any contract over a certain dollar amount had to go out for bid he gave a $40,000.00 contract to a local individual to be a morale booster for the students. This contract, according to my sources never went out for bid nor was it approved by the Board. However, the Board did nothing about it when it became public. After all, to question Dr. Garcia was to question their own judgment since their job was to make sure he followed the rules. If he failed to follow the rules then it reflected badly on them, thus his decision to grant that contract for a morale booster was rubber stamped. The good ole boy system kicked in and, as usual, the game became, look innocent and stay quiet, which is something that most Boards of Director excell at. In El Paso negative publicity blows over really fast, the public quickly forgets.

            Currently, there is a call in the El Paso Times for the EPISD Board to resign, but the President of the Board is standing her ground. She knows that in six months or so, if she can hold, out everyone will forget what happened and it will business as usual. She has experienced that heady wine known as power and she has no intention of giving it up and she will get away with it though she and the rest of the Board certainly have questions to answer. Such is politics in El Paso.