Sparks fly as El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization picks new leadership

Horizon mayor, county commissioner will lead El Paso MPO

EL PASO, Texas - Fireworks and arguments kicked off the July El Paso Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO) meeting.

MPOs are tasked by Federal law to plan for transportation development and are meant to move communities forward. Every year, El Paso's MPO handles millions of dollars worth of transportation projects.

Friday marked a day of transition for the El Paso MPO. A new chairman was set to take over for El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar.

State Rep. Marisa Marquez nominated Horizon City Mayor Walter Miller as chair, and County Commissioner Vince Perez as the vice-chair. A push was made by others to appoint State Rep. Joe Pickett as vice chair, which sparked an experience versus youth debate.

Escobar told the board she assumed a push would be made for Pickett and proceeded to show a history of his time with the El Paso MPO including seven chair positions. Perez joined the conversation stating that the county has had minimal representation since 2000.

"Those who are part of this board know what this is," said Pickett in reaction to Escobar and Perez's comments.

Pickett continued to call the comments a personal attack before stating he would refuse an appointment if it moved forward. He went on to state there were issues within the MPO which spurred a brief but contentious back and forth between Pickett and Escobar.

Eventually things settled down, and a vote elected Miller and Perez into the new positions of power. Miller immediately spoke about the argument that had unfolded in front of more than 50 attendees and a number of media personnel.

"This has been an uncomfortable exercise for me personally," said Miller adding he had great admiration for all of the people involved in the argument. "My endeavor now is to come together as a group and move forward to resolve some transportation issues in El Paso County."

The El Paso MPO meeting continued without issue. The big agenda item of the day involved 13 projects being put on the Metro Transportation Plan. Despite five people who spoke publicly in favor of a new entrance to the Franklin State Park it was left off the list. The downtown trolley plan was also left off the list for MPO funding.

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