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A dozen or so Valley Interfaith members from Las Milpas attended the Pharr City Commission meeting. Many of the group's initiatives for the south side were adopted by the city commission.

PHARR, RGV – Big changes are planned for the City of Pharr’s economic development corporation, following the appointment of a new board of directors.

The new Pharr City Commission headed by the new mayor, Dr. Ambrosio ‘Amos” Hernandez went into executive session for an hour and a half on Tuesday evening. When the mayor and commissioners re-emerged they announced the new board.

It comprises Mayor Hernandez and city commissioners Roberto ‘Bobby’ Carrillo, Oscar Elizondo, Edmund Maldonado, and Ricardo Medina. Also on the board is Dr. Ramiro Caballero, who unsuccessfully ran for city commission in this month’s election A Mr. Smith from Matt’s Cash and Carry was also named to the board. His full name was not given because this appointment has yet to be confirmed. It could be the owner, Danny Smith, or one of his sons, who are also in the business.

Asked why the board of directors needed to be changed, Hernandez told the Rio Grande Guardian: “It’s simple. We looked at the performance of the current EDC and we need a new direction for it.” Asked what that direction will be, Hernandez said: “It will be more thorough and more informative before we take on projects.”

The performance of Pharr EDC, headed by City Manager Fred Sandoval, was brought up as a campaign issue by the Pharr Forward slate of candidates in the recent city commission elections. The slate, led by Hernandez, questioned how much taxpayer money had been spent landing Costco and other big box retail stores. Pharr Forward also said it was wrong for the city manager to also be the head of the EDC. The rival slate, Pharr First, defended Sandoval, pointing out that sales tax revenues have gone up 42 percent while he has served as head of the EDC.

City Commissioner Medina, who was on the Pharr Forward slate, told the Rio Grande Guardian after the executive session that the EDC will be run differently. “There needed to be changes. We felt we needed to bring new people in. We felt we needed a new direction.” Asked if Sandoval will remain as head of the EDC, Medina said: “We need to have some changes in the way things are done but that is something the board will decide.”

The other issue that was discussed in executive session was “presentation and possible action on organizational structure at all levels to include all executive management and all directors.” No action was taken on this.

Four of the seven members of the Pharr City Commission were sworn into office on Tuesday evening: Hernandez, Medina, Eleazar Guajardo and Mario Bracamontes. Four of the members, Carrillo, Elizondo, Maldonado and Bracamontes were with Pharr First during the election campaign and three, Hernandez, Medina and Guajardo were with Pharr Forward. The election results showed voters split down the middle, with the margins of victory recorded at one and two percent. However, one would not have guessed there were deep divisions on Tuesday night as all the motions passed were unanimous.

Hernandez said this showed that there is a spirit of cooperation on the commission and recognition that the interests of Pharr must come first. “As you can tell from tonight the commission came together tonight. I am very proud of my commission and board members and our legal counsel that they were able to come together and gracefully and masterfully put this agenda through.” Asked how the meeting went, Hernandez said: “I think it went well. We are going to clarify our position on a lot of the positions. We have a 90-day plan and a one year-plan and a four-year plan. The plans will be printed and put on the website and everyone will know we don’t just talk, we actually get things done in a timely manner.”

At the beginning of the event, the city hall chamber was packed for the official swearing in ceremonies. Hidalgo County District Attorney Ricardo Rodriguez officiated for Hernandez. Hernandez thanked his wife Cristina and son Joseph for their unwavering support. He then made these remarks:

“I am anxious to get to work. I am here today as a uniter and not a divider. I am here because we are a city of grand expectations. Dreams come true. If there is any doubt, look at this kid from south Pharr who is now your mayor.

“We must stand united, united to fight for every neighborhood, for every man woman and child, united for our seniors and for our students, for rich and poor and for everyone in between. We will not tolerate a city divided, either by privilege or poverty.

“We are here today as a reflection of what the city wants in its leadership: transparency, accountability and action. I am aware of my limitations but I will surround myself with competent people who will fight for my city. I will learn from the best and I will lead.

“Let there be no mistake that my priorities are clear. We will reduce taxes, ensuring that our schools help every child to succeed, increasing trust and transparency in city government. Rome was not built in a day, but, as President Lincoln said, the best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.

“Together we have much to do and a lot of hard work ahead of us. We must all come together for the greater good of this city. I do not stand alone. I stand with thousands who are members of our community. I will not compromise the future of this city to benefit the select few, not on my watch.

“You make Pharr a stronger city and it reminds all of us of our shared values and aspirations. We will move Pharr forward, together. Thank you, God Bless You, God Bless the City of Pharr and God Bless the United States of America. Thank you.”

In his remarks, Commissioner Bracamontes said leadership is about action, not about position. “This is probably going to be the last time you will see me in a suit. Why, because I will be out there for the community, I will be out there with the kids, with the parents, the teachers. I do not like to sit down. Kind of ADHD, got to be out there all the time,” Bracamontes said, which brought laughter from the audience. “Everything I promised during the campaign will happen. Action speaks louder than words. I have a title now, of commissioner, but that doesn’t mean much. I am not above you. I am just like you.”

Commissioner Elizondo welcomed the new mayor and new commissioners. Referring to the bruising election battle, Elizondo said: “It is our job up here to try to unite our city again. We are going to do everything possible to work together as a team. Our main responsibility is to make the best decisions for the city of Pharr, including north Pharr, including the middle of Pharr and including south Pharr. That is my commitment. I think I can speak on behalf of Bobby and Edmund when I say that.”

A reception was held after the swearing in ceremonies. When the City Commission resumed they considered a packed and varied agenda, much of it put together by Mayor Hernandez. Among the items discussed were a reduction in property taxes and a reduction in water rates. In both cases, Pharr has the money to implement these reductions, said Juan Guerra, the city’s chief financial officer.

The commission also voted to restore a public comment period at the beginning of each commission meeting. Hernandez rejected the notion that Pharr follow the City of McAllen’s example and have public comment on a different day to the actual commission meeting. He said he did not anyone who has a comment to make to be “talking to the wall.”

There were a number of items voted on that had been championed by Valley Interfaith during the city elections. The community group’s agenda focused on improving the quality of life of Las Milpas in south Pharr. It included a bridge across a canal to link the neighborhood north of West Las Milpas Road to Jones Box Park; more funding for Project VIDA; the building of a library, recreation and resource center, curtailing predatory lending in Pharr; more buses and bus routes for Valley Metro, and paving of more neighborhood streets.

The city commission voted affirmatively for most of these issues, though they did leave the issue of predatory lending pending. Project VIDA, which helps adults who want to learn new work skills, will see its funding from the City of Pharr double, from $50,000 to $100,000. And on the issue of paving streets, Hernandez said he wants every street paved within four years. He told the city engineer to come back with a new street paving plan.

More than a dozen Valley Interfaith members from Las Milpas were in attendance at the city commission meeting. As they were leaving, Valley Interfaith organizer Eddie Anaya told the Rio Grande Guardian: “We have been involved in with the city commission ever since we got annexed by the city over 20 years ago. I can tell you this is the first time that the Valley Interfaith agenda has been considered, line item by line item. The first time that our agenda has been listened to, voted on, and approved.”

Valley Interfaith believes it brought in about 1,000 votes in the recent city elections. Anaya said city commissioners are listening to Valley Interfaith because it has a constituency that votes. “In essence, what we see is that the City’s agenda is the community’s agenda. The community is the winner in all respects. I think it has all come about because Valley Interfaith has a constituency that votes and that the public officials are listening to what the citizens of our community need. We are elated. We have done our job in terms of organizing our community and building power in the Las Milpas area in South Pharr.”

Anaya added that Valley Interfaith’s work is not done. “We have to continue our house meetings, listening to the community, educating the community. We must continue to come back and hold our public figures accountable, working with them. We must make sure our constituency goes out and votes every time there is an election. We are going to continue that for years to come.”

Asked about his commitment to the residents of south Pharr, Mayor Hernandez told the Rio Grande Guardian: “When we were out on the streets we discussed many items and issues that were of concerning the citizens of Pharr. We wanted to show above all that the commission as a whole is united and we see eye to eye on what is needed for Pharr. We are moving past the campaign and this was a perfect example and opportunity for them (the city commissioners) to show as a unit that we are united and indeed they did.”

Interviewed after the meeting, Commissioner Guajardo said he is confident the city commission will work in harmony and unity. “We had a very productive meeting. I think we are all going to be learning a lot of things about our city. I am looking forward to helping the city. I am very confident that we will find common ground and that we will definitely be able to work together,” Guajardo said.