Mayor-Elect Dee Margo Gears up to Lead El Paso

Dee Margo was elected as El Paso’s next mayor, easily defeating David Saucedo in Saturday’s runoff election.

Mark Lambie / El Paso Times

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El Paso’s 51st Mayor-elect Dee Margo has not wasted time preparing to lead the city for the next four years.

Margo’s calendar was quickly filling with briefings and appointments days following the June 10 runoff election, where he easily defeated his opponent David Saucedo with 57 percent of the vote.

“We’ve had almost two full days of briefings by the city manager and his staff,” Margo said last week. “I was very impressed with what I saw.”

Margo, 64, said he has also met with some city representatives and had planned to meet with all of them prior to his first City Council meeting as mayor Tuesday.

He and the newly elected city representatives will be sworn in that morning, including Alexsandra Annello in West-Central District 2, Cassandra Hernandez-Brown in East-Central District 3, Sam Morgan in Northeast District 4; and Henry Rivera in the Lower Valley’s District 7.

The mayor and council serve four-year terms. City representatives make $29,000 a year, while the mayor is paid $45,000 a year.

A runoff election between Robert Cormell and Cissy Lizzarraga to complete the term of city Rep. Cortney Niland, who resigned in April, will be held July 15. The winner will represent the South-West area in District 8 through January 2019.

El Paso mayor-elect Dee Margo sits down for an interview in his office in the Chase Bank building in downtown El Paso. Margo and the new city council will be sworn into office June 27.

(Photo: Rudy Gutierrez/ El Paso Times)

In the meantime, Margo’s to-do list includes making sure he and the council are mostly on the same page — or at least understand each other.

“I don’t think anyone ran for office that doesn’t care about this community,” Margo said. “I’m trying to learn what their style of communication is and explain what my style of communication is and make sure we are all on the same wavelength so there’s no disconnect.”

The last day on the job for Mayor Oscar Leeser, who didn’t seek re-election after serving one term, is Monday.

Leeser, 59, said if he could offer any advice to Margo, it’s to “always treat people how you want to be treated.”

More: Judge rules city must temporarily halt arena land acquisition

He said it’s important for Margo and the city representatives to learn from each other and the city staff.

“Make sure you are prepared and you are going to be prepared by listening to the team members that have been working for the city or have been working on projects,” Leeser said. “Just because you got elected, just because you are mayor or a city council member, doesn’t give you the knowledge. It gave you the opportunity to learn and make sure you make the right decisions.”

A businessman, Margo said he has his work cut out for him in transitioning to lead the city, but said his prior experience will help him do so successfully. He served as state representative during the 82nd Texas Legislature and as president of the El Paso Independent School District Board of Managers during a time of turmoil.

“This is a heck of a lot better transition than walking into EPISD – which you didn’t know which end was up, you didn’t know who you could trust or not trust at the time, when for all intents and purposes, you were in the middle of an FBI investigation of a former superintendent,” Margo said.

Margo said he does not have too many concerns about heading into his new role – at least not yet.

“It’s still early, but not yet,” Margo said.

He said he his hopes for the city are to expand existing businesses to attract more sales tax revenues and maximize the benefits that will come once key transportation projects like the Downtown streetcar are online. He also wants to make sure that city employees are getting credit for the work they do to implement the City Council’s directives.

Margo said there are certain initiatives in place he would like to continue, such as the Familiarization Tours, or FAM Tours. The tours, initiated by Mayor Oscar Leeser, started in spring 2014 and are designed to provide a behind the scenes view of the city to potential investors, businesses and the like.

Margo said they have shown success and will be helpful in showing the rest of the state and the country that El Paso is an unknown commodity.

“Whatever we can do to show people first-hand who we are and what we are about and what we have to offer,” Margo said. “We have so many more positives to offer than anything related to a negative downside related to violence or otherwise.”

Also part of Margo’s plan is working with county leaders, area business leaders and the mayors of neighboring Juárez and Las Cruces.

Leeser echoed the sentiment that the relationships with area leaders are crucial.

“It’s important that we have that working relationship because we impact our community as a whole,” Leeser said.

Las Cruces Mayor Ken Miyagishima, who has met Margo a handful of times, said he’s looking forward to establishing a good working relationship with him.

“This is probably one of the most important relationships,” Miyagishima said. He added that also critical is the relationship with leadership in Juárez.

Miyagishima said he’ll invite Margo to join the U.S.-Mexico Border Mayors Association, the group is made up of more than 30 mayors that was established to help formulate policies that affect border communities.

He also said he wants to continue to work with El Paso leadership to market the region.

The Las Cruces mayor said he wished Margo and the new council well and that he is there to provide any assistance and to share best practices if need be.

Margo agrees that everybody has to work together to convey the region’s assets.

Leeser said that he, too, will be available should Margo reach out for any reason. He said he and Margo have already spoken a few times since he was elected.

“If he wants me to help him I’ll give him 100 percent of my attention to help him if he doesn’t feel he needs it then its up to him,” Leeser said.

On the budget

As he said during his campaign, Margo wants to first and foremost focus on the upcoming budget cycle and ensure that public safety needs are funded.

The City Council adopted a $900.3 million budget last year, which led to a tax increase of $45 on the average-valued home of $127,590.

The fiscal year 2018 budget will have to take into account several underfunded projects, including up to $4 million in projects recommended for funding by City Council last year.

The city is also $18.4 million short for the $218 million Street Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan now being re-evaluated to update the nearly 10-year-old list of streets that need work. City staff has also been instructed to find an additional $45 million for five roads listed as needing critical repairs.

Leeser recently vetoed a plan to issue certificates of obligation, or debt issued without voters’ approval and repaid with tax revenue, to fund several of those projects.

Margo has said certificates of obligation should only be used for emergencies.

Margo said the public safety budget is going to take precedence.

“We will see how to fund those at the front end,” Margo said.

El Paso mayor-elect Dee Margo sits down for an interview in his office in the Chase Bank building in downtown El Paso. Margo and the new city council will be sworn into office June 27.

When asked whether he would consider cutting services from other city departments or raising taxes to address the public safety funding needs, Margo said he doesn’t think it will be necessary and it is too soon to know.

“I think we will be OK,” Margo said.

Anti-Sanctuary Cities

El Paso County is among a handful of Texas counties and cities and civil rights groups that have filed lawsuits fighting the implementation of Senate Bill 4, also known as the anti-sanctuary cities bill and the “show me your papers” law.

The city hasn’t joined or initiated any legal fight against the bill set to go into effect Sept. 1, but the city attorney has been directed to research which lawsuit if any to join.

More: Attorney General adds El Paso County, sheriff to ‘anti-sanctuary cities’ lawsuit

Margo said he plans to go to Austin to visit with former colleagues in the legislature to discuss the law.

“It would be really nice if they just did away with Senate Bill 4,” Margo said. “It’s not needed.”

As far as the city joining a lawsuit, Margo said he would rather not spend on legal fees because El Paso is not a sanctuary city.

Margo said more pressing is fighting the negative narrative being portrayed of the border and misinformation about violence in the area.

Downtown arena

Margo says he remains in support of the city’s plans to build the $180 million arena in the Union Plaza area Downtown.

El Paso mayor-elect Dee Margo sits down for an interview in his office in the Chase Bank building in downtown El Paso. Margo and the new city council will be sworn into office June 27.

Margo said he wants more details about the plan, including whether the project can be built with the $180 million approved by voters in 2012.

“Let’s see all of that then we’ll see whether or not it works,” Margo said.

The city is seeking a court ruling to establish that its plans are a legal and valid. A Travis County Judge recently issued a temporary restraining order halting the city’s efforts to acquire properties or to issue demolition permits for buildings within the arena footprint until at least July 3.

Area historic preservationists, community advocates and four residents are fighting the city’s plan.

A judge is expected to rule in the case following a two-day hearing starting July 17 in Travis County.

“I’m still on the side of ‘we need to move ahead,’” Margo said.

Asked whether he would try to smooth things out between the arena opponents and its supporters, Margo said it may not be possible.

“Sometimes you can’t smooth things over irrespective of what you try to do,” Margo said.

Elida S. Perez may be reached at 546-6137; eperez@elpasotimes.com; @ElidaSPerezEPT on Twitter.

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