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Cobos walks out on amusement-park vote

El Paso Times

Original Article »

June 05, 2007

County Judge Anthony Cobos broke quorum at Monday's Commissioners Court meeting to prevent the court from voting on whether to buy structures left behind by Western Playland once it was clear that the vote was not going to be the one he wanted.

"What we had today was commissioners unwilling to listen and postpone. They forced me into a position where I would have to vote on it," Cobos said after he walked out of the meeting.

Only Cobos and Commissioners Veronica Escobar and Luis Sariñana were present on the court at the time.

"We are elected by our constituents to debate issues on their merits, make our decisions on what is in the best interests of the people and to cast our votes," Escobar said. "It amazes me that when he saw he wouldn't get his way, the judge preferred to get up, break quorum and leave the meeting so we could not take action."

The court had been set to decide whether to buy 16 items left behind by Western Playland owner Pat Thomson at the park's old Ascarate Park location.

Monday, Cobos asked the court to instead postpone action for two weeks to allow time for amusement park experts to visit the site and tell the county whether the items would have any value for another group coming in.

"We have been postponing this discussion for months. Every week, there's another reason to postpone," Escobar said during the meeting.

After Commissioner Miguel Terán left mid-discussion during this last item of the day, Cobos also said he wanted both Terán and Commissioner Dan Haggerty to participate in the decision. But the discussion continued.

Thomson said that if the county bought major assets such as an office building and warehouse, he would throw in the rest.

Cobos asked the court to buy the buildings for $200,000 but received no support. He then repeatedly shifted the focus to the need for the warehouse space to house holiday lights purchased by the county that are currently sitting outside instead of being properly stored.

When his attempt to postpone the item failed, he began preparing to leave.

Escobar then made a motion to move forward with a settlement that would allow the county to keep the assets it wanted at no cost.

When Thomson balked, she instead moved to instruct the county attorney's office to send Thomson a letter that would essentially end the contract in 30 days.

"The judge wants to keep everything, and Commissioner Sariñana and I don't want to keep everything," Escobar said. "I don't want to keep a concession stand with asbestos."

Cobos again said that the discussion should be put on hold.

"Commissioner Haggerty asked me to postpone the item," Cobos said.

Haggerty, who was not at the meeting, said later that he only asked Cobos to postpone an item concerning property near Loop 375.

"He said, 'You're not going to be here Monday so I'll pull Western Playland' and I said, 'Whatever you want to do,' " he said. "I didn't even know Western Playland was on the agenda."

When Sariñana said he was ready to vote line by line on the items, Cobos argued briefly then left.

"It's incredibly manipulative," Escobar said.

After he left, Cobos said the fault for his actions was on Escobar and Sariñana.

"We've been working on this issue from day one and we've made some real progress," he said.

"I wanted to postpone two more weeks so we could bring in professionals (to hear their opinions). We had commissioners very unwilling to hear from professionals."

Escobar said the blame was to be placed with Cobos.

"What you've seen is a lack of leadership from the judge to bring consensus to this," Escobar said.

After the court lost its quorum, its options on the issue remained the same.

The county could decide to buy the structures from Thomson, to come to an agreement with Thomson to not pay anything for the structures, or to send him a letter that would give him 30 days to clean up the property and get out.

Thomson said he is eager to end the contract but was discouraged Monday.

"It is looking like the battles we've had before. He (Cobos) has been the best person I've ever dealt with at the county," he said.

He did say he would consider signing a letter from the county attorney's office giving the county authority to go out for requests for proposals for other possible operators of an entertainment option at Ascarate Park.

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