El Paso

Rep Noe: City of El Paso feels stabbed in back by Borderland mayors after MPO vote

City will request open records; ask Gov. for help

County reacts to MPO changes

EL PASO, Texas - At a special El Paso City Council meeting, Mayor Oscar Leeser and city representatives discussed how to best regain the city's voice on a powerful Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) board.

Sparks flew last week after a major change in the makeup of the MPO's Transportation Policy Board slashed the City of El Paso's members from eight to one.

City Council is fighting back against the controversial vote and demanding all efforts to change the makeup of  the MPO board cease immediately. The city is using an open records request to gather records going back 60 days before the vote. Officials want to  learn more about the decision-making process behind the the move to restructure the board.

City Representative Dr. Michiel Noe said he and other city officials suspect the move was clearly set up ahead of time. 

"I think every member of the city believes that for sure. We can't imagine how it went so quickly , so smoothly without there being some kind of deals made. What those deals were, I don't know," Noe said.

During the special city council meeting, representatives approved a resolution to authorize staff to submit comments on behalf of the city of El Paso opposing the MPO changes.

Mayor Oscar Leeser said the city's actions effectively put the board changes on hold for now.

Rep. Noe said he and other city officials feel stabbed in the back by Borderland mayors who voted to slash the city's representation.

"I believe the people of El Paso should feel exactly like that. All  the help we have given the municipalities surrounding us, and then they do this to us. Not the people of the cities, they are good people. Why the leadership of the city's, their mayors decided to do this, I have no idea," Noe said.

Noe called the move a power grab that is unnecessary because there has been no abuse of power.

The MPO is tasked by federal law to plan for transportation development in the Borderland region and designed to move communities forward.

Every year, El Paso's MPO handles millions of dollars in transportation projects. One example is the Go10 project.

Members of the MPO's Transportation Policy Board include mayors of all local municipalities, county representatives, state representatives and representatives from Sun Metro and the airport.

A recent 14-11 vote slashed the once 30-member board down to 15, once ratified. The county of El Paso had three reps, but that number would drop to one.

The change led to today's special city council and a letter of protest from El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez.

MPO board chairwoman and Vinton mayor Madeleine Praino said the bylaws were changed so each governmental group in the MPO would have only a single vote - ensuring equal representation.

Praino said she selected a seven person ad hoc committee to review the bylaws and make a recommendation about reducing board membership.

"I entrusted these people with the review or the bylaws and I felt confident that they would make the right decision," Praino said.

But the city of El Paso is not taking the loss of 7 voting members lying down.

During the special city council meeting, representatives approved a resolution to authorize staff to submit comments on behalf of the city of El Paso opposing the MPO changes.

Council also authorized the mayor to notify Texas Governor Greg Abbott of the city's opposition and ask that the MPO's actions not be ratified.

Representatives argued the board failed to provide 10 days prior notice to the voting membership before the vote making the result void.

The council and mayor also said the attempt to modify the bylaws did not receive an affirmative vote of a majority of the TPB membership and therefore was not approved.

Changes to the Transportation Policy Board's bylaws would have to be ratified by both the Texas and New Mexico governors.

El Paso County Commissioner Vince Perez also voiced his opposition to the controversial vote. Perez sits on the board, but will lose his seat in the streamlining of membership. Perez wrote a letter to MPO Chairwoman Praino.

"I write this letter to offer public comment regarding the proposed changes to the El Paso MPO's bylaws as approved by the transportation policy board, at the October 21, 2016 meeting. After further review of the proposed changes, it is my belief that the board's actions on October 21 does not comply with requirements set forth in title 21, chapter 450 of the United States code of federal regulations," Perez wrote.

Perez said he supports a reduction in the number of representatives on the board by removing staff members, not elected officials.

"In closing, it is my strong belief that the proposed changes to the bylaws do not comply with current federal rules, regulations, and statutory requirements. Further, should the city of El Paso formally object to these proposed bylaw, it is also my belief that, in accordance with federal regulations, the proposed amendments cannot be submitted to the Texas and New Mexico governors for ratification," Perez wrote.

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