January 2018

The goofy, the bad
& the weird

El Paso Scene’s 11th annual
Gecko Awards honor 2018’s strangest, dumbest and most
outrageous news item

By Lisa Kay Tate

Gecko of the Year:
The so-called arena

Is it an arena? A multipurpose center? No, it’s Super Gecko!
This year’s Gecko of the Year is the yearlong battle over the $180 million complex proposed in the Duranguito area of Downtown El Paso. Officially known as the “Multipurpose Performing Art and Entertainment Center” as part of the Quality of Life Bonds approved by city voters in 2012, the project became a major controversy after a site was selected in one of El Paso’s oldest neighborhoods and plans called for it to be a venue for a variety of sports events, although no mention of sports was made on the original ballot issue.
Here are some of the past year’s highlights:
• Early in the year, many City Council members felt misled concerning the information given to them regarding the project, or that they hadn’t received the right information to make a decision. This included whether the “arena” needed to be within 1,000 feet of Downtown to qualify for state incentives.
• El Paso County Commissioners Court approved a measure requiring open government training for all members of El Paso Historical Commission, because they may have violated the Texas Open Meetings Act law by privately voting against the arena being built in Union Plaza’s ‘Duranguito” neighborhood.
• Three months after historic property owner William “Billy” Abraham opposed the building of the arena and applied for a historical marker for one of his buildings in Union Plaza, he withdrew the application, and said he would stand “shoulder to shoulder with our city leaders” in support of the arena project.
• By mid-year, the city sought a court hearing to validate the arena, in response to a lawsuit threat by arena opponents.
• In June the chairman of the El Paso County Historical Commission, Joseph Nebhan, quit after several demolition permits were issued for residential and commercial buildings in Duranguito. He said the commission was more “about legalities and politics than it is about history.”
• More troubles regarding the arena came when a Travis County judge ordered a temporary restraining order on the City of El Paso that halted the project. A hearing over the issue began in July.
• In August, an Austin 201st Civil District Court Judge ruled that the arena could be built, as long as it wasn’t as a “sports arena.” The city appealed the ruling as being unclear.
• In September, five properties in the Duranguito neighborhood had been damaged by demolition crews, resulting in protests from neighborhood residents and activists. The Eighth Court of Appeals ordered the city of El Paso to temporarily stay all demolition.
• By the end of the year, the city had spent nearly $2 million on legal services from three different law firms.

We’re No. 130!

Sorry, UTEP, you came close — but thanks to the “arena” debacle, you didn’t win this one, either.
The UTEP Miners football team is the 2017 runner-up for Gecko of the Year, finishing as the only FBS team in the country without a win. This year’s season not only edged out the team’s 0-11 record in 1973 for the worst season in UTEP history, but also earned consensus All-American honors for worst team in the country. CBS Sports ranked UTEP 130 out of 130 teams in the NCAA Division I Football Bowl Subdivision. The Miners also ranked as the worst offense in the country, scoring less than 12 points a game.
CBS Sports columnist Tom Fornelli took UTEP’s distinction a step further in his “Bottom 25 Playoff Championship,” predicting that UTEP would lose 21-15 to fellow Conference USA sad sack Charlotte, then “advance” to lose 34-18 to Kansas, using computer simulations based on the teams’ 2017 statistics.
The Miner football season didn’t do much to help a ranking by WalletHub released last January ranking El Paso as one of the worst large cities in the nation for football fans.
UTEP sports fans did not get much relief as the basketball season got under way. The team opened with one win and five losses and then head coach Tim Floyd announced his resignation.

Missing persons: El Paso voters

Another close runner-up was the El Paso area voter, who seems to have become a dying breed. Only 8.3 percent of registered voters turned out for the El Paso mayoral election. After the election resulted in a runoff between David Saucedo and Dee Margo, Democratic party leaders encouraged people not to vote for either because they had each “voted as a Republican” in past elections.
El Paso area’s voter turnout is often the lowest in the state, which was emphasized when a mayoral runoff in Socorro between Elia Garcia and Ivy Avalos drew only about 2 percent of voters.
Of course, there were plenty of reasons that voters might be discouraged about supporting politicians.
• When the League of Women hosted a forum for the eight mayoral candidates, asking them to “grade” the current City Council, six of the candidates gave them Fs and Ds.
• El Paso school board President Dori Fenenbock may have violated state law and district policy by bringing up her potential run for congress at the end of school board meetings, asking for phone numbers and setting up lunch meetings.
• Fenenbock’s social media video against Veronica Escobar had to be pulled from Facebook, because the ad, accusing Escobar of lying, consisted of portions of a speech spliced together to appear she was saying something she wasn’t.
• City Representatives Jim Tolbert and Courtney Niland were in the news for failing to produce text messages in response to an open records request from the Texas Public Information Act. Niland later resigned from Council, and Tolbert lost his bid for reelection.
• Shortly after El Paso ISD hired Elizabeth Saenz as a deputy superintendent, it was reported she had been under scrutiny with West Oro ISD near Corpus Christi for financial mismanagement and poor attendance. So much so, the district had considered terminating her contract.
• Former city rep. Tolbert, who filed an ethics complaint against City Manager Tommy Gonzalez two years ago, wrote a column in the El Paso Times changing his mind and saying he fell victim to a “power play.”
• A candidate for El Paso County Clerk bounced a check for the filing fee and was disqualified from the Democratic Party primary. Richard Gonzalez explained that he had put a hold on his account due to a lost debit card. The former employee of the county clerk’s office is a finance major in college.
And around the region …
• Carlsbad City Councilman J.R. Doporto issued an apology after he went on a Facebook tirade stating women had the right, among others, “to get slapped.”
• Roman Jimenez resigned as chair of the Doña Ana GOP due to poorly timed controversial statements he made on Facebook stating “violent, leftist protesters” are “getting exactly what thy asked for” shortly after the riots in Charlottesville.

Many people may not have read about many of these incidents, as the El Paso Times announced its shifting focus to the “digital landscape” by shrinking its print edition. Part of what was left included packaged pages from USA Today. Meanwhile it increased its subscription rates. Without further ado, collected from the shrinking Times and other news sources, here’s more of the weirder and wild El Paso, southern New Mexico or Juarez area news fit to print in 2017.

Better call Saul!

A former Las Cruces teacher was convicted of manufacturing meth in his home. When being compared to Breaking Bad character, Walter White, he said “just because I taught intro to chemistry to a bunch of ninth-graders doesn’t mean I ran a full-blown meth lab.”
He said he only tried to cook meth about “five or six” times as an “intellectual experience,” and to feed his own addiction, not to sell any of it.

The Rio Grande isn’t that grand

When the New York Times reported the closing of the Juárez newspaper Norte, they wrote the border city was “10 miles south of El Paso.”

Watch out for that wall!

President Donald Trump made local news when talking about his proposed Border Wall, saying it has to be transparent in places because a “60-pound bag of heroin” might fly over it and hit a passerby on the head.

Getting taught a lesson

A 38-year-old Pebble Hills High School teacher was arrested for an improper relationship with a student, after he and a female student were caught “making out” in the back seat of a parked car.

He’s history, already?

After moving his family from Minnesota for the job, El Paso Museum of History Director David Grabitske abruptly resigned from the position after a six-month tenure.

Political ‘art’?

When five NMSU art students were instructed to use clay in a nontraditional way for a ceramics class, they created a sculpture of President Trump, replacing his hair with golden “excrement.”
Meanwhile, an El Paso print shop sold shirts defining the world “trump” as “estúpido, p*ndejo, c*brón.”

10 likes; 1 dislike

El Paso County Judge Bonnie Rangel was a short-lived internet sensation when a 2015 demo tape pitching for her own “Judge Bonnie’s Family Court” reality show resurfaced on YouTube. The clip began with Rangel crawling on a desert highway after a car accident, a “near death experience” that inspired her to start her own “Judge Judy” show.

‘Sons of Anarchy’ in courtroom

An argument over funds raised for a child with cancer resulted in a fight between two rival motorcycle gangs, the Banditos and Los Traviesos. That led to various assault and organized criminal activity charges, but the trial ended in a mistrial.

‘Most unsuccessful attempts at breaking a record’

After El Paso High School’s attempt the previous year to break the Guinness World Record for largest school reunion fell short, Bowie High School’s record attempt this past fall was canceled due to lack of participation.

Captain A-meth-ica

A drug-sniffing dog, while doing a sweep of a central bus station in Juarez, found a pound of crystal methamphetamine stashed inside a plush toy of Captain America.

Better than a telenovela

Federal immigration agents were under fire for arresting an undocumented transgender woman at El Paso County Courthouse who had just received a protective order that alleged she was a victim of domestic violence. The agents received the tip from her alleged abuser.
The agents later admitted in an amended document they had gone to a hearing in the courthouse to detain her. The woman had been deported six previous times.
She eventually was convicted of fraud and theft charges. She was allowed a daily estrogen treatment while awaiting her trial.

The ever-flowing Brooks

Country star Garth Brooks smashed ticket records after his Las Cruces concert sold out in under an hour. The sales continued to be so successful; four more concerts were added by that afternoon.

Who’s the shameful one?

A Muslim woman was arrested after kidnapping another woman whose lifestyle, she claimed, “brought shame to the Muslim community.”

Vacation had lasting effect

An administrative judge recommended leniency for a YISD teacher, who tested positive for marijuana, because the teacher was believed to have consumed it in Colorado, where the drug is legal.

The 2018 “Ewww” award

A man robbed a beauty shop in east El Paso by using a syringe filled with blood as a weapon.
Hashtag Not Ashley

The choice of political activist and actress Ashley Judd as keynote speaker for the YMCA Women’s Luncheon, coming after her controversial performance of the poem “Nasty Woman” at the Women’s March, evoked a mixed response by El Pasoans. Judd cancelled the El Paso appearance.

Not what they ordered, at all

When two women accidentally honked their horn in a McDonald’s drive-thru on Yarbrough, the man and woman in the car in front of them exited their vehicle and robbed the two women at gunpoint.

Duking it out over the Duke

Lucchese got into a legal battle with John Wayne Enterprises, which alleged that the El Paso bootmakers misappropriated the name and image of the late actor by using his likeness to sell their product.

Expensive leg room

In a 14-month period, El Paso ISD Superintendent Juan Cabrera was away from the district more than 100 days and spent close to $78,000, including first-class flights he said were necessary because of a disability he said that required his leg to be elevated.
A later internal audit of his district found one conference he attended had no educational connection, forcing him to repay the district $319.

Pass the assault, please

Three men were trying to stop another man from assaulting a woman, but both the man they were fighting with and the woman who was the supposed victim got into a car then tried to chase down the three men. The car crashed into the side of a Northeast El Paso apartment, and both the male driver and woman passenger were charged with assault.

You dirty thieves!

The New Mexico Land Office got into a legal battle with Hudspeth County, Texas, after it was discovered that road crews from the county just east of El Paso were sneaking into New Mexico, stealing dirt, sand and gravel from a parcel of state trust land.

La Chupa-coyote

A “chupacabra” sighting in the Kern Place neighborhood, which included photo evidence, sent to local news sources, turned out to be a coyote with mange.

A bridge too far

After years discussing the need for a bridge to ease commercial traffic at border crossings in El Paso, the $133 million Tornillo-Marcelino Serna Port of Entry in far east El Paso closed its designated commercial traffic lane due to lack of demand.

Gimme a J! A! I! L!!

A Riverside High School cheerleader was arrested for making a false police report, after allegedly claiming a burglar had stolen her cheerleader uniforms from her home. It turns out she made up the charges, because she didn’t want to return the uniforms to the school.

They almost stopped believing

Classic rock band Journey did not take the Don Haskins Center stage until after a 2 ½ hour delay. Meanwhile, UTEP Special Events said they were lucky to get them to El Paso at all because they had to find a plane to fly them here from Tucson after the band’s plane had mechanical trouble.

Best left to the imagination

A man allegedly assaulted an east El Paso 7-11 clerk in “an obscene manner” after robbing the store, although it wasn’t disclosed exactly what that entailed.

Oops! Part I

After drive-by shooters unloaded eight to 10 rounds into an East El Paso home, which El Paso police later determined was not the house they intended. The residents had no connection to any illegal activity.

The cube is out there

News venues worldwide reported a “terrifying” black cube seen just a few miles from White Sands Missile Range. One eyewitness said the cube emerged from what appeared to be a “black hole type portal.” The head Texas investigator for the Mutual UFO Network said the cube was more Photoshop than an actual phenomenon. “If you blow the thing up, you can see too many pixels,” he said. “Someone is playing a practical joke.”

Oops! Part II

While attempting to shoot an aggressive dog, El Paso police accidentally shot an animal control officer in the ankle.

High ratings for low ratings

DK Eyewitness Travel gave Las Cruces an unusual compliment, naming it the 10th most underrated city in the U.S.

Giving out sleazy A’s

A Gadsden High School social studies teacher was put on leave after an investigation, sparked by a student complaint, revealed he had been receiving massages and back rubs in exchange for A’s.

The story was all wet

A fictitious press release, using a fake City of El Paso letterhead, claimed an 18-year-old had tested positive for an amoeba that could cause a deadly brain infection after visiting a local waterpark. The Department of Public Health quickly debunked the claim.

Oops! Part III

El Paso police chased down a man in a stolen vehicle, who later ran away from them on foot, only to return to the scene later to steal an unmarked police car.

‘Yes, I want fries with that!’

A fight between an employee and a customer at an El Paso McDonald’s went viral, showing the man enter the restaurant with a large dog, swipe a cookie display off the counter and verbally threaten the employee. He then removed his shirt, jumped over the counter and struck the employee. He had told the employees he was waiting for his fries for two hours.


Copyright 2018 by Cristo Rey Communications