Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Former El Paso airport director to replace Dan Haggerty on Commissioners Court

After weeks of deliberation, County Judge Veronica Escobar appointed former El Paso aviation director Patrick Abeln as the county commissioner for precinct 4 on Monday.

The position had been vacant since 18-year Commissioner Dan Haggerty died from cancer in June. He was 64.

Abeln was sworn into office Monday afternoon.

"I strongly suspect that Dan would ask me to do my very best and to do it with a bit of humor," Abeln said about replacing the longtime commissioner.

Abeln, 62, was the director of aviation for the El Paso International Airport from 1999 to 2009, where he oversaw a 10-year, $120 million capital improvement program. Before that he was the chief administrative officer for the Tucson Airport Authority.

Escobar said she reached out to Abeln on Saturday and within an hour of talking, she was comfortable appointing Abeln as the next commissioner for precinct 4, which includes West and Northeast El Paso.

"When I walked out of my meeting with now-Commissioner Abeln, I was elated," Escobar said. "I felt like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders."

The goal was not to replace Haggerty's voice, but to give residents someone to go to, Escobar said.

"The constituents of precinct 4 need a voice on the court,"  Escobar said.

The county judge is allowed by law to appoint a replacement to the Commissioners Court or leave the position vacant until the next election.

As a temporary appointee, Abeln will earn a $60,855 salary and remain in office until a newly elected commissioner is sworn in.

Abeln's experience with large budgets at the airport was a factor in her decision.

"It really had to be the perfect person," Escobar said.

"I was ready to take a combination of the skills he has, but I was lucky that he has all of those skills."

The budget is already Abeln's top priority, he said.

"I am fiscally expedient," Abeln said. "That means every financial decision I make is a careful analysis."

Abeln retired from the airport in 2009 after being diagnosed with prostate cancer. He is currently in remission.

"At that point in my life I had a lot of things I wanted to do," he said.

"I had a bucket list of sorts, and since then I've caught up on it and have kind of gotten ahead of it."

Abeln said he never met with Haggerty while the late commissioner was dealing with cancer, but he sympathized with him.

"I understood a lot of what he was going through," Abeln said.

"It didn't hit home for me until I was in Dan's office and met with his staff."

Being a county commissioner was not on his list, but Abeln said he could not resist the chance to serve the community one more time.

Source:   http://www.elpasotimes.com