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Outgoing Pharr City Manager Fred Sandoval and Pharr Mayor Ambrosio 'Amos' Hernandez discuss city issues at the end of Tuesday evening's city commission meeting.

PHARR, RGV – The person credited by many with turning Pharr from a sleepy suburb of McAllen into major regional player says more big economic development projects are on the way.

Fred Sandoval said the citizens of Pharr can expect more fresh produce companies to move their warehouse operations from Arizona in order take advantage of the Mazatlan to Matamoros superhighway and be close to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge.

Sandoval said more big name, one of a kind, retail stores are coming to El Centro Mall and the land north of Costco’s. He also said he will be pushing ahead with plans to create a Pharr Foreign Trade Zone.

Sandoval gave an update on the economic development issues he is working on soon after Pharr City Commission voted to accept his resignation as city manager. Sandoval gave notice that he will depart the city manager’s chair in two weeks. During this time he said he would be negotiating a contract with city leaders to remain as head of the city’s economic development corporation. If the contract negotiations are not satisfactory for all sides Sandoval said he would accept a severance package. In a majority vote, the city commission “yes” to the framework Sandoval laid out.

“We are going to push forward with the things we have been working on. The Foreign Trade Zone, the mayor has put that as one of our bigger priorities, so we are going to working with the staff on that. We have got to finish the process, finish the legislative side of things in Austin and then get approval on the federal side,” Sandoval said.

State Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission, is working on legislation to get the State of Texas to bless Pharr’s efforts to set up a foreign trade zone. Currently, McAllen and Edinburg have foreign trade zones. Sandoval said it “does not jibe” that so much of the Rio Grande Valley’s international trade comes through the Pharr bridge yet the city does not have a foreign trade zone.  “Everyone talks about regionalism. Well, here is good place to start. We could regionalize the foreign trade zone to cover the Pharr, Anzalduas and Donna international bridges. After that we can talk about working regionally with our bridges,” Sandoval said.

Regarding other economic developments Pharr is working on, Sandoval said: “We have got a lot of stuff pending in our produce park, a lot of stuff ready to go. More and more produce folks are moving in. So the industrial side of economic development is going to be very interesting over the next 12 months. We still have a lot of retail stuff we are doing on Jackson, the Mall and the area north of Costco. It is going to be an exciting year. A lot of stuff is going to go up.”

Asked if Pharr is open for business after all the negative press that was generated during a hard-fought city election battle, Sandoval said: “Absolutely, Pharr is open for business.”

During the election campaign, candidates on the Pharr Forward slate complained that Sandoval was wearing too many hats because he not only ran the city but also the economic development corporation and the chamber of commerce. The slate also complained about some of the economic development deals Sandoval struck in recent years. Pharr Forward won three of the four seats they contested.

Pharr’s new mayor, Dr. Ambrosio ‘Amos’ Hernandez led the Pharr Forward slate and last Friday set the agenda for a special meeting of the Pharr City Commission that was held Tuesday evening. The top item on the agenda was consideration of the city manager’s position.

The City Commission went into executive session for 38 minutes. When they returned to the open session, Sandoval asked if he could make a comment. Mayor Hernandez said yes.

“I would like to ask the board, if you will indulge me, mayor, commissioners, to allow me a customary two weeks notification or separation,” Sandoval said. “Two weeks’ notice of separation but I would also like to, in the spirit of that work with you mayor and the rest of the commission, ask that we come together as a group and as citizens to move forward as a city and, again, look for leadership both from the old administration and new administration. I’d like to give my two weeks’ notice subject to a contract being worked out to be executive director of the economic development corporation,” Sandoval said. Hernandez asked if this was his preference. “That would be my choice,” Sandoval replied. “In addition to that, should a contract not be worked out, that consideration of a severance package (be considered).”

Mayor Hernandez then thanked Sandoval for his 18 years of service to Pharr. “A lot of things have changed in that almost two decades. It is time for us to move forward in a new direction and work as a team. And it is my understanding by your letter and wishes and your announcement that your strengths are on the EDC,” Hernandez said to Sandoval.

“We acknowledge the fact that everybody has strengths and there is a lot of details that people are not privy to but we also understand that everybody has a vital role in the city in many different capacities/ And, we understand that the strengths of your endeavors are with the EDC given the fact that you know and have established a lot of repertoire and collaborations with business people. We also understand and are doing our due diligence… in fairness to the citizens of Pharr.”

Hernandez said everyone must be accountable in the city administration. He said the entire City Commission ratified decisions taken by Sandoval in the past. “It is not as though you stood solely responsible for any actions of the past. It was a team effort and we realize that. And so with that we will be moving forward to conduct our first EDC meeting to entertain that request on your behalf and we will inform the citizens of Pharr on our outcome on Monday,” Hernandez added.

Interviewed afterwards, Hernandez said Sandoval had been “overburdened” with his duties for the city, the economic development corporation and the chamber of commerce. “He had three hats on. He can excel in one and as the majority said, he is best suited for the EDC and maybe the errors we saw before, the deficiency will be washed away with the fact that he will now excel, having complete focus on the EDC and having proper oversight.”

Asked if having Sandoval remain as head of the EDC provides continuity, Hernandez answered affirmatively. Asked what “deficiencies” he was referring to, Hernandez said those were well aired in the recent city elections.

Pharr City Commissioner Oscar Elizondo said the decision to accept Sandoval’s resignation as city manager but wish to stay on as head of the EDC was a good one.

“I think it is fair. I think Fred deserves that. He has been here a long time. There have been a lot of good things he has done. I think it is a fair deal for him to be able to work things out and find out what direction he wants to go in,” said Elizondo, who, like Hernandez, is also a member of the EDC board.

Asked if he agrees with the narrative that Sandoval is the man most responsible for turning Pharr from a dormitory town into a city that attracts first of a kind retail projects, Elizondo said: “Fred has been real instrumental. Before Fred was here there was not a lot of growth. We were in a recession with the old board and then things got worse. We were able to overcome that and move forward and make Pharr grow. Fred was a big part of that and developed relationships with different developers and different people around the area. Pharr is noted as one of the fastest growing places in Texas. Now, I believe, Fred will take it to a new level. He will not have to worry about the day to day operations of the city. I think it will be a good thing.”