WESLACO, RGV – Pooling resources to fund a regional marketing campaign, considering the merger of the Rio Grande Valley’s three metropolitan planning organization, and looking into the possibility of an international metropolitan statistical area.

These are the some of the subjects that could be taken up by a new group that has just been formed in the Valley – the Large Cities Coalition.

The group consists of the mayors and cities managers for all the cities in Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties that have a population of 25,000 and above. Those cities, in order of size, are Brownsville, McAllen, Edinburg, Mission, Pharr, Harlingen, Weslaco, San Juan and San Benito.

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez
Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez

The group has met, privately, once, a few weeks ago at Bass Pro Shop in Harlingen. It plans to have another meeting within the next six weeks. The Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council, the official council of government for Hidalgo, Cameron and Willacy counties, will be the administrative arm for the group, with LRGVDC deputy executive director Ron Garza its point person.

The Large Cities Coalition is the brainchild of McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. He pointed out that a Small Cities Coalition, also under the auspices of LRGVDC, has been going for some years.

“Our first meeting went very well. It is the first time I can remember where the larger cities got together to talk about common issues,” Darling told the Rio Grande Guardian. “I think issues like MPOs and MSAs are probably more pertinent to the larger cities. These things have been on the radar for the past couple of years but it is like, well I have heard this from my chamber, you hear things informally. I want to put issues like this on the table and ask, what does everybody think.”

Darling said he has asked McAllen Chamber of Commerce to pen a document on the pros and cons of having an international MSA and/or a united MSA for the Valley. He said other mayors are asking their chambers of commerce to do the same. Currently there are two – the McAllen/Edinburg/Mission MSA and the Brownsville/Harlingen/San Benito MSA.

Asked if the public or press could attend Large Cities Coalition meetings, Darling said: “We want to have frank discussions. It would not be required (to post notice of a meeting) because it is not a formal, governmental committee. I think we could talk (to reporters) afterwards. I would want to have an open discussion.”

Darling gave a brief report on the formation of the Large Cities Coalition at a recent meeting of the LRGVDC and a recent meeting of McAllen City Commission.

At the LRGVDC meeting, Darling mentioned the possibility of pooling resources to market the Valley as a tourist destination. “I think the one thing we have in common is we all have wildlife and wildlife refuges and birding. We could certainly call ourselves, living on the border, the Great Outdoors and market that together.”

At the McAllen City Commission meeting, Darling acknowledged that coming up with a name everyone can agree on for a united MSA might be a sticking point. “We voted to have a review of the MSA conversion. We talked about an international MSA. The problem there is the name. We will have to overcome the obstacles.”

Brownsville Mayor Tony Martinez said he suggested utilizing the talents of LRGVDC deputy director Garza to administer the Large Cities Coalition. “We have a very fine young man who is now our deputy director. He has got tremendous experience in San Antonio and Austin. My suggestion is to feed off of him.”

Martinez said he is not one to set up new groups just for the sake of it. He said there has to be a clear benefit for the Valley in having a group like the Large Cities Coalition.

“My question is, is it really a viable organization? does it have a purpose? I am not one to have an organization just for the sake of having an organization. If we are really tending to some of the needs of our region, then I think it will do good. But, it remains to be seen.”

Martinez is, however, hopeful. “Usually the bigger cities take the leadership role in the COG. Jim (Darling) is president. I am vice president. How do we get the city managers and the city mayors together to ask, what sort of problems are you having? We are having the same problem over here, how are you taking care of it? We can share that information.”

Martinez said he did not bring any specific issues to the table for the first Large Cities Coalition meeting. “Everyone told me, well, you (Brownsville) are doing too well to have issues. I said everybody has issues but for right now, we do not have time for issues, to be honest for you. We are working on some stuff that will be tremendous for the city of Brownsville.”

Martinez said because of the Valley’s rapid growth, local cities need to work and think regionally. “We are in a different era now. We have to grow and be prepared for what is coming down the pike. I am loving it. I am like McDonald’s. I am serving breakfast all day long. It’s there.”

Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying this story shows some of the directors of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council. McAllen Mayor Jim Darling is pictured center. The LRGVDC will provide administrative support to the Large Cities Coalition.