Chairman, commissioner quit El Paso County Historical Commission after ‘demolition’ letter

The Duranguito neighborhood in Downtown El Paso is back as the preferred site for a new arena. City Council voted Tuesday against hiring an outside firm to conduct another feasibility study for the arena.

Sara Sanchez/El Paso Times

Buy Photo

The chairman of the El Paso County Historical Commission quit Tuesday in a spat over a letter about building demolition permits in the proposed site of the Downtown arena.

Chairman Joseph Nebhan, along with Commissioner Rick Kern, resigned from the 25-member board designed to research and promote El Paso history.

"I made that decision (to resign) because this commission is more about legalities and politics than it is about history," Nebhan said Wednesday.

More: City mum on demolition permits for Duranguito properties

The resignation occurred as the board discussed an agenda item about a letter Nebhan wrote criticizing city-issued demolition permits in the site of the proposed arena.

The city of El Paso has issued at least five demolition permits for two residential and three commercial buildings in the Union Plaza District’s Duranguito neighborhood, south of the civic center.

With a decision on the arena location pending a court hearing, the issuance of the demolition permits "would be a slap in the face to the courts, the residents of Duranguito, historic preservationists, and the citizens and taxpayers of El Paso," Nebhan stated in the letter.

“We haven’t done anything this year other than fight with each other. The votes were coming down, the old commissioners against the new commissioners.”

Chairman Joseph Nebhan

The city is seeking legal affirmation of the 2012 bond election that the arena can be built in Union Plaza. A court hearing that was to take place in Austin last week has been re-scheduled for July 17.

Some commission members questioned whether Nebhan’s letter on county letterhead violated protocol.

Nebhan said that the letter was on county letterhead because he was commission chairman and that he has a right to communicate with commissioners.

"I was put on the grill and I said why am I putting up with this," Nebhan said. "We haven’t done anything this year other than fight with each other. The votes were coming down, the old commissioners against the new commissioners."

Several new members joined the historic commission in February.

"It’s all political," said Nebhan, who was on the commission for five years. "It doesn’t do any good for anyone. That’s the reason I quit. It’s a waste of my time now."

During the meeting, Nebhan said he was resigning, grabbed his belongings and walked out while Kern offered a written resignation after the meeting ended, said Christian Nill, county liaison to the commission.

Nill added that a county attorney at the meeting said that the letter did not violate open meetings law.

Kern could not be reached for comment.

County Administrator Betsy Keller said via email that the Commissioners Court will decided whether to fill the vacancies and who to appoint to the volunteer board. She declined to comment about the resignations.

In January, the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office began an investigation into whether the previous historical commission violated open meetings laws when members voted via email to oppose the city’s arena plan.

Daniel Borunda may be reached at 546-6102; dborunda@elpasotimes.com; @BorundaDaniel on Twitter.

Source Article