El Paso

Ousted Historical Commission members say Duranguito preservation efforts took a hit

Ousted Historical Commission members...

EL PASO, Texas - The County Historical Commission underwent some major changes Monday after County Commissioners voted to reappoint only nine of its 21 members. 

Most notably, the court did not bring back chairman Bernie Sargent, and vice-chair Max Grossman, who had a combined 25 years of experience on the board.

The two were also major advocates for preserving the Duranguito neighborhood from being demolished for the new downtown arena.

"The biggest voices for preservation have just been wiped off the face of the map," Sargent said.

 Grossman said despite the fact they've been removed they will still work to help the residents of Duranguito.

"We are committed to saving that neighborhood," Grossman said. "Of course we no longer have the institutional backing of our commission...our mission now as citizens remains unchanged."

County Judge Veronica Escobar released this statement into why those members were not retained:

"All members of the Commission have been very dedicated and passionate members, and the commissioners court is very grateful to them for their service. For the two most visible members, Bernie Sargent and Max Grossman, it was an issue of confidence for me. While I am grateful for their volunteer work, information provided to us made me believe it was time to move forward with new members."

Dr. Yolanda Chavez Leyva is a historian at UTEP. She is also a member of Paso Del Sur, a grassroots group that advocates for Union Plaza Residents. She said she was shocked by the court's decision.

"I think it had everything to do with their support of the arena. They are [two] that spoke out in defense of Duranguito, in defense of the history of that area," Leyva said. "I feel that it has everything to do with the arena. With business interests trying to stop what the historical commission is doing in trying to preserve history."

Joseph Nepham is a downtown property owner, and is also one of the historical commission members that was retained. 

"I think it's a shame that the commissioners court took the action they did," Nepham said. "But, they're the boss, and we have to do what the boss says."

Nepham said he doesn't even have a full list of who the new members are. He hopes they will continue to fight to preserve history.

"They took the lead on everything. They had -- Bernie knew everyone in the state, everyone involved in history, knows everyone in town. Max, he's an architectural historian. What more credentials do we have here? He's a professor at UTEP," Nepham said. "They were the leadership. They were great leadership. But, like I said, I think we stepped on some toes."

Duranguito resident Michael Patino said there are still people who will continue the fight.

"We are grateful for the information that is at hand and we applaud their effort. We actually respect these two gentlemen very deeply," Patino said. "This movement continues without them. Paso Del Sur is still moving forward. We still have residents who don't want to leave."

The El Paso Historical Commission was recognized as one of the best in the state. Nepham said this decision all comes back to the group's Texas Open Meetings Act Violation when it conducted an online vote.

"The commission was moving forward wonderfully until this procedural error by Mr. Sargent," Nepham said. "The walls came tumbling down."

You can watch the full report on ABC-7 at 6.

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