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County Judge Wants Panel Created To Oversee Large Budget Requests, Bond Initiative Items

County Judge Veronica Escobar on Monday pushed for a new Procurement Review Panel (PRP) to oversee large budget requests and upcoming bond initiative items for El Paso county.

During the County Commissioner’s Court, Escobar said the PRP is being explored to safeguard taxpayer money, and potentially save money on budget oversights by adding more checks and balances before items come before Commissioner’s Court. The panel would also be a way of stopping corruption, she said.

“All it takes is one person,” said Escobar, discussing how a single employee can help steer contracts, highlighting the need for checks and balances within local government.

In recent weeks, several items have come before commissioners in which questions arose about how they determined cost of projects, and how much information was available after each item was researched.

The new panel would include a minimum of four people, including a new position that would be created within the County Attorney’s Office.

Commissioner Anna Perez pointed out that during the recent Sportspark discussions, which includes millions of dollars worth of upgrades using taxpayer money, she noticed the participation of attorneys has varied. In some cases, she said, lawyers have become a part of the negotiation. Perez told other commissioners the problem with larger projects in the past has been attorneys taking over-negotiating deals rather than overseeing questions of legality.

“For me, the lawyer should not be the lead negotiator,” said Perez, pointing out that negotiations of high-dollar amounts doesn’t allow them to serve in their capacity as a legal adviser.

A member of the County Attorney’s Office explained how the new position — a County Attorney for Procurement — would be part of a team that would serve as both a part of a negotiation team and keep an eye on the legal process before them during large purchases or projects for the county.

Escobar said the purpose of the project wasn’t simply to create obstacles to corruption that has plagued El Paso in earlier years, but that it also protects the court during complex bids where commissioners have to have faith in their county employees.

Despite the cost of hiring a new attorney and bolstering separate departments, Escobar said she believed there would be cost savings as a result of the new panel.

Members of the El Paso County Purchasing Department said they supported the panel, adding that they still would review all projects following recommendations made by the PRP.

Policies and a timeline for the panel have not yet been set, but Escobar said she hoped the panel would be approved and put together quickly with bond money expected to be released for the upcoming $110 million. Before they could get to that point she wanted to bring the idea of the new panel before the court for approval.

While the panel has not been approved, the process to move forward and explore the creation of the board got unanimous support from the court during Monday’s session.

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