McAllen city commissioners were unable to reach a consensus during a workshop this week on board and committee appointments, with matters escalating to a row between two officials over a perceived insult.
The commissioners reached an impasse when it came to deciding who to appoint to boards overseeing the Hidalgo-Reynosa and Anzalduas International bridges, on which former Mayor Jim Darling and former Commissioner Veronica Whitacre serve.
The commissioners, including newly elected Tony Aguirre Jr. and Pepe Cabeza de Vaca, were divided on whether to keep Whitacre and Darling on the boards or appoint new people with border trade expertise.
With construction of new northbound facilities on the Anzalduas bridge expected to begin by the end of the year, Commissioner Omar Quintanilla said the board needed someone who knew how to drive up commercial traffic there.
“I think what’s even more important, now that the construction is going to commence pretty soon — within the next six to nine months — what’s more important is that bridge has the truck traffic,” Quintanilla said. “So we don’t only need somebody to attend or to have knowledge, the historical knowledge, we need somebody that’s going to help market that bridge so that it’s successful.”
Quintanilla stressed volume when pointing to the Pharr-Reynosa International Bridge as their “main competitor.”
“… As you know they have industry experts that are on (their board) that are constantly working with their trade representatives and others so that they get the most preferential treatment,” Quintanilla added.
However, Darling said he wanted to remain on the bridge board until the beginning of construction, City Manager Roy Rodriguez told the commissioners.
Commissioner Joaquin “J.J.” Zamora at first expressed support for keeping Darling on the board, making a case for continuity, but then backed Quintanilla’s call for people with expertise.
“Now that we’re going to open it up, what value is served by having former Mayor Darling on the board if he has already represented to the city manager that he wishes to be on there at the point of breaking ground or construction?” Zamora asked. “If we’re really looking at what’s the best interest for the bridge, I completely agree with Commissioner Quintanilla — having persons who have engagement in the trade, who are involved in the industry, and I’m not one of those.”
Commissioner Tania Ramirez said they were assuming Darling would not want to stay longer, and pitched herself as a board appointee.
“If I’m hearing you correctly,” she said to Zamora, “what you want is to have a combination of someone that knows what they’re doing and someone that brings new ideas. I think the perfect combination is Mayor Darling and myself.”
Ramirez noted the international bridge was in her district, and said she had been part of the industrial zone for 27 years, was knowledgeable of the produce industry and worked with the McAllen Economic Development Corporation.
“I have a lot of companies, friends of mine that they’re in the produce companies,” she said. “I know almost everybody in the ‘Ropa Usada’ business, I’ve been having an active role for the last two years with the industrial zone, with MEDC. The other thing is I do have a good relationship with the city of Hidalgo which usually, that’s the issue that we have with the bridge. So those are my qualifications based on my knowledge and experience, and also I do know about the trucking industry — my parents also have a trucking company — and I know maybe like a good 15 to 20 trucking companies that are friends of mine.”
Commissioner Aguirre supported keeping Darling and appointing Ramirez to the board but Zamora suggested keeping the same composition that included Darling and Whitacre.
However, Mayor Javier Villalobos, who defeated Whitacre in the mayoral election, said he wanted to look forward.
“I understand friendships, I understand past relationships, but we’re talking about McAllen,” Villalobos said. “We’ve always done things, even before I was here, we’ve done things that were proper for our city.”
Zamora said they needed people who were “fiercely loyal” to the city and who didn’t have any other interests with the cities of Mission, Hidalgo or any other competing municipality.
“I can’t think of anybody else more fiercely loyal than former Commissioner Whitacre and former Mayor Darling,” Zamora said.
Ramirez took insult to those remarks and accused Zamora of insinuating she had conflicts of interest when it came to other cities.
“The people spoke, they want change in the city of McAllen, so get over it,” she told Zamora regarding his recommendation. “You need to get over it.”
As Zamora tried to continue speaking, Ramirez interjected.
“You’re insulting me, telling me that I have conflict with other cities. Are you kidding me?” she said.
“I never made an accusation,” Zamora said as they continued to speak over each other, and then he reiterated that he was making a case for continuity.
“So you want to continue doing the same thing that we’ve been doing this whole time?” Ramirez asked.
Villalobos chimed in to advocate for change.
“Commissioner I was there too for the past three years on the bridge board,” he said to Zamora, “which is the reason I’m stating that maybe we should replace, without getting into specifics.”
“I’m just saying there’s a valid argument, maybe it’s not the best argument, but I’m making a valid argument for continuity’s sake,” Zamora told the mayor.
“And generally continuity is good,” Villalobos replied, “however, there are situations where that may not be the best possible thing and I think this is one of (those situations).”
Ramirez circled back to Zamora’s comments, again saying she was insulted by Zamora’s alleged insinuation of a conflict of interest on her part. Zamora, though, insisted that wasn’t what he said.
“All I made was a statement of fact that a consideration of any candidate for this board, that they be fiercely loyal to the best interests of the city of McAllen,” he said.
As the discussion continued to get out of hand, Villalobos attempted to temper the situation between the two commissioners.
“One of the beautiful things here in McAllen is, generally, we’re very professional and I think the rest of the communities around see that,” Villalobos said, urging them to keep their discussion civilized.
Zamora apologized and said he was done saying all he needed to say on the topic while Ramirez said she would be open to having members voice their opinion on the issue during a city commission meeting.
The commissioners are set to have a regular commission meeting Monday, during which they are set to vote on at least some of the board appointments.