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Prospect of city buying El Paso Electric dwindles; focus now on protecting workers, ratepayers in private sale

EL PASO, Texas -- The possibility of the city buying El Paso Electric Co. seemed to be dwindling on Wednesday, with officials saying they were working instead on trying to get the city the best deal possible in the proposed sale of the utility to an investment firm associated with JP Morgan.

El Paso City Manager Tommy Gonzalez wouldn't say the idea of the city purchasing the electric company was dead in the water, but he told ABC-7 that city leaders were focused on utilizing other methods to have an impact on the private sale now pending.

Several key entities have come out against that proposed sale including Group 41, which comprises the El Paso County Commissioners, several area school districts and El Paso Community College.

County Commissioner David Stout called on the city of El Paso to join the group in opposing the sale to the investment firm. But the city has not yet made public a position on whether it is for or against that deal.

Other organizations, including business groups like the El Paso Chamber and the El Paso Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, have expressed their support for the private sale to regulators at the Public Utilities Commission of Texas.

City negotiators, which include outside legal counsel hired by the city, said they have been meeting with the parties involved to make sure that if the proposed sale goes through that current El Paso Electric employees will keep their jobs.

The city said it also wants to make sure rates remain affordable for El Pasoans, and that the utility's headquarters would remain here in the Borderland.

During Tuesday's El Paso City Council meeting, it was revealed that under current terms of the sale, employees would be able to keep their jobs for the next five years. However, there is also a possibility that the power company's headquarters could be moved within ten years.

Norm Gordon, outside legal counsel for the city, explained that it does have some negotiating power to potentially stop the sale to the firm associated with JP Morgan.

"(The) franchise that El Paso Electric has requires the city council to approve the assignment of the franchise, requires an application which was made on September the 20th, to allow the assignment of the franchise. And requires the city council to approve it. And (it also) provides that if the city council doesn't approve it, the franchise terminates," said Gordon.

There was continued discussion as recently as Tuesday's council meeting about whether the city should seek to takeover operations of the utility.

However, some city leaders noted a feasibility study would be needed to find out if the city could run the power company, and such a study has not been requested.

El Paso / News / Top Stories / Video

Saul Saenz

El Paso native Saul Saenz is a veteran reporter who also hosts ABC-7 Extra.

Jim Parker

Jim Parker is the Director of Digital Content for ABC-7.

Comments

2 Comments

  1. The city has absolutely no business buying and (Trying to) run a utility company. No way, no how. In addition to our property taxes and electric rates sky rocketing can you imagine the opportunities for malfeasance, bungling, and corruption? No bueno.

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