I knew Rep. Claudia Ordaz's initial forays into faux public outrage were orchestrated for very specific purposes. That's why I originally didn't get the sense she'd be the person on council throwing every big issue not under with council's purview on the agenda every week. After her item yesterday on traffic courts jailing people, I figured it out. She's the new Susie Byrd of council... in a sense.
The El Paso Times covered the story HERE. Note on that - how embarrassing is that they didn't run this story to begin with? Some cheesy outside blog aggregator listicle site scooped them...
Back to the story.
First off, I get it. These judges are not, by law, supposed to be jailing people for not paying traffic tickets. That's awful and it needs to stop.
There was zero reason to take this up at city council. I'll quote Ordaz directly on this:
"I understand the delicacy I am dealing with when we are talking about two separate branches of government," she said. "The judicial branch, they are elected officials, so there is not a whole lot City Council can do as a governing board. But what we can do ... is to make it easier for people to understand their rights and understand their options.”
We'll excuse the misuse of the word 'delicate' here and just skip to the meat. She admits "...so there is not a whole lot city council can do..." So why were they wasting their time trying to do something?
Byrd and her fellow progressives used to do this a lot back in their day. They were always condemning the death penalty or legalizing pot. It was a complete waste of time and only served as a "look at me" moment for whoever put the item on the agenda.
Once Beto and Steve left, these types of items stopped showing up on the agenda. It's been a good run, but it looks like Ordaz is going to start this crap up again.
Not only was the item a waste of time, it seems the city attorney is worried it could get council in trouble. She's likely right. There separation of the judicial and legislative branches is an extremely important policy to maintain. For city council, a legislative body, to dictate to a judge, from the judicial body, what they should and should not be doing is a dangerous precedent to set. The legislative body who sets the rules for these judges meets in Austin every other year. God help us all if each city got to set it's own judicial rules in Texas!
It's likely that the item was discussed at length in executive session, and not in open session, because there were fears that they'd do something stupid and get everyone in trouble. That's the problem with some of these "look at me" issues - they could lead to someone overstepping their bounds and putting the entire body in the penalty box.
The end results was a "we'll study this a get back to you" effort that your local government applies to most issues. In this case they will be studying if the city needs to get into the business of warning people to pay their traffic tickets. I see an entire city department being built so that they can say they told people that they got a ticket and need to pay it... as if the process isn't clear enough already. Hell, why not set aside city funds to pay for people's traffic tickets? It would be like a scholarship fund for bad drivers. I'm thinking we need a clever name for it, but I'm all out of ideas.
In all seriousness, the solution is simple and has nothing to do with city council. If judges would follow the rules, there would be no need to even talk about this. Now, because a few bad apples can't get their shit together, we have city council trying use taxpayer dollars to fix a problem that really shouldn't exist. Great! More government never fixed anything other than a yearning for more government.
Kudos for Ordaz in the long run. She can now put on her mailers for mayoral race that she was the author of a criminal justice reform bill. Very smart!