El Paso

The Paso Del Norte Group – The Story Behind The Secretive Organization

Author’s note: The following deep-dive into the secretive Paso del Norte Group (PDNG) is the product of previously released internal documents, news articles, public documents and newly released internal documents provided to the author by a previous member of the group on the condition that the source of the documents remain anonymous.

The Paso del Norte Group (PDNG) has been described in the news media as a secretive organization. Its mission, according to an internal PDNG New Member Handbook, is to “promote the economic, social and cultural vitality of the region by cooperative effort, social interaction and the free exchange of ideas and news.” The group’s plan was to make the Paso del Norte Region the “epicenter of U.S./Mexican Commerce.” [8]

Except for its membership of around 300 members and of few others, few in the community knew about the Paso del Norte Group, much less what its purpose was on the city’s public policy agenda. On March 31, 2006, the Paso del Norte Group became generally known to the community when it announced a downtown redevelopment plan that called for using eminent domain to make way for redeveloping El Paso’s downtown.

Several reports of the PDNG have been published since 2006 when it became the center piece for destroying neighborhoods to make way for progress. Because secrecy is the central driving factor behind the organization, knowing its true intent has been difficult. The PDNG says it is about making the region an economic powerhouse. What the research reveals, however, is that the PDNG was launched to remake downtown El Paso by demolishing its older neighborhoods to make way for modernism.

To do so, the drivers behind the PDNG needed the city’s government power to take property away from property owners who did not share the group’s vision of progress.

The PDNG membership hovered around 300 members through its existence but the group evolved from six individuals, each driven with the need to reinvent El Paso.

As El Paso Politics previously explored, political power in El Paso evolved from banks over time and ended up concentrated around one banker, Jonathon Rogers. From there, the newest powerbase began to coalesce around similar interests but each following their own independent agenda. Names like Woody Hunt and Paul Foster have emerged as the political power in El Paso. With them came the regional approach for El Paso where El Paso would be the central hub and from there Las Cruces and Cd. Juarez would bolster the economic prowess of the region.

How It Began

The PDNG was started as the Downtown Redevelopment Committee under then mayor Ray Caballero, according to a PDNG new member orientation packet. [8] That is what the PDNG tells its new members. However, there does not seem to be any formal group under the City called the Downtown Redevelopment Committee. Instead, under Caballero’s predecessor Carlos Ramirez, a downtown revitalization group was organized in 1999 to develop a public-private partnership strategy for redeveloping El Paso’s downtown. [12] It was called The El Paso Downtown Partnership.

The El Paso Downtown Partnership

Revitalizing El Paso’s downtown has been a priority for El Paso city officials since El Paso’s downtown deteriorated. In 1988, the city council was looking “to create an atmosphere for tourism and to give people a reason to come to Downtown.” To do so, the city council looked at implementing a Tax Increment Finance District (TIF). The TIF district “would draw people downtown,” which would then attract private sector investments in downtown. [10]

TIF Districts are property tax schemes whereby the government freezes the taxes on properties in the district and as property taxes increase due to investment, the additional tax monies are used as incentives to property owners. Basically, a TIF District uses rising taxes in its footprint to help fund those investing in the properties in the district.

However, TIF Districts also gave the additional government power of eminent domain to take properties from owners who would or could not invest in their property. Under the Caballero administration, the eminent domain power of a TIF District became controversial around the then-Thomason Hospital neighborhood when the community resisted the BHI TIF district that Caballero was trying to impose on them.

In 1999, Christopher Leinberger, a real estate consultant with Robert Charles Lesser & Co., introduced the so-called El Paso Plan to a group of El Paso business and community leaders. Although then-mayor Carlos Ramirez was to be briefed on the plan, Ramirez was attending the awarding of the Empowerment Zone designation for El Paso in Washington. [11] However, following the presentation by Leinberger, Carlos Ramirez announced the formation of the El Paso Downtown Partnership in October 1999. [12]

On May 5, 1999, Pablo Salcido formed a Texas corporation named The Paso del Norte Group. (Texas Taxpayer Number: 17429180452) It was located at 201 E. Main. Another non-profit labeled as a “supporting organization” was listed in PDNG’s 2011 tax return. It was named the PDNG Foundation. [23]

The PDNG Foundation was established on June 5, 2001 and dissolved on September 6, 2013. Both the PDNG and the PDNG Foundation used the same address at 201 E. Main.

In 2000, the El Paso Downtown Partnership agreed to contract Leinberger to develop a strategic plan for El Paso’s downtown. The partnership anticipated spending $250,000 for the study. [12]

Although the PDNG says that it evolved from Ray Caballero’s Downtown Redevelopment Committee, it is likely that it evolved from Ramirez’ El Paso Downtown Partnership, because El Paso Politics has not found any reference to the Downtown Redevelopment Committee anywhere, other than what the PDNG membership packets state.

A now defunct online publication, the Newspaper Tree reported that the El Paso Business Leadership and Research Council Foundation was incorporated on June 5, 2001. The initial three-member board were Dave Bernard, Linda Volk and Joe Wardy. The non-profit renamed itself the PDNG Foundation on June 17, 2004. [29] The online publication alluded to the Council as the beginning of the PDNG.

The University of Texas System profile for Woody L Hunt, who is a former regent, stated that Hunt was “a member and founding chairman of the El Paso Leadership and Research Council.” [UT System website accessed on October 24, 2020] As readers will note later in this article, several entities are used by individuals associated with the PDNG interchangeably and sometimes the same entity is referred by similar, yet different names.

However, although the PDNG Foundation is the organization that was formally contracted by the City for the downtown redevelopment plan, as the reader will see, the historical record for the PDNG shows how it was created by six individuals focused on downtown redevelopment.

Although the Newspaper Tree alludes to the El Paso Business Leadership and Research Council Foundation as the genesis of the PDNG, readers will also see that the Council was brought in later in the process by the initial three members of the PDNG.

Caballero, Cardwell, Deckert, Moreno, Sanders and Hunt Launch The Downtown Plan

In 2002, Ray Caballero tasked Jack Cardwell, Myrna Deckert and Gilberto Moreno with “taking a look at downtowns.” Deckert called Cardwell and told him that Caballero “was very interested in improving Downtown.” Cardwell, Deckert and Moreno then recruited William D. Sanders to work on the downtown project. Woody Hunt was then recruited by them to complete the main drivers behind Caballero’s downtown redevelopment project. [18]

After Hunt joined the PDNG, Woody Hunt’s El Paso Business Leadership Council “merged” all its assets into the PDNG. [8][18] Hunt’s Leadership Research Council was formed in 1999. Hunt’s Council, made up of over 40 individuals, was led by Bob Hoy, as chairman, Myrna Deckert as COO and Jack Cardwell. [29]

According to internal documents, the original chairs of the PDNG were Jack Cardwell, Myrna Deckert and Gilberto Moreno. The first PDNG Executive Committee was formed in December 2003. Internal documents show that the original chairs of the PDNG were Jack Cardwell, Myrna Deckert and Gilberto Moreno. [8]

The PDNG was modeled after the Commercial Club of Chicago. [8][18]

According to the Chicago Commercial Association Anniversary Tribute of the Chicago Commercial Association dated 1905, the club “was created in the late nineteenth century to promote economic development in and around Chicago.” The tribute adds that “club members often came from an elite group of wealthy Chicagoans.” Their focus, according to the tribute was “social reform issues and city planning.”

The first members of the PDNG were “accepted in August 2004.” [8]

Initially the PDNG was focused on El Paso.

William D. Sanders

Sanders was the fourth member of the PDNG. He was recruited by the original members of the PDNG – Cardwell, Deckert and Moreno. [18]

“Ask anyone in the business community what is driving Downtown revitalization and they’ll tell you it’s Bill Sanders.” [17] “Bill Sanders (a PDNG founder) is the guy who knows all the major developers in this country…he can pick up the phone and talk to more people than you and I can get to in the next 40 years.” [18]

The person “driving” the downtown revitalization was Bill Sanders. Without Sanders, “the whole project dies.” [17]

The “regional concept” model was “introduced by Bill Sanders,” according to the new member orientation packet. [8] The PDNG was focused on redeveloping downtown initially. After Sanders was brought into the group, the focus became a regional approach to economic development.

However, El Paso’s downtown remained the central economic driver for the PDNG. El Paso downtown would become the region’s center.

From the moment William Sanders joined the PDNG, he became the vision for the El Paso downtown redevelopment efforts. It is all tied to his regional approach and the use of a real estate investment vehicle he was an expert on to force downtown owners to reinvent El Paso’s downtown.

Sanders Pushes Forcefully Taking Property Away

On March 31, 2006, at a Special City Council meeting where the downtown plan was unveiled, the PDNG stated that property owners at the targeted community had “to make one of three choices.” The first choice was “exchange their property for shares in a real estate investment trust (REIT).” The second choice was to sell the property to the REIT. And the third choice was to face eminent domain – the taking of the property by the government. [20]

Property owners targeted by the PDNG were now ordered to give up their properties to the PDNG.

A Real Estate Investment Trust (REIT) finances, owns and operates properties to generate income for the members of the REIT. In essence, what the PDNG was attempting to do with the targeted neighborhood was to force the property owners to sell their properties to the REIT. The other option for them was to give their property to the REIT in return for shares. If the property owners would not convert their properties for shares in Sander’s company, or sell it to his company, the City of El Paso would then take the property by eminent domain. Those were the three choices the property owners faced.

Sanders “is renowned as one of the greatest innovators in the world of real estate finance.” In 1991, after retiring from his first venture, Jones Lang LaSalle, Sanders returned to El Paso and founded Security Capital Group. After selling Security Capital Group to General Electric in 2002 for $5.4 billion, Sanders launched his next venture the following year. It was named Verde Realty. Verde’s investments “focused on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.” [21]

The Plan

During their 2010 meeting, the objective for PDNG was “to make the Paso del Norte region North America’s epicenter of U.S. – Mexico Commerce.” [3]

The PDNG’s Strategic Plan for 2015 was to be the leader in “transforming” the area comprised of “two countries, three states and three major cities with a population of just under 3 million people.” [2] They referred to their target area as “The Paso del Norte Region” and their organization as the “The Paso del Norte Group.” [2]

Readers should note that at the time that Sanders was launching Verde Realty, he was already working on the downtown redevelopment for the PDNG. Sanders had been recruited in 2002 to work with PDNG on downtown redevelopment. [18]

Verde Realty was developing land along both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border to bolster its portfolio with regional property.

The PDNG formally took on the developing the downtown plan in 2004, [16] shortly after the first membership of the PDNG was seated. [8]

Segundo Barrio Is Targeted

The City of El Paso contracted the PDNG on February 15, 2005 to develop the “Master Plan for the Downtown area.” PDNG was to deliver the plan to city council by September 30, 2005. However, the PDNG requested an extension to the contract on August 10, 2005, asking for the delivery date to be extended until March 30, 2006. The City approved the extension request on September 13, 2005. [25]

On March 31, 2006, Bill Sanders unveiled the PDNG’s El Paso downtown plan at the Plaza Theater. [9][14][16][24] Sanders told those at the meeting that “it is going to be very difficult for everyone in this room.” Sanders explained that the difficulty behind the plan was because it would require the use of eminent domain, the taking of private property by the government. [14]

Sanders told the 500, or so individuals at the presentation, that “due largely to the rundown condition” of the buildings in the major part of the targeted community, they paid a “measly $414,000 in property taxes in 2005.” [20] The targeted community was the Segundo Barrio.

Those who attended the unveiling did not live or own property in downtown El Paso. [14]

The Segundo Barrio was now targeted to be razed by the PDNG to make way for their redevelopment efforts for downtown. The weapon was eminent domain.

The problem faced by previous attempts to reinvigorate El Paso’s downtown was that the previous proposals were not financially viable to the property owners and the City. Even with government incentives, the rebuilding of El Paso downtown lacked the necessary economic engine to make it viable.

Property owners could not financially invest in their properties because economically the downtown could not sustain their investments. Property owners understood that building up downtown would not translate into greater revenues for them.

The PDNG also understood this. Instead of convincing the property owners to invest in their properties they decided that they would take the properties away from them and put them into a real estate investment scheme run by Bill Sanders.

The PDNG worked on the assumption that if “you build it, they will come.” To do so, they needed the power of the government to take property away.

The Plaza meeting and unveiling of the PDNG downtown plan was a Special Council meeting. The only item on the agenda was the PDNG presentation. [22] Then mayor John Cook told those attending that if he could vote he would vote for the plan. [20]

After the presentation, City Council voted to authorize Joyce Wilson, El Paso’s first City Manager, “to direct staff to conduct public hearings and formulate recommendations regarding the adoption of an amendment to the City of El Paso Comprehensive Plan to incorporate the plan presented by Paso Del Norte Foundation.” [22] This was Phase II of the project.

Name Confusions

It should be noted that the City’s official documents [22] [24] refer to the PDNG as the Paso Del Norte Group Foundation followed by the PDNG acronym. The discrepancy in the entity names is because they were interchangeable. The Paso del Norte Group (PDNG) operated with a sister non-profit named the PDNG Foundation. [24][25]

The PDNG Foundation “operates as a supporting agency to the Paso Del Norte Group.” [29] It was the PDNG Foundation that was contracted by the City on February 15, 2005 to formalize the downtown plan. [25]

This is the problem with Woody Hunt’s El Paso Business Leadership and Research Council Foundation which merged into the PDNG. Either purposely or by mistake, the PDNG’s names vary across the documents. However, our research shows that the Paso del Norte is the umbrella of all the different variations of the names.

What It Cost

The plan, unveiled at the Plaza Theater, cost $759,873 to produce. The City contributed $250,000 towards the cost. PDNG raised $250,000 with the balance of $259,873 was paid for by an Economic Development Administration Grant. The federal grant came from the U.S. Department of Commerce. [15][20][24]

As noted above, in 2000, the El Paso Downtown Partnership, a private initiative agreed to contract Leinberger to develop a strategic plan for El Paso’s downtown. They planned on spending $250,000 for the study. [12] It remains unclear if this amount is the PDNG contribution.

The downtown plan was created by the PDNG’s 2006 Downtown Redevelopment Task Force. The task force members were Sandra Almanzan, Steve Helbing, Salvador Balcorta, David Bernard, Mike Breitinger, Katherine Brennand, William R. Fowler III, Bret Harris, Gary Hedrick, Martin Morgades, Robert Navarro, Veronica Rosales, William D. Sanders, Scott Schwartz, Tracy Yellen, Myrna Deckert and George Samaniego. [16]

The Glass Beach Study

In March 2006, an immersion audit was conducted to study the perception of El Pasoans’ about their city. The Glass Beach Study was presented to city council a few weeks later. [36]

A second presentation was delivered to the city council on July 19, 2006.

Power Point Slide from the Glass Beach Study

According to the presentation, the intent of the study was to “develop a comprehensive branding and messaging platform.” The study wanted to identify the “El Paso brand”. [36]

The “research findings” suggested that the personality of El Paso was “an old cowboy, male, 50-60 years old, gritty, dirty, lazy” who spoke Spanish and was “uneducated.” [36]

What the Glass Beach Study proposed for El Paso was a “new west, male/female, 30-40 years old, educated, entrepreneurial, bi-lingual [sic]” who enjoy entertainment. [36]

Like the PDNG, those behind the Glass Beach Study have remained largely secret. The Glass Beach Study was commissioned by the City of El Paso in early 2006. The City paid local advertising agency Sanders/Wingo about $100,000 for the study. Sanders/Wingo is owned by Bob Wingo, a member of the PDNG.

The subcontractor, Glass Beach Marketing commissioned by Sanders/Wingo remains mired in secrecy. It appeared shortly before the Glass Beach Study made an appearance and disappeared afterwards.

Like the secretive Keep Going Stay Strong mailer being delivered to El Paso voters before the November 3, 2020 elections by the Forma Group, the Glass Beach Study’s development remains shrouded in secret.

Other than Wingo’s membership in the PDNG there are no known direct financial links between the PDNG and the Glass Beach Study. However, the City’s intent was clear, the Segundo Barrio was “old, gritty, dirty, lazy” and it needed to be razed to make way for a “new” downtown El Paso.

The underlining theme behind the schemes is secrecy.

The Secrecy

An El Paso economic development report, commissioned by City Council, described the PDNG as an organization that “has purposely declined to engage in public policy debates in a sustained and systematic way.” The report added that the PDNG’s membership is “closely controlled and the organization prefers to exercise influence privately, practices which preclude it from assuming a legitimate leadership role.” The report’s “specific charge was to investigate whether the government of the City of El Paso is organized to pursue economic development effectively.” The report looked at existing economic development organizations, including the PDNG to see if any could help get El Paso economically back on track. [7]

The new PDNG member packet states that “confidentiality is a core value of The Paso del Norte Group and will be required of all members.” [8]

Also, a clause in the PDNG Member Agreement stated that members “may have access to certain information that is confidential and constitutes valuable, special and unique property of the Group.” The members agree to “not at any time, either during or subsequent” to their membership “disclose to others, use, copy, or permit to be copied, without the Group’s express prior written consent, any confidential or proprietary information of the Group.” [8]

One member described the decision process of the PDNG as “a core group of people making decisions under the name of the PDN and then they inform the rest of the group.” [29]

In addition to the secretive nature of the PDNG the decision making process remained within a small tight group of leaders, although the membership hovered around 300. It was the leadership that made the plans for the PDNG. The membership was tasked with research and to put a larger face on the group.

In 2006, businessman Tanny Berg, a member of the PDNG dropped his membership because he had “serious reservations about being a member,” because the PDNG was “making misstatements.” Berg told the El Paso, Inc. that he wanted “the facts to be on the table,” alluding to PDNG’s assertions that El Paso downtown’s property values were generating $400,000 in property taxes. When Berg challenged the low property tax rate assertions, the PDNG admitted it was excluding from downtown the Chase and Wells Fargo bank buildings to make it seems as downtown was “deteriorating”. [17]

In addition to the secretive nature of the group, it also relied on manipulating public perception to drive its public policy agenda. The Glass Beach Study was part of the process. When that failed, misdirecting voters by making misstatements helped to bolster the idea that the PDNG was working to better El Paso.

Readers will see another example of the use of subterfuge to create the illusion that El Paso is behind the PDNG’s downtown scheme in the section about the El Paso Tomorrow PAC below.

During their 2015 self-evaluation, the PDNG membership considered communication their “greatness weakness.” [2] Their self-assessment revealed that some members “felt that communications do not flow to all members.” [2]

City Council Votes For Phase I Of The Plan

Those who voted in favor of moving forward with the downtown project at the Plaza Theater were Susie Byrd, Ann Morgan Lilly, Alexandro Lozano, Steve Ortega and Beto O’Rourke. Melina Castro and Presi Ortega were not present for the vote. Eddie Holguin abstained from voting. [22]

Eddie Holguin told the El Paso, Inc. that he had reservations about the cost of the proposed tax abatements for the project. Holguin was also against the use of eminent domain, according to the weekly publication. “They want to use eminent domain power to make this work, and that means a lot of people are going to be losing their homes,” Holguin was quoted in the publication. [24]

When asked by the El Paso Politics why Eddie Holguin abstained from the vote, he replied that “I tried to sound the alarm bells to what was going on, but no one would listen.” [26]

Holguin added that when he abstained, he “was booed”. He was also asked if he was “ashamed of himself” by those in the audience. [26]

Phase I had been the development of the downtown plan’s framework. [28] That was what was presented to City Council at the Plaza Theater meeting on March 31, 2006. Phase II was the development of the plan.

Phase II Of The Plan

On April 15, 2006, the City held a meeting to discuss the next steps for the downtown project. The next step was to formally get the City to join in the project. The City was needed to make the project work because only the City had the power to take property away from its owners. But because of the controversy created by the Glass Beach Study and the proposed use of eminent domain, the City needed to change the public image of who was driving the project. Of concern was the notion that the project was “being driven by PDN” and that the City “was running behind.” [35]

Joyce Wilson told Myrna Deckert that the perception of the project seemed to be “primarily a Bill Sanders/Myrna Deckert team”. Wilson added that communications was the “clear weakness” in their scheme. [35]

On May 15, 2006, Myrna Deckert and then-City Manager Joyce Wilson met to discuss the “City/PDNG Foundation Partnership, Phase II”. Under the agreement, Wilson was added to the PDNG’s Downtown Plan Executive Committee “to assist in coordinating all activities of the City and the PDNG Foundation related to the Plan.” Under the agreement, the PDNG would continue to manage all aspects of downtown development plan, while the City would facilitate public meetings “and drive certain elements to complete the Master Plan.” [27]

In addition to destroying the Segundo Barrio community, a Chihuahuas Ballpark was also part of the PDNG’s redevelopment efforts. However, the ballpark was just one of two sports venues. A sports arena was also part of the scheme.

In 2007, Pablo Salcido, COO of the PDNG told the entertainment tabloid, What’s Up that a “stadium would be a regional attraction” for downtown El Paso. [37]

The downtown plan unveiled by the PDNG also included an arena at the Union Plaza. [14]

It is this arena that is at the center of the Duranguito controversy today. Duranguito is also targeted by eminent domain.

The El Paso Tomorrow PAC

The PDNG created the El Paso Tomorrow PAC in 2012. [30] The PAC was created to promote the $473 million quality of life bond. Among the projects included in the bond election was a multi-purpose performing arts and entertainment center that became controversial when the City attempted to use the approved bond money for a sports arena. [31] The proposed arena has generated controversy because it requires the destruction of the neighborhood known as Duranguito.

The PDNG contracted advertising agency Mithoff Burton Partners to coordinate the PDNG’s community outreach to help pass the quality of life bonds. However, most of the money raised by the PDNG Foundation was destined for Horrow Sports Ventures, according to a PDNG 2012 meeting notes. [29] Horrow was the consultant coordinating a sports arena.

In 2012, the PDNG’s Downtown Infrastructure Initiative spent $322,147.07 in promoting the bond election. Mithoff received $61,155.27 of the money. The Reuel Group, a polling consulting firm, was paid $14,500.00. The rest of the funds were paid to Horrow Sports Ventures. The financial document showed that Horrow was owed an additional $116,000 in pending expenses. [32]

The quality of life bonds promotion became controversial when journalist Debbie Nathan uncovered fraudulent “pro-stadium and pro-arena” data that was presented to City Council on April 18, 2012. [33]

According to Nathan, over 500 comment cards collected by the City looked “fishy”. Nathan concluded from her investigation of the comment cards that two individuals filled out the 500 cards advocating for a downtown stadium or arena. Nathan wrote that she suspects Mitch Doblado, the general manager of the El Paso Patriots soccer team and Gil Cantu, the former vice president of now-defunct Juárez soccer team, Indios. [33]

Rick Horrow and the Reuel Group told the city council that 74% of El Pasoans wanted a sports facility downtown. According to Nathan’s analysis, only 4% of the respondents wanted an arena or stadium. [33]

The PDNG also contracted the Forma Group “to manage the campaign to secure approval of the bond issues.” [29] The Forma Group is the shadowy group the El Paso Politics recently tied to the secretive mailers.

All that the PDNG has done to push their public policy agenda for downtown El Paso is expensive. Although wealthy individuals are behind the plans, there other sources of funds that are used by the group. In addition to the City contracting the group, the group used federal funds, donations and membership dues.

The PDNG Finances

Membership funds were not enough to sustain the PDNG.

On December 31, 2010, the PDNG reported to its membership that it had $83,481 in their bank account and $83,633 owed to the organization. They also maintained $373,926 in mostly Certificates of Deposit. In total, the PDNG reported $567,820 in total assets ending in 2010. According to the membership report, the PDNG carried $264,746 in liabilities. They reported a Net Worth of $303,071. [2]

In 2010, membership dues accounted for $458,734 of their income with another $720,075 received by them from CSG/USAID. [2]

For the first four months of 2011, the organization reported to its membership that it had received $136,202 from its membership dues and $221,739 from CSG/USAID. [2]

CSG/USAID Funding

The funding for the PDNG was “primarily by dues of members.” [2] In the 2011 membership meeting presentation, the slide shows that “USAID funding was originally @ [sic] $1.5 million but was cut due to lack of appropriations.” [2] The slide presentation showed that PDNG received $720,025 in 2010 from CSG/USAID and expected $440,000 in 2011. The group did not expect any more funding from CSG/USAID after the 2011 allocation. [2] [29]

Prior to the CSG/USAID funding in 2009, the group ran a deficit of $93,000. In 2011, the group had a “reserve” of $250,000. [2]

USAID is the United States Agency for International Development. CSG is the Council of State Governments.

Around 2010, the PDNG was selected by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) “to manage and support the economic development and human service elements of Merida II.

PDNG Membership

There were five membership categories in the PDNG. They were regional, non-regional, honorary, not-for-profit and associate. The regional members were members who were “residents of El Paso and [sic] Dona Ana County and Ciudad Juarez.” [8]

The Non-regional members were individuals who did not live in the areas identified for the regional members. The honorary members were “sitting Governors of the states of Texas, New Mexico and Chihuahua; United States Representative, 16th District of Texas and United States Representative 2nd District of New Mexico; Mayors of El Paso, Las Cruces and Ciudad Juarez; City Managers of El Paso and Las Cruces; El Paso County Judge; the Commanding Generals from Ft. Bliss and White Sands and such other government leaders within the Paso del Norte region as may be selected by the Executive Committee.” [8]

The not-for-profit members were identified as “chief executive officers/executive directors and/or Presidents or other officials of non-profit and academic organizations in El Paso, Dona Ana County or Ciudad Juarez.” [8]

A regional member who has been a member for at least two years and has turned 65 years old and has retired from their principal occupation can choose to become an Associate Member. Associate members had the same rights as the regular members. [8]

Membership Dues

Membership dues were $300 as an initiation fee plus monthly dues of $150 a month for members. Regional members paid the same initiation fees, but their monthly fees were $75. Honorary members had no fees. Associate members only paid $50 a month. [8]

The organization also offered discounted fees to members who were 35 years or younger. [8]

The 2006 membership of the PDNG was comprised of “some 350” members, according to question and answer session with the El Paso, Inc. in 2006. [18]

In 2010 there were 356 members in the PDNG. In 2011, there were 334. [2] The PDNG recruited “individuals who possess the leadership, commitment, character, personality and position in their business or profession to advance the mission of The Paso del Norte Group.” [3]

The 2011 membership of 334 consisted of 279 members from El Paso, 31 from Cd. Juárez, 13 from Southern New Mexico and 11 listed as “non-resident” members. The membership included 60 labeled as “Young Leaders,” nine under the Honorary designation and 45 from the non-profit sector. [2]

To become a member of the group, a new member had to be nominated by a current member “in good standing”. For the nominee to be considered “at least two additional sponsors” were required. Afterwards, the nominee needed at least “75% favorable vote” from the membership and the executive committee. [8]

Members also received the “benefit” of an El Paso Club membership with their membership in the PDNG. [8]

As noted before, although the PDNG seemed inclusive of its membership, the reality was that the direction of the organization was decided at the top and pushed down through the membership. To impose control of the membership, the PDNG created smaller groups of members with their own leadership.

Basically, each smaller group was a department with a manager who reported directly to the top.

The PDNG Task Forces

The organization was divided into committees. Each committee focused on specific topics. For example, in 2010, the Civic Committee co-chaired by L. Leonard Goodman III and Carlos Murguia had two major areas of focus under them, Strategic Initiatives and Research and Development. [1] For 2011, Goodman and Murguia remained as the co-chairs.

Under Strategic Initiatives there were Bi-national relations, co-chaired by Roberto Delgado and Sonny Brown. There was also Education, co-chaired by Woody L. Hunt and David W. Stevens. Also, there was the El Paso Downtown Redevelopment co-chaired by Myrna J. Deckert, Josh Hunt and William D. Sanders. Under Strategic Initiatives were Retirement/Tourism, co-chaired by Jimmy Rogers, Jr. and Richard Behrenhausen. The same individuals were also in the same focus groups in 2011. [2] In 2010 and 2011 there was also the Young Leadership Group with nine members. [1]

Under Research & Development in 2010 there were four focus groups and one marked to be determined. The Formal Strategic Plan was marked to “TBD”. [1] In 2011, the Formal Strategic Plan appears to have been renamed to Strategic Planning. Under it “PDNG 2015 Workgroup” was listed. [2] The other four were Alternative Energy, co-chaired by Jody Feinberg and Benjamin Torres-Barron. [1] In 2011, Mark Walker was added to this focus group. [2] Arts and Culture was co-chaired by Ricardo Fernandez and Adair Margo in 2010. In 2011, Adair Margo was dropped from this focus group. [2] The Bi-national Health were co-chaired by Roberto Assel, MD, and Katie Updike in both 2010 and 2011. [1] [2] The last focus group was Innovation Eco-System. [1] [2] It was co-chaired by Miguel Fernandez and Pablo Sanders for both years. [1] [2]

The committees were referred to as Task Forces. [2]

Select Task Forces Spin Off

The 2015 goals for the PDNG, according to a 2011 membership meeting, were to “prioritize and focus core activities,” “strengthening communication and outreach to engage members,” and to “stabilize/diversify funding sources.” [2]

The PDNG was starting to break apart because the community had challenged the targeting of Segundo Barrio. They had lost their secrecy and their ability to effect public policy had diminished.

The Paso del Norte Group was dissolved on December 21, 2012, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts records.

However, before the PDNG shut down, it took control of the city’s economic development. In 2012, the PDNG merged REDCo into the Paso del Norte Group. Bill Sanders and Woody Hunt were leading the merger. [29] From there another PDNG spinoff sprung up to model the city’s economic development engine. The El Paso Politics will explore this further in an upcoming article.

In addition, other PDNG Task Forces were spun off as stand-alone projects to better control the public policy agenda of the city.

The Spinoff Organizations

Two projects that were spun off are the Regional Mobility Authority and the Medical School of the Americas. [29] There were others, some clearly linked to the PDNG and others where former leaders of the PDNG started.

The Medical Center of the Americas Foundation and the Trans-Pecos/El Paso Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization (RCIC) were listed as “spin off organizations” of the PDNG. Another spin off was the Borderland Mobility Coalition. [8]

The RCIC

The Trans-Pecos/El Paso Regional Center of Innovation and Commercialization (RCIC) which was spun off from the PDNG was awarded a contract for $15,000 by the City of El Paso on August 11, 2009. Under the contract, RCIC was tasked with “supporting the business technology services center in Downtown El Paso to assist high technology entrepreneurs,” to help create “high quality jobs in emerging high technology sectors.” [13]

CommUNITY En Acción

In 2010, CommUNITY en Acción (CEA) was proposed to “instill Hispanic pride, unity and leadership and have a positive impact on the El Paso region by engaging in ‘value-driven’ initiatives through a cohesive network of Hispanic community leader. [sic]” [4]

On November 5 and 6 of 2010, a “founding member retreat” was held at the Wyndham Hotel in El Paso Texas. In a slide presentation prepared Prestige Consulting Services. Prestige was established by Gilberto Moreno in March 1995, according to Moreno’s LinkedIn profile. [6] (accessed on October 21, 2020) The retreat was facilitated by Richard Castro and Gilbert Moreno.

Moreno was one of the six original founding members of the Paso del Norte Group.

The retreat appears to have been used to finalize the CommUNITY en Acción organization.

According to the retreat’s slide presentation, the officers of the group were Richard Castro, Irene Chavez, Art Moreno and Dan Olivas. [6]

According to retreat slideshow, the group planned to focus on education, health, economic development, transportation, and arts and culture. [6]

According to a CEA Membership Information 2012 spreadsheet, the CEA membership consisted of 51 individuals. Among notable names on the membership roster included Ralph Adame, Aliana Apodaca, Salvador Balcorta, Jaime Barcelau, Richard Castro, Hector Gutierrez, John Mimbela, Enrique Moreno, Dan Olivas, Beto Palleres and Lorraine Wardy, [5]

CREEED

The Council on Regional Economic Expansion and Educational Development (CREEED) was formed as a non-profit by “business leaders” to focus on “helping students get college ready.” [19] An investment of “more than $1 million” was made to CREEED around 2015. [19]

CommUNITY en Acción launched CREEED, according to its website. (accessed on October 21, 2020)

Marketing for CREEED was handled by the Raben Group in 2015. [19] In a future article, the El Paso Politics will explore the Raben Group further.

Footnotes:

  1. “Member’s Briefing, Activities Funded by USAID,” Paso Del Norte Group Slide Presentation, August 24, 2010.
  2. “2011 Annual Membership Meeting,” Paso Del Norte Group Slide Presentation, May 10, 2010.
  3. “El Paso Downtown Rotary,” Paso Del Norte Group Slide Presentation, September 9, 2010.
  4. “CommUNITY en Acción Marketing Plan” Slide Presentation, the slide show created by Adrian A. Medina on June 14, 2011, according to the meta data of the Power Point presentation.
  5. “CEA Membership Information 2012,” Microsoft Spreadsheet provided to author by member who requested anonymity.
  6. “CommUNITY en Acción Founding Members Retreat” Slide Presentation created by Prestige Consulting Services, November 5-6, 2010.
  7. Edward Feser, “El Paso Economic Development system Reviews & Recommendations,” City of El Paso, Texas, December 9, 2011.
  8. The Paso del Norte Group New Member Handbook provided to the author by a former member that has asked to remain anonymous.
  9. Vic Kolenc, “Store owners want to stay,” El Paso Times, April 9, 2006.
  10. Ed Elsey, guest author, “Three-phase plan will get El Paso on the right road,” El Paso Times, May 15, 1988.
  11. Daniel Perez, “Expert says dedication crucial to Downtown,” El Paso Times, January 14, 1999.
  12. Mike Mrkvicka, “Partnership hires consultant to craft strategic blueprint,” El Paso Times, July 2, 2000.
  13. Kathy Dodson, Director, Office of Economic Development, City of El Paso, Texas Regular Agenda Item Department Head’s Summary Form, August 11, 2009.
  14. Sito Negron, “Downtown El Paso: ‘Make No Little Plans’,” Newspaper Tree, April 3, 2006.
  15. Tiger II Grant Application To The U.S. Department of Transportation, Texas Department of Transportation, 2010.
  16. El Paso Downtown 2015 Plan, City of El Paso, October 2006.
  17. Mike Mrkvicka, “Why Tanny Berg pulled out of the Paso del Norte Group,” El Paso, Inc., May 29, 2007.
  18. Dan Huff, “Q&A with Paso del Norte Group: not just a Downtown plan,” El Paso, Inc., September 26, 2006.
  19. Email, October 2, 2015. Anonymous source asked the the individuals in the email not be identified. (Copy of email provided to El Paso Politics).
  20. Dan Huff, “Del Norte Group reveals Downtown Plan,” El Paso, Inc., April 3, 2006.
  21. Executive Profile, William Sanders, Cornell Real Estate Review, 2007.
  22. Special City Council Meeting Minutes, City of El Paso, March 31, 2006.
  23. The Paso del Norte Group Form 990 2011 IRS Filing.
  24. Dan Huff, “A Q&A with City Council Rep. Eddie Holguin, Jr.,” El Paso, Inc., April 17, 2006.
  25. El Paso City Council Amendment to Agreement with the PDNG Foundation, September 13, 2005, (The original agreement was signed on February 15, 2005).
  26. Eddie Holguin telephone interview with author on October 24, 2020.
  27. Myrna Deckert, CEO of Paso del Norte Group, letter El Paso City Manager Joyce Wilson, May 16, 2006.
  28. Pat D. Adauto, “Downtown Redevelopment Plan Review Process”, City of El Paso, May 30, 2006.
  29. Sito Negron, “Introducing the Paso Del Norte Group,” Newspaper Tree, May 15, 2006.
  30. The Paso del Norte Group Special Executive Committee/Civic Committee Meeting Agenda, September 25, 2012.
  31. Findings of Fact and Conclusions of Law, Ex Parte, City of El Paso, 250th District Court, Travis County., October 4, 2017.
  32. Downtown Infrastructure Initiative Activity Summary as of September 25, 2012, Internal Paso del Norte Group report.
  33. Debbie Nathan, “Card Tricks: How El Paso’s 2012 ‘Quality of Life’ Bond Election Got Riddled With Flimflam,” Self-published online at Medium.com, May 28, 2020, (author wrote that she had originally written the article in 2012 for the Newspaper Tree. The piece was not published by the Newspaper Tree).
  34. Ryan Poulos, “New Downtown arena? Paso Del Norte Group explores possibility,” What’s Up, July 3, 2007.
  35. City Manager Joyce Wilson email to Myrna Deckert, CEO of PDNG, April 19, 2006.
  36. Glass Beach Study researched by the author and previously published by him.

Notes:
^The slide show uses Leonard A. Goodman and L. Leonard Goodman within the same presentation. We assume one is a typographical error and the names refer to the same individual.

The Key People of the Paso del Norte Group

Ray Caballero – recruited Cardwell, Deckert & Moreno to head downtown redevelopment.
Jack Cardwell, an initial PDNG member.
Myrna Deckert, an initial PDNG member.
Gilberto Moreno, an initial PDNG member.
Pablo Salcido, incorporated the PDNG in 1999.
William D. Sanders, the fourth member of the PDNG.

Select Timeline

May 5, 1999 – The PDNG formed.
Sometime in 2000 – El Paso Downtown Partnership contracts downtown study for $250,000.
June 5, 2001 – El Paso Business Leadership and Research Council Foundation (Hunt) incorporated.
June 5, 2001 – PDNG Foundation formed.
Sometime in 2002 – Ray Caballero recruits Jack Cardwell, Myrna Deckert and Gilberto Moreno.
Sometime in 2003 – Joe Wardy is brought into the PDNG after he was elected mayor.
Sometime in December 2003 – The first PDNG Executive Committee is formed.
June 17, 2004 – Hunt’s Leadership group renames itself the PDNG Foundation.
August 2004 – The first PDNG members are accepted into the organization.
February 15, 2005 – The City of El Paso issues a contract to the PDNG for developing a master plan for downtown redevelopment.
March 3, 2006 – The Glass Beach Study becomes public.
March 31, 2006 – In a Special City Council session at the Plaza Theater, the PDNG unveiled its plans.
April 15, 2006 – the City and the PDNG begin work on Phase II, formally bringing the City into the project.
July 19, 2006 – the second Glass Beach Study is presented to City Council.
December 21, 2012 – The Paso del Norte is shuttered.
September 6, 2013 – The PDNG Foundation is closed.

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