Commissioners Court discuss panel meant to oversee high budget projects

EL PASO, Texas - A review panel meant to clean up the way high budget projects in El Paso County are developed was discussed for the second time in two months during County Commissioners Court on Monday.

The panel would oversee any project using $50,000 or more of public funds and include a County contract administrator, a County auditor, a County purchasing agent, a County attorney and a department head.

In cases where it is determined to be helpful, subject matter experts would also join the panel for special cases.

Commissioners Anna Perez and Tania Chozet praised the panel idea brought before the Court last month by County Judge Veronica Escobar as a way to combat future corruption.

Commissioner Sergio Lewis questioned why the subject matter experts would not only advise the panel, but also vote when involved.

"However, I am in favor of us as a subject matter expert person, but I understand it's a benefit to this process," said Lewis.

Lewis asked whether a blind bidding process was a better idea.

County employees said the idea wasn't feasible because it could potentially open up greater issues with individuals involved in the panel unaware whether there is any conflicts of interest.

Perez said the panel could be picked apart as no motion by commissioners could eradicate, or safe proof, a panel that is tied to human error.

She brought up past issues of corruption and talked about how for years corruption took place in the County.

"Those practices that were acceptable have been extinguished, we hope," said Perez.

Perez pointed out even a committee created to ensure safety in the process once before led to an LKG Enterprises contract which has become part of one if El Paso's largest public corruption case.

"At least we know someone is looking out and asking the questions before it gets to us," said Chozet.

The creation of the procurement review panel passed by a 5-to-1 vote. According to the auditor's office, it will require two new positions in the County, and one person to be promoted.

The panel is expected to get to work immediately on the 2012 bond issues which will involve nine projects estimated at a cost of $110 million.

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