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Metro Planning Organization to gain independence from city

Some city officials didn’t see it coming - “I am dumbfounded, shocked and disappointed at having to hear all of this right now,” one said
Updated: May. 20, 2021 at 10:11 AM CDT
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LAREDO, Tex. (KGNS) - Plans to make the Laredo and Webb County Metropolitan Planning Organization (or MPO) an independent organization is in the works.

The MPO decides which road projects are going to get done and is made up of officials from both the city and county.

On his last day, the former MPO and City Planning Director revealed that the city may have had too much say in the decisions that are supposed to be made solely by the committee.

This observation led to an explosive meeting with some interesting revelations.

Laredo City Manager Robert Eads’ initial reaction was one he didn’t see coming. “I am dumbfounded, shocked and disappointed at having to hear all of this right now,” he said.

On his last day as MPO and City Planning Director, Kirby Snideman proposed that the MPO be independent and that the position of MPO Director be separate from planning director.

Snideman says the changes weren’t proposed by him but the committee itself back in 2019.

“We talked about the MPO being independent. That was the recommendation of the Federal Highway Administration and TxDot,”he said.

Currently the MPO is part of the Planning Department, and Snideman pointed out a few advantages to that. Among them were access to city services, collaboration opportunities with the city, and low operation costs -- but the disadvantages outweigh them.

A lot of the negatives were related to MPO employees having to split their time between the organization and city which, he says, shouldn’t be the case.

The city may be in charge of the organization’s money but the committee is in charge of the MPO.

This leads to another one of Snideman’s proposals which is to transfer fiscal responsibility to the county.

“Because it needs that new fresh start where it is just understood by everyone involved, the staff involved, the management involved that it is a separate organization. Now what was asked of me -- ‘hey, who over there at the county are you doing this favor for?’ -- now that perspective is exactly why we need to move because this doesn’t do one thing for the county for it to become the fiscal agent. There is no advantage for this moving over to the county nor should there be any advantage currently for it to be with the city.”

Snideman says in his two years working as both Planning and MPO Director, he’s noticed a few things about the city being a fiscal agent.

One was related to hiring and the inability to dictate who to hire with the MPO budget.

“An example of someone we weren’t able to hire was when we had a very well qualified candidate. There was a female candidate who I was proposing to pay just as much as we pay our male candidate who was equally qualified. What the city told me is, ‘no, we have to start at the bottom’ and I said, ‘well, we didn’t start at the bottom for this other individual, for her male counterpart’ and they said, ‘we have to start at the bottom for this one,” Snideman shared.

Snideman blames himself for not pushing harder but said he didn’t want to jeopardize his position as Planning Director so let instances like this slide along with others.

These revelations shocked many council members on the committee who wanted to wait for a change in order to get more information, but their county counterparts felt it was time to move forward.

County Judge Tano Tijerina agrees with Snideman that this won’t affect either entity and believes that the city not knowing these things is a problem.

The judge said, “I am very uncomfortable with what I’m hearing right now, and I’ve actually heard more than I had. I’m not for waiting anymore and I don’t want to kick this can down any further than it needs to. I just think we need to adopt it, figure how to do it, and move on from it and learn from this situation.”

City Manager Eads was pretty shocked by what Snideman was saying and believes that Snideman has been costing the taxpayers.

He said, “Now I’m hearing that Mr. Snideman’s intent all along to hire individuals in our own planning department to ultimately to migrate them to the MPO.”

After an explosive back and forth debate, a final decision was to move forward with the plan.

This does not bind the MPO to everything -- it just gives staff the greenlight to start putting together proposals to the committee.

During the meeting, an interim MPO Director was chosen.

His name is Juan Mendive. He’s currently a planner with the MPO.

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