Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Notes from Presidio County Commissioners Court meeting 8/25/2015

Here are my notes from today's meeting in Presidio of Commissioners a Court. Lots of things were moving fast during this meeting. I attempted to be as complete as possible in my notes.

Presidio County Commissioners Court 8/25/2015
All present.
9:09 AM convene.
Public comments:
County Judge's comments:
Judge has been working on budget. Met with Mike Atwood from silver mine. Pipeline is proposing to go alongside the mine. Mine will ask for a route further from the mine. Mine plans to reopen at some point. Atwood says if they do not reach an agreement with pipeline, county will have to hire an arbiter. Safety a concern regarding mining, explosives, etc. Fowlkes says he's not aware of any requirements for county to intervene, get an injunction, etc. Says mine may be trying to save money and insert county into situation. Aranda and Hernandez express that they would rather see the county not get involved. Vasquez agrees. White mentions safety as an issue. Hernandez references transmission line construction and that some owners of property couldn't be found. District judge was involved, eminent domain proceeding. Judge asks for Fowlkes to do some research on situation.
Budget- getting numbers together, getting together with Patty Roach tomorrow to try to finalize. Calendar: Sept 1st- if we raise tax rate beyond effective rate, 2 tax rate hearings. First proposed for Sept 8 following commissioners court meeting. Second for the 16th. County clerk clarifies that budget must be adopted in Marfa, public hearings may be able to be held in Presidio. Judge asks for feedback on budget workshop dates from commissioners. Proposing Sept 3, Sept 16. Attempt to adopt budget on Sept 22nd in Marfa. Aranda mentions that tax rate and budget are inherently linked, each penny added to tax rate is about $45,000 in budget funds. Tax rate divided into M&O and debt service. Judge has estimated revenue numbers in hand, proposing pay raise for county employees. Waiting on OMB for rest of numbers, debt service, etc. effective rate for this year is approx .59. Last year was .63. Try to meet somewhere in between. Judge thanks dept heads for completing their individual budgets. Asset day went well for county; learning experience, lots of work, cooperation was appreciated. Thanks employees, dept heads. Reads from audit report on page 71; references material weakness in assets, repeat finding since 2007. Capital assets have not been maintained on statement of position. Asset day's purpose is to remedy this situation. Auditor has made this very clear. Progress is being made, thanks again from the Judge. Next asset day will be soon, auditor will be there. Judge asks for cooperation, commends progress.
Commissioners comments:
Aranda mentions that City of Presidio has annexed a lot of property in the last few weeks. Land east of city, including areas where county had proposed water improvements. Waste water treatment plant, Pueblo Nuevo areas, city will have to tie these folks in. Also expanded to the north. Ruben Carrasco weighs in that city has expanded ETJ by an extra mile around the whole city in addition to in-city expansion. Carrasco has been meeting with city regarding maintaining roads for a while. White and Aranda attended a meeting with him and the city regarding same.
White mentions that he has met with Republic waste disposal to get a roll off dumpster for Shafter; illegal dumping now happening there since they don't have a way to easily dispose of trash. Hernandez mentions that every small community needs one, trash is a problem, the small communities should pay for it themselves. White says that these small colonias will not pay for them themselves. Hernandez brings up slippery slope, expenses, larger cities pay for it themselves, smaller should pay as well. White brings up that the reality is that they currently so not pay, won't be willing to pay. Aranda weighs in- agrees, but problematic situation in general. Possibly somewhere around $5000-$6000 a year for Shafter service. Aranda asks for more research, possible pilot program until people get their own act together in these smaller areas.
Executive Session regarding Sheriff's Office. Sheriff wants it to be in open session. Judge asks whether court has to have open session. Fowlkes says it's the judge's decision. Sheriff references statute. Hernandez asks for open session. Fowlkes says open meeting will not violate anything in this case. More debate. Judge asks to table this matter for now. Fowlkes will do a bit of research, come back. White asks if it's OK to have open session when it's on agenda as executive session. Judge asks Sheriff for a meeting, says it's nearly impossible to schedule a meeting, Sheriff does not return calls. Judge asks for a meeting. White says go ahead and have it now, he doesn't mind. Fowlkes references statute, says that discussion regarding employees/public officer is OK. Hernandez asks to have this occur now. Judge requests table motion again. Hernandez says ask Sheriff now, let's get to it. Fowlkes says his opinion is that this can occur, no problem. Judge says we can continue if people really want to.
Hernandez wants to know who requested item. Judge says Aranda. Aranda clarifies that he did, but it's for general discussion regarding Sheriffs Office
White begins. Says that auditor found problems with Stonegarden, capital assets, and that Sheriff's office has has tremendous animosity towards Commissioners Court and that he finds it to be a failure of leadership on the Sheriff. Let his chief deputy and others get out of hand. Admonishes Sheriff. Aranda says this is extreme, doesn't appreciate Sheriff's office directly attacking Commissioners Court. Says this is unnecessary, embarrassing. Videotaping the judge, audiotaping, extremely rude behavior, no communication. Ticket to Sam Cobos in a county truck for parking too far away from curb at courthouse. Aranda says we don't want or need this drama. Commissioners have nothing against the deputies or sheriff, just want cooperation, respect Presidio County. If someone does not cooperate, we have a problem, now. We must fix this problem. White says Sheriff's Office must cooperate, we are dedicated to fixing audit. Vasquez says that he agrees, we must fix audit, cooperate, be open, correct mistakes. Aranda says there are always two sides to a story, we don't always know both,but when we see and hear certain things, we need to take corrective action. We must express concern, ask questions, need communication. Judge asks Sheriff directly why she was called by the city with regard to Sheriff telling administrator that judge said to take the city truck to Vizcaino and that Sheriff couldn't have it anymore. This is not true. Why did she have to explain this to the City Administrator? This truck does not and never belonged to county. Hernandez asks for Sheriff to explain. Sheriff says he'll talk after Commissioners finish talking, not before. Hernandez asks Sheriff to explain. White asks Sheriff why he has this same attitude. Sheriff says he'll talk when he wants to; after Commissioners are done. Hernandez tells Sheriff that we must cooperate, we must move forward. Says this is a two way street and that everyone is at fault. Judge objects. Says this is a one way street. Hernandez and judge get into it a bit regarding this statement. Hernandez still asking Sheriff for a response. Sheriff quiet. Hernandez elaborates on the importance of communication, says this is the number one issue for county right now. Says everyone has some blame in this case. Judge says she does not carry blame, she has been working hard to communicate with Sheriff, he does not return phone calls, messages. Back and forth between Hernandez and judge on communication issue. Silence from Sheriff.
Fowlkes asks about success of asset day. Judge says it was mostly a big success, some refining needed, a few things still not inventoried. First time since judge started working for county 27 years ago that this has been done. Aranda says that in the past each elected official took care of their own inventory, submitted it to treasurer. Has not happened in a while. Judge says this method is better, more communication between depts, cities, etc.
sheriff ready to speak.
Apologizes for not returning phone calls.
Sheriff says that all transactions have been and will be videotaped, not apologizing for that, sorry she took it personally, cameras a fact of life in public these days.
He has the right to record.
Regarding inventory- they have complied, did everything. Where was road and bridge? Sheriffs office only one there at Vizcaino... Where was everyone else? Says he has been singled out, this needs to stop. Where are the keys to the vehicles?
White tries to provide an answer, Sheriff says he's not finished, no comments until he's done.
Sheriff says he has complied, commissioners still coming after him.
White says he will answer questions from Sheriff. Says those vehicles and Shanna...(Sheriff objects to bringing Shanna into conversation since she is not here). White says that he talked to Shanna and she said that Sheriff said commissioners can keep it all, sheriff doesn't need it anymore, confrontational tone. Sheriff asks if conversation was taped. White says no, Sheriff says then it didn't necessarily happen. White gets hot. Sheriff back off a little, then accuses commissioners of being totally against him. Judge and Frances weigh in- witnessed part of this exchange between SO and White and back White's version.
Joel Nunez responds to criticism from judge regarding things said, promised. Says that Sheriffs Office is responsible for jail success, take the blame when things are bad, get no credit for making the county money when things are good. Says that rules change, they have been working with the state to get the grants right, make things happen for the county. Says we need to fix communication problems, that everyone needs to get a little better at communications. Says that"new grant person" and himself had some miscommunication and need to get it together. Says that all parties need to communicate more, the Sheriff and he feel like they say the same things over and over again and nobody listens, and they get treated like they have not been in compliance. Asks why the two commissioners appointed to law enforcement committee do not help, cooperate. White says he agrees, says that he and Danny have been friends since way before all this, why can't we talk? Joel says that judge Hunt and Sheriff came to an agreement to pass everything through commissioners court. Settled on giving surplus vehicles to individual commissioners, sheriff followed though on his side, why did they come back and go back on the deal? They have done their part, why is commissioners court going to reassign? They did all the work, did it right, good things for the county, have a tough job, see the worst in people out in the field, and why do they have to come here and get this treatment?
Aranda says that commissioners are trying to do things right, not trying to pick a fight. Clarifies that surplus vehicles are commissioners court's responsibility. Sheriff asks why do they want all the titles? Not state mandated... Judge says audit called for it, Sheriff says it's not mandated. Hernandez asks why there is a problem with the county having the titles? The vehicles are still here, what do you want? What is the problem? Aranda says that Sheriff has denied county employee assets when requested at his own discretion. Sheriff asks who got the vehicles? Name how many have not been gotten by the Sheriff's office through grants? Aranda says he gets the point. Aranda says that Commissioners want to continue Stonegarden, Sheriff says no, causes too many problems like this. White raises a point of order. Judge says she will call him later this afternoon. Sheriff thanks everyone and sits down.
Next item: courthouse security and bailiff officer.
Judge says there is zero security at courthouse, panic buttons do not work, DPS no longer there, windows do not lock. There is a courthouse security fund with over $130,000 in funds. Judge wants court to consider advertising and hiring a full time bailiff to be there. Sheriff asks to add his input. Judge clarifies that a motion must be made first. Judge says that a peace officer could also write tickets, she has provided a sample budget for this office. $36,000 plus benefits, full time security. Hernandez thinks it's not necessary, not money well spent, Sheriff is across the street. Judge brings up when she was threatened she was unable to get assistance from Sheriff, SO was too busy. White says that he is in support, funding is here. Vasquez asks if there is a vacant office. Judge says that only empty office is auditor's. Veterans service officer half office remains vacant. Aranda asks about Presidio security. Constable Coker is south county bailiff. Hernandez asks of this is in the budget. Judge says these funds must be used to courthouse security, collected from every fine in JP court, county court. Frances says that amount is separated from each ticket, has been accumulating, has not been used for years. Aranda asks how this can be a sustainable position if the fund has been building up? Hernandez says that there are more important things to spend money on. Fowlkes says it could be security cameras, other items. Judge says it could be spent of CopSync for elected officials in a panic situation. Hernandez asks where this idea came from? White says that in this era courthouse security is a priority. Hernandez says we already have the security there in the form of a sheriff, constables. Virgie also says that security officer can help Sheriffs office with service, assisting with tickets. DPS used to be there. Constable asks if discussion is open. Says that constable is mandated to be at JP court. Also mandated to serve process paperwork. Patrolling is optional but does this in Presidio. Asks for augmentation of constable's salary and add duties for that. Should be for both precincts. Current salary is $9000, would like to do more, have a larger salary, would not add to county burden with regard to benefits, equipment. Judge brings up that constables have to work additional jobs at that pay level. Sheriff says constable is responsible for JP COurt, but Sheriffs office is responsible for county court exclusively. Judge says it doesn't have to be Sheriff's Office, Sheriff says it has to be; all outside of JP court is in his jurisdiction. Fowlkes stands up for Marquez. Sheriff says it MUST be Sheriffs Office. Constable says that constables need to be rested equitably. Aranda asks if court can allocate money for both constables to do security in each building. Hernandez mentions that action need not be take. White agrees that court needs to hash this out, can be worked out in budget. Sheriff says he should get the budget dollars, it is his turf. White asks for legal clarification. Judge says it's OK to table. Judge advocates for a security officer for the courthouse, and that person could also write tickets for the county. White motions to table. Vasquez has a question. Person will be at courthouse- will he conduct traffic stops as well? Sheriff asks under whose commission would be be under? Aranda advocates for allocating some money, not full salary, money will last longer. Hernandez advocates for raising constable salaries by some amount. Tabled by court.
Local govt code item tabled as recommended by county atty
Refund fee monies for defendants. Fowlkes says county has been collecting too much money from defendants in pre trial settlements. Unknown to him that the limit was reduced to $500/max in 2007. Has collected $83,000; over by $27,000. Asks commissioners to approve refund plus 2% interest as per AG recommendation to include interest to people who overpaid. Money went to general fund, was supposed to be segregated into separate pre trial fund, was not. Hoping to locate everyone, get their monies back. Send notices, try to refund. Amounts from around $100-300 typically owed. Legislature changed law to $500 in 2007 to reduce pre trial diversions, in which state collects no money. State was looking for more convictions, more state monies collected. Brings up that Rodriguez questioned this last court, he was correct, but that defendants now will have fewer pre-trial diversions. Does not actually benefit clients in this case down the line. Monies would come out of general fund, as they were never deposit into a required designated fund solely to administer pre trial intervention activities. Frances says that there IS a separate pre trial fund, not a separate account, but segregated administratively. Unknown balance. Fowlkes believes that total payout will not exceed approx $15,000 after all is said and done. White makes motion to approve with interest set at 1%. $23,345.00 total before interest approved.
11:06 AM break.
9) Executive Session regarding airport personnel matter at 11:16 AM
10) 11:52 back into regular session
JP 2 report: Judge Bishop
8575 retained
7,172 disbursed
147,034 year to date
Capital projects:
Ruben Carrasco: nothing new other than annexation. Aranda asks about abandoned trailer in Marfa. Yes, working on that with Henry Campos, basically finished. Road complaints: pothole from Mr Chavez re pothole I'm Sal Si Puedes that City of Marfa excavated. Repaired this morning.
Airports manager: no report, executive session dealt with item. Chase thanks PMDD for funding for airport improvements. White asks for people to drive by and notice airport improvements in Presidio. New shade, power hookup for ambulance, seating, etc. accepted.
Presidential permit export tabled
Facilities manager: no action- for Marfa meeting.
Tax assessor report:
130928.98 total collected
38612.71 county portion
Commends Perdue on high collections.
Judge thanks Norma for help with budget and tax rate.
Line item transfers:
County judge office: from misc to office supplies- $9,682.00
county judge: equipment maint to office supplies for approx 190.00
County judge office: Equip maint to transportation: approx 250.00
Constable : from misc to fuel :49.00
Aranda makes motion to approve
Bills and expenses:
Drugstore: inmate medications, reimbursable if from out of county inmate
No other questions. Aranda makes motion, White seconds, approved
Adjourn at 12:07 PM

Monday, August 24, 2015

Presidio County Commissioners Court Agenda 8/25/2015 9 AM, Presidio

Attached is the agenda for tomorrow's Commissioners Court meeting in Presidio at 9 Am at the Presidio County Annex Building on O'Reilly St.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Commentary on elements of Presidio County Commissioners Court, 8/11/2015

The opinions stated within this post are my own.
Any pertinent comments, even if I don't agree with them will be posted as long as they are not anonymous.

The Big Bend Sentinel today reported on the Commissioners Court meeting from Tuesday in an article titled, "Golf association disbands as county refines course operations."
After covering the developments on the golf course management, other meeting news was featured, including several items mentioned in my notes (3 posts prior to this one on this blog post.)

The first topic was with regard to the re-titling of county vehicles and equipment, grant funded and non-grant funded to the County from the Sheriff's Office. In the past, the Sheriff had all equipment and vehicles purchased or acquired by his department titled to the Sheriff's Office, and not to the County. The State Attorney General has ruled that all County property belongs to the County and is subject to the control of Commissioners Court. The Sheriff has refused to turn over titles for re-assignment to the Treasurer, despite being asked to.
During the meeting, both Commissioners White and Aranda made it clear that they believe this is a necessary step towards compliance with the audit inventory control issues. The Sheriff has said that the auditor is wrong, and that they have a grip on their own inventory. It is possible that they do, but in the past they have, at least, been reticent and even obstinate about sharing any information with Commissioners Court or anyone outside their department tasked with trying to sort through all this for accounting, transparency and audit purposes. Judge Guevara weighed in here as well, agreeing that this is the first step in a comprehensive effort for inventory tracking, control and valuation.
As mentioned in the paper, Sheriff Dominguez was present for this agenda item, which was approved unanimously by Commissioners Court, and he did not comment. Treasurer Frances Garcia now has the duty to collect all titles from the Sheriff's Office for vehicles and equipment for transfer to the County. He has refused to do this already several times, and I presume that if he refuses again, the County will have to take the steps necessary to declare the titles missing and have them re-issued by the tax office. If that happens, the next issue could be keys... Luckily, there won't be any confusion within the Sheriff's Office as to what was decided at Commissioners Court since the paper also reported that "Administrative Assistant Shanna Elmore filmed the discussion with a cell phone."

Later in the meeting an agenda item the Sheriff placed on the agenda asking for the hiring of three new deputies. By that time, representatives from the Sheriff's Office had left the meeting. The item was unanimously tabled by Commissioners Court, as no numbers were presented on potential costs of hiring and also the timing for making a decision to add County employees wasn't right since the overall County proposed budget has not yet been introduced.

The meeting itself was generally productive and peaceful. Several interested citizens who are not usually at the meetings attended and stayed throughout. I thank the individuals who are showing interest; I know it can be excruciatingly boring much of the time.

The most assertive moment in the meeting came right at the beginning with the comments from the County Judge. I was not able to take notes quickly enough to really get down what she had to say, but I think my notes alluded to the direct nature in which she addressed all attendees and her peers at the Commissioners  Court table. The paper was able to transcribe her direct comments verbatim and I will reprint them here.
Preface: The paper is quoted as saying "Guevara said she lt she needed to reiterate the rules because she felt they were not followed at the July 28th meeting in Presidio." The rules she is referring to regard public commentary, and the only point of reference for breaking these rules at that meeting is the long speech by Chief Deputy Joel Nunez, covered in the blog post on Commissioners Court 7/28. In my opinion, the line regarding threatening language could also be directed at comments the Sheriff made at this same meeting about Commissioners Court's trust in his department and potential abdication of duties. Once again, these are my opinions.

Referencing state statutes regarding Commissioners Court decorum and Contempt of Court, the judge stated, "It is not the intention of the Presidio County Commissioners Court to provide a public forum for the demeaning of any individual or group. Neither is it the intention of the Commissioners Court to allow a member or members of the public to insult the honesty and the integrity of the Commissioners Court as a body or any member or members of the Commissioners Court individually or collectively, including profane or insulting or threatening language directed towards the Commissioners Court and to any person of the Commissioners Court's presence."

The next meeting will surely focus on the 2015-2016 County budget and the issues of staffing and inventory will have had more time to progress behind the scenes and potentially during the public meeting. This next Commissioners Court meeting is TBA. I will update here. DB

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Marfa City Council notes 8/11/2015

City of Marfa regular Council meeting 8/11/2015
All present
Citizen Comments:
Numbers begin at 6 for this meeting; public hearing had earlier numbers assigned.
6) approve minutes of prior meetings.
7) Presentation from Texas Hotel and Lodging Association Re HOT taxes.
Briefing on hotel tax laws, etc.
Brian Sullivan presents.
Hotel tax is a dedicated tax. 2 steps to evaluate on proposed expenditures from fund. Must directly promote and enhance tourism and hotel occupancy.
A Tourist is anyone from outside the city or county.
2nd step is to fit expenditures into one of 8 categories
1) convention and tourist bureau centers.
2) registration of convention delegates. City staff help facilitate conferences is a good example. Hotel tax can be used.
3) Required minimum percentage to be spent on advertising and promotion. Minimum amount is 1/7 of total revenues.
4) Promotion of the arts. Events, etc. maximum is 15% of gross HOT taxes.
5) Historical restoration projects. Projects Should be portrayed historically.
6) Certain sporting events. Must substantially impact hotel occupancies. Majority of participants must be tourists as well.
7) Signage; signage that directs tourists to area attractions.
8) Transportation of tourists. To and from attractions, between attractions and hotels, etc.
The above are the approved categories for expenditures using HOT taxes.
Tourism and promotion is what this whole funding mechanism is about. 13% is the average hotel tax rate in Texas. Larger in big cities.
Teresa Todd asks about sporting events. Sullivan says if city anticipates major tourism influx from an event, HOT taxes can be used. Must meet first standard of heads in beds.
Permanent improvements to facilities not usually permitted under statute. When permitted, clawback clauses are in effect if anticipated hotel revenue falls short of covering bills. For larger cities only, Marfa too small to qualify.
Dunlap wants to know if there are legislative updates pertaining to Marfa in the last session. No changes that would impact Marfa, some that impact regarding larger communities. Dunlap says Convention Center now open 7 days.
End of presentation.
9) no Mayor's Report
10) City Administrator's Report: Water well #3 back up and running. Have received the USDA packet for grant award for just over $600,000 for St George water and street improvements. Still no environmental impact, approval, etc. work is still on hold.
WTG gas contract signed by Mayor for next year's gas supply.
Received right of way from West Stripes for new line behind Stripes, which has encroached on City property. Gas line under encroachment.
Library project still waiting. Benning Construction miscommunication. No contract at this point. Contract still possible.
11) Republic Services contract amendment: trash service. Republic wants to amend. Republic's position is that CPI escalator has two provisions that council can approve or disapprove and if they don't , Republic can walk.
Automatic CPI escalator, fuel price escalator, tipping fee escalator. They say they are subject to a "trash industry CPI" and not the normal CPI. 4.5% increase. City of Marfa has been going by actual CPI, which is less. Their "compromise position" is that the city can agree to a 3.5% increase per year! the everything OK. Current contact runs through 2018. If city council does not agree, then Republic can amend the contract to include the special trash collection CPI. If city compromises, no increase this year, and then no increases beyond 3.5% for the next years until contract end.
Teresa Todd says contract we have goes by CPI. Are they going to terminate contract if we don't bend on it? Mustard says that for next year Republic is entitled to 1% increase. With new deal zero increase for next year only. If city goes with new deal, no more fuel surcharge, tipping fee penalty, etc on contract through 2018 as long as city goes for 3.5% increase. Could be a good deal for City. Todd says to be sure any motion includes amendment orally made by rep that first year costs nothing extra.
New Business:
A) Public hearings, meetings and workshops confining budget and proposed tax rates.
B) Texas Water Development Board Loan closing requirement for SWIFT project. Funding for well drilling. Mustard says not ready for submission to Council yet.
C) Discussion with action as appropriate for bids for paving Austin St. Mustard says not yet ready to publish and take bids. Certain details on related work not yet done. Josie makes motion to ask for bid proposals; includes original scope of paving projects. Unanimous.
D) Discussion with possible action to purchase Kubota RTV 400 has powered utility vehicle for City Tourist and Convention Center. This vehicle would be used to pull a train for kids and adults to ride in. Old Lions Club train, old locomotive eventually died. Lions Club is disbanded and has donated train to City, city can buy new 4 wheeler or utility vehicle to pull train and use for other things as well, including trash bag service for city barrels. Johnson Feed is a member of BuyBoard, no other bids needed. Will be street legal, licensed and insured. Can use to drive tourists around as well. All funds to come from Hotel Motel taxes. Turn signals and strobe lights are options Dunlap recommends. $9,411.00
Josie makes motion, Genevieve seconds. Manny says money could be spent more wisely. Josie says better to spend it on something we can have than on something like a party or sending it somewhere else. Josie wants it not to be orange. Mustard likes visibility. Unanimous except for Manny. Dunlap says Manny doesn't get to ride on it. Laughter.
E) Amendment #1 to 2014-2015 budget. Year to date line item actual to last year's budget. Projected actuals used for end of year amounts, amendment makes up difference. 10 months into FY 2015 actuals available. Amendment reflects foreseen realities for all 12 months of FY 2014-15. Dunlap says auditors are just as interested in budgeted revenues as budgeted expenses. Municipal court far exceeding budgeted revenue. EMS revenue has changed due to disruptions in collections for Medicare/Medicaid. Library expansion has not been completed as planned, hopefully be able to spend at least half by end of year. Hotel tax revenue projected to be $54,000 more than budgeted. Manny asks about a booth for TML. Not effective in the past, says Dunlap per S McGehee. Manny asks about historical preservation monies, etc. re: Building 98, airport improvements. MAC building space rental: state may move.
Adjustments to grants: water line rehab grant added. Extra $102,417. Street improvement grants: several adjustments, fine tuning. Depreciation expense: not budgeted for last year, numbers added this year, fairly large.
Gas company. $99,500.00 meter fee bump cold winter. Bottom line on gas co just over $22,000 net.
Josie makes motion to approve. Unanimous.
F) July accounts payable and revenue/expenditure reports
$1044 for Marfa motor parts. Truck repairs, batteries for equipment. Unsure on details says Mustard. Manny moves to approve. Unanimous.
Adjourn at 7:46

Public hearing on City of Marfa tax rate 8/11/2015

City of Marfa Public Hearing on tax rate. 6 PM 8/11/2015.
Will publish some data handed out in print at hearing.
Meeting convened at 6 PM. All council members and city attorney present.
Dunlap, Mustard.
Required public hearing.
1st part is to calculate effective tax rate based on current valuations. Last year's total taxable value minus exemptions. Last year was $118,800,968.00
Tax rate was .45 in 2014
City taxes raised in 2014: $531,534.50
2015 certified values $165,940,330.00
After Exemptions, ceilings, etc $38,493,524.00
Effective tax rate to raises same amount of money as 2014= .417272
2014 Maintenance and Operations tax rate = .276766
2014 M&O taxes= $326,912.62
2015 adjusted tax value= $127,383,256.00
2015 effective M&O tax rate: .256637
2015 rollback M&O tax rate: (8% max net increase prior to rollback election requirement) .277168
2015 Interest and Sinking (debt service): $200,537.61
2014 certified excess debt collections (expected to be 90% but was better this year by a few percentage points) $10,000.00
Adjusted 2015 debt: $190,537.61
2015 anticipated tax collection rate: 90%
2015 debt adjusted for collections: $211,708.46
2015 total taxable value after exemptions: 127,446,806.00
2015 debt tax rate: .166115
2015 rollback tax rate: .443283 (M&O rollback plus debt rollback)
City proposes slightly below rollback rate at .443000
Percent increase from effective to proposed: 6.17%
New improvements and personal property on tax rolls: $63,550
New taxes to be raised from new improvements and personal property: $282
Additional total taxes to be raised: $32,879.00
Meeting adjourned at 6:18 after no public comments.
Basically what the big difference between this year and last year is is the increase in values on existing properties.
As per usual, the City raises the city's portion of the property tax close to the maximum before rollback possibility. The City budget consists of less than 10% property taxes. The City makes most of its money from water, sewer and trash bills, fees for services and sales taxes. Property tax bills are heavy on the school tax side. The County depends greatly on property taxes as the County is limited in pursuing enterprise funds such as water utilities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Notes from Presidio County Commissioners Court 8/11/2015

Her are my notes taken during the Commissioners Court meeting in Marfa today.
These are my notes, unedited, taken during the meeting; much like a form of shorthand. They may be incomplete.

Presidio County Commissioners Court 8/11/2015
Present: White, Vasquez, Hernandez, Judge Guevara, Aranda, Co Atty Fowlkes
Public Comments:
County Judge's comments:
Rules of Commissioners Court
Court members may shorten or lengthen public comments. Members of he public shall conduct themselves with proper respect and decorum in addressing commissioners court. Court has power of invoking contempt of court. It is not a public forum for the demeaning of any group. Including insulting commissioners court. Goes into detail on potential sanctions. Rules will be followed.
Budget. Judge has been working on budget. Individual budgets are nearly complete. Jail budgets are nearly done. Jail A/C repair still waiting on bids.
Should have proposed budget by Friday and then public hearings can commence.
Tax assessor will be here later to discuss tax rate.
Letter to Carlos Nieto thanking him for organizing the July 28th groundbreaking event presented.
Judge references budget and Senate bill 1025. County judge annual supplement from the State. For Presidio County that is extra $10,200 towards judge's salary.
Effective June 17. Her salary increased from $52,000 to $62,000.
Texas dept of Licensing says Presidio County annex is now in compliance with state regs.
No other Commissioners announcements.
5) Golf Association update re Marfa golf course. John Fowlkes: MGA met with judge and Cobos. Current association does not comply with proper regs. For all practical purposes the MGA is not functioning. Fowlkes recommends county runs the course. Proposes to make MGA members "members of golf course" under the county. Same dues, county runs everything; proper accounting, etc. members can have an advisory member board to report to County. Hopefully. Linty moves to more automated system, accept credit cards, etc. working on bylaws for advisory board, will present to Commissioners. MGA will close account once outstanding bills a paid and county will take over. White asks a few questions, Judge says deadline is Sept 15, will come before Commissioners Court. Vasquez asks if MGA has caught up with dues owed.Frances says that they brought a check a few months back for just over $50,000. Fowlkes says there will be more to come. Vasquez says money coming in from golf course should go back into golf course. Since golf course runs at a deficit, it essentially does.
6) chili plant permit- rep from chili plant not here yet, postponed.
7) Presidio County else's land from GLO. purchase for use as airport runway extension, runway protective zone? Fowlkes says lease runs for 50 years, started in 1994, no reason to do this now. Hernandez and White say that County should buy now before water is extended to area. Predict water will extend private development and land may become hard to acquire. Fowlkes says still unnecessary. Boundaries of land discussed. White recommends tabling. Fowlkes agrees. 29 more years on lease, no price given. White tables. Unanimous.
8) recall all grant and county funded vehicles and equipment as surplus and affirm that control of items rests exclusively with Commissioners Court. White put this on agenda, says it will take time, County will have to create motor pool, etc.
Guevara says that this is one way to get ahold of our assets, as per recommendations from auditor. White says it is to address audit findings. Aranda says we need to take this first step towards getting this done. Says this audit report is very serious and that people are taking this audit lightly and that the Commissioners need to step it up. Seconds White's motion to accept agenda item. White repeats motion as written on agenda. Orders treasurer to retrieve all titles and title everything to Presidio County. Unanimous.
9) County health and dental insurance presentation my Mindy Seahorn. From TAC.
She is broker on account. Renewal is Dec 1st. Cost for current benefits will rise. $600 deductible, 90% benefit after deductible. $3000 max out of pocket costs. $30 co-pay. Fowlkes brings up that some doctors at Big Bend Regional Hospital are not in Blue Cross network, although hospital is. Mindy recommends checking with BCBSTX, says she hasn't heard this before. Rates go up 5.1% increase. Average for TAC was 7%. $564 per employee. No benefit changes rates become effective Dec 1 for 12 month term. Grandfathered plan to Affordable Care Act. Keeps costs down a bit. Any surplus in the TAC program is returned to Counties. In 2014 TAC returned $9400 from TAC program. Dental plan: no change in rates, $16 per employee. Very low. Deadline for renewal is Oct 12 on both plans. Brought vision benefit rates from Emeritus insurance group. Not previously available. Two choices, county can pay or employees can pay on their own and opt-in. If county pays, each employee runs $6.72/ month. Employee basis would be $8.56. Vision benefits mean using in-network provider. Lenses or contact lenses in a 12 month period. One per 12 month. Discounted extras on lens coatings. Contacts and lenses $25 co-pay. Once every 24 months for contacts. White asks question re health care. Total increase $1074/month to County. Hernandez makes comment that City of Presidio employees are having a hard time with insurance, but he used this insurance and had no problem. White says Commissioners should consider adding vision coverage. Judge says she would like to see what employees would prefer, look at budget, come back to this as County gets further along with budget. Tentatively set a date for presentation again early Oct. White makes motion to renew the medical insurance and dental insurance now and pursue the vision side later. Unanimous.
Back to item number 6, chili processing plant permit.
Presenting: Edward Martininez. Has handouts for commissioners.
On behalf of V&L investments. Facility to be located west of Presidio. Site would be approx 12 miles from Presidio on HWY 170. Chili processing plant. Family out of Las Cruces, currently operate chili plants in Las Cruces. Want to locate plant here because a lot of chilis they process already come out of Ojinaga. Pipeline location makes plant possible. Pipeline to be completed in 2017. Plant wants to start construction in about a month. Hopefully producing by Oct 2016. 50-60 employees during production season. Outside of production season approx 5-8 employees. Production between Oct to March yearly. Includes loading, unloading, processing, packing, maintenance. Hourly wages between 10-15 dollars an hour. White wants to know how much ad valorem tax this may generate. Martinez does not know but says cost to build plant will be between 3 and 4 million to complete. Plant acreage is about 5 acres. Hernandez visited one in Las Cruces, wants to know if plant will be similar. Martinez says it will be nearly identical. Fowlkes wants to know more about permit application. Martinez says they want special use permit to allow for the use of a chili plant. Fowlkes says he doesn't know why a permit would be required since they are not looking for an abatement. White encourages building of chili plant, but unsure of what they are asking for. Vasquez asks about water. Martinez says location is set by pipeline proximity, water well will be drilled. Says pipeline operators says it may take 3-4 years to get pipeline into city of Presidio, since Hernandez says he would like to see them inside city limits. Martinez says that they can run off propane for a year or so,but that it's cost prohibitive to run on propane for more than that time. Access to natural gas is key factor in deciding on this project as a whole. Court offers support, asks if there needs to be a motion, etc and if so what for. Aranda says that the Court welcomes you. End of presentation.
10 minute break as per Judge Guevara at 10:11 AM.
10) Effective tax rate calculation. Norma Arroyo presents. Not here at this point, running late. Postponed.
11) courthouse security. Tabled by White.
12) Budget policy discussion. Judge says she would like to give raises to people who didn't get them last year. Wants to discuss general budget policy, input on how to create this budget. Budget priorities. Potential for contingency fund. Would like to have a contingency line item in each department. Judge says our tax rate is likely to go down while collections will go up. Aranda says that over the years this Commissioners Court has been lowering tax rate by small amounts and that we are fortunate to be able to do that. Judge says we are doing well compared to other counties. Item tabled, possible to come back to it after Norma presents. Hernandez wants clarification on what this agenda item is about. White says it's to get a general idea of priorities for this year's budget. Approximately $400,000 more to be available for next budget over this year's. Judge is working on three budget concepts, 0%, 7% and 10% increases for employees. Judge wants to have first draft done by this Friday. Will be scheduling budget workshops starting next week. Tabled.
13) West Heights land to City of Marfa. Perdue recommends. Land was sold at tax auction, deed was not done properly. Aranda makes motion to convey lots. Unanimous.
14) Action as appropriate to deal with abandoned mobile home located near water pump station. Ruben Carrasco to remove. Already had a resolution on this in past. Halpern says this is in Sal Si Puedes. Says there is a salvage person in the neighborhood. Danny Watts' brother. Aranda says at may be easiest.
15) Proposal by Klotz Associates to provide engineering services at Marfa airport re TXDOT grant. White says he has read, spoke to Chase. Says most economical and prudent thing is to continue with patch and repair with local TXDOT from ramp funding and the. Getting better improvements later when there is more clarity. Funding not as simple as it initially appeared. This regards the proposal to fix the taxiway, but it shortens the runway. Approx $400,000 in engineering alone. Whole runway needs to be rebuilt. 2019 on schedule for full rebuild where you don't have to shorten the runway (high altitude landings need more runway). Short term remedy to continue patching with TXDOT at $3000/ day. Will continue discussion when Chase gets to meeting in a bit...
16) hiring three new deputies for Sheriff's Office with one hired by City of Marfa. Judge says this is preliminary and needs to be postponed until budgeting is further along. White agrees that more budget clarity is needed. No contract from the City of Marfa at this point. Judge motions to take no action on this item. Unanimous.
17) Assigning new deputies to south County. Judge makes motion for no action. Unanimous.
18) Discussion with action as appropriate to hire one temporary employee for Vizcaino park and one temp for Redford School facility. $325 for Redford employee. North parks similar. White makes motion to approve. Unanimous.
Chase arrives- back to item 15- airports.
Chase says that it's not wise to do this at this time. Feb 2014 rules changed with regard to taxiways intersecting runways. Now prohibited, new taxiway would have to be built. Going to cost a lot, lighting project need to be completed frogs, and runway will still need to be rebuilt. Prudent to do the taxiway repairs at the same time as the runway rebuild. Patching a better option for now, not the solution in the long term, but can be changed if things get worse. Commissioners opt for no action on this item.
Administrative session:
Judge would like to have treasurers and OMB reports be consecutive. Would like to wait for Norma as well.
County and District Courts now.
$10,000 collected from County Court. Retained approx $8000
District collected just over $1000.
Facilities manager: Cobos says he will meet with each commissioner re budget.
JP 1 report.
Emergency management report:
Gary M- grant to update dispatch console in progress. Hoping for approval. Once board replaced, Presidio should be able to be radio integrated instead of having to use cell phones. Hernandez asks about funds for fire departments. Gary says for the next few years communications equipment still needs upgrades first. Last few years over $700,000 of equipment brought in through grants. Benefits both cities and county as a whole. The dispatch improvements will greatly help The Presidio area. Aranda asks about fire trucks in Presidio. Gary does not know , says Marfa VFD is in pretty good shape. Judge asks why state of the art console? Gary says paging system is needed. New repeater was a step, but current console could not be re-programmed for paging out. Presidio still been using cell phones. White wants to know if rent has been paid to McBride for repeater station. Gary says he hopes so, rent is now paid annually, he thinks. It's part of the Emergency management budget.
county extension agent- report accepted.
Returning back to item 10 as Norma has arrived
Norma Arroyo re Effective Tax Rate Calculation:
Says county has increased tax values.
.59893 is effective tax rate
$415,261 extra over last year at effective rate.
.63804 tax rate for last year.
If effective tax rate is approved, no need for public hearings. Can go higher if you want public hearings. White asks for rollback rate
.63455 is rollback rate.
Aranda asks for more info. Arroyo says fetched rate is really good, she is advocating for keeping effective rate. Vasquez says hopefully they won't have to raise it. Hernandez says we can look at it after budget is finished and decide. May have to raise it or keep it. Either way, it's good news. White mentions that potential raise in rate could fund raises for employees plus provide for contingency. No action taken
Back to Administrative Session:
Internal Auditor Patty Roach. Says addressing 2014 audit findings. Jail trust funds and commissary funds have been addressed with Gracie and Sheriff. Staff reporting to OMB monthly. Much progress. Recommendation to Sheriff to get some software for S.O. Jail has software but Sheriff is using manual checks, reconciling them. Software would make things easier, more up to date. Jail fund annual sales tax reports have been submitted for 2012, 2013 and 2014. Comptroller says reporting will be yearly, not monthly.
No progress on purchasing policies, re items above $50,000 needing county judge's signature. Policy needs to be amended by Commissioners to require signature by Judge.
As of Oct 1st of last year, inter fund journal entries are mostly up to date.
Capital assets: meeting with treasurer tomorrow re accenting system for assets. RCI lists plus cost/depreciation lists. Reports need to be merged. Financial and capital asset systems need to be in agreement.
General fund is reconciled through July 2015- major progress.
Rest of funds reconciled through June 2015, some difficulties with payroll fund, need to iron out.
Grant reconciliation: single audit issue. Always been late, doing month end procedures will get this closer to being on time. Need to develop a year end procedure on getting single audit together.
Commissioner Aranda is happy about progress. Asks about outside auditor coming in soon and seeing progress. Wants potential " modified opinion" which would be the begs we could get for 2015. Shooting for that. Same as Qualified opinion. Patty says this is possible. Capital assets still going to be a problem. Being addressed by Commissioners Court with today's actions re vehicles and equipment and also by scheduling "asset days". First one coming up August 20, 2015.
Vasquez asks if it's too late to pursue Stonegarden grants for 2015. Additional $365,800 allocated for 2015 under existing grants plus $350,000 unused from 2014. White says we have to get a grant administrator first, get ahold of general issues.
Unanimously accepted.
OMB Katie Sanchez- says Patty pretty much went over most of what they've been doing. Short $10,000 only on grant reimbursements. Bank accounts have all been reconciled. Balances presented through July 31st. Hernandez asks how much we are due from Stonegarden. Katie says that all Stonegarden has been reimbursed,grant is closed. Only HSI grant open is Presidential Permit.
Aranda commends Sanchez for doing a great job, as does judge. Thanks her for doing so week, and also treasurer. Approved unanimously
Treasurer's report-
Tax returns finished for golf course and also for jail funds. Has not received golf course monies yet, but paperwork is done. Approved unanimously.
20) Line item transfers -
Facilities manager asking for transfer from salaried custodians to repairs and maintenance. $7000 +/-. Mower repairs, greens maintenance. Lawn mower motor went out. $1900 for new motor. Have old mower they are using for now, not particularly adequate. Greens mower, specific to greens. Unanimous
$2000 from head of dept to repairs and maintenance in facilities. List of small items that need to be purchased. Unanimous.
21) County bills and expenses-
Chase requests 2,928 dollars to be added to bills for patching. Estimate came late, payment to Austin for TXDOT to be forwarded, TXDOT crew will finish patch on runway tomorrow if approved.
White asks Cobos about fire extinguisher inspections. Cobos says last inspected 2013. Golf course extinguishers very old, need replacements. None at Vizcaino near gas tanks, needed. Need some for attic of courthouse, 2 more for offices that don't have them. Fire extinguisher guy is now under Cobos' supervision. After sketchy bill in Presidio for unattended work. Cobos taking care of situation.
Virgie brings another bill for $166.67 for clerk expenses.
Bills approved with addition of extra bills. As noted. Unanimous.
22) Approve minutes of previous meetings. Unanimous.
11:44 AM

Thursday, August 06, 2015

Big Bend Sentinel Editors' Analysis of County Accounting, Compliance Issues 7/30/2015

Overall general coverage of prior negative County Audits has not been as extensive as this year's coverage, and this year, the Big Bend Sentinel published an editorial opinion piece with some additional information and analysis. It was written by publishers Rosario and Robert Halpern, who had access to a lot of information, including information directly from the Sheriff himself and Chief Deputy Joel Nunez that I have not personally seen.
The article is pretty long and is pretty good about presenting the realities of the difficulties a Sheriff;s Office has in patrolling a large County with limited resources. Points are made several times with regard to shortages of manpower, the need for cooperation between entities, and the problems with communication between some courthouse officials and the Sheriff's Office.

The conclusion of the article lines up with a point I not only agreed with for a long time, but used as justification for what I saw as minor issues; issues similar to what I have been discussing here. Be it a reprimand from an accountant, a conflict of interest, some dealings that may not be kosher but don't look to be directly self-serving, and the like. The plus side of the monies received and retained in the form of assets, wages, equipment or services outweighed, in my mind, the minor problems that may or may not be intentional or even matter in the long term.
Ironically, the first time I was forced to weigh the balance of value between these two sides of the coin was back when the City of Marfa began to have problems with the Stonegarden grants we were receiving through the (now defunct) City of Marfa Police. Over the course of a year or two, these grants and the paperwork involved in dealing with them became such an issue that the Council was forced to make decisions beyond just discontinuing the grants. The monies received paid for extra hours for officers, equipment, fuel and more- all things our municipal police force needed and we, as a city, could not afford at the time. For so long Council members were grateful for the needed resources and what they brought to our city and police force.
At some point, City Administrator James R. Mustard and Chief J.D. Wilbourn could no longer communicate, as there was a breach of trust between them. As City Administrator, Mustard was the direct supervisor of all City of Marfa employees, including Chief Wilbourn. Chief Wilbourn was no longer taking orders from him and a lot of the problems, without going into greater detail, were related to Homeland Security Grant bookkeeping. At a certain point, Council opted to disband the police department and contract with Presidio County and the Sheriff's Office for city policing duties. The result was a direct cost savings to the city and a relief from having to keep track of grants and all the potential liability associated with the administration.
At this point in time, I no longer really looked at the Stonegarden grants as "free money", but still thought the extra money flowing into our community was well worth whatever efforts it took the get the money. I was also grateful that any problems we might have with that in the future were going to be the problems of the County, and not the City.

After sitting in on County Commissioners Court meetings over the last three plus years, I have changed my mind about this. The County, despite the claims of the Sheriff's Office, has had problems with the administration and reimbursements of these grants for at least the last three years, causing serious cash flow issues. This is not new. However, I understand the Sentinel's take on it. I guess if the question is along the lines of what kind of potential problems are worth whatever price to get federal dollars, then that's the question. To me, I think that our County government, no matter who is to blame, has demonstrated over and over again that we are not qualified to administer these types of programs with the leadership we have had. It's time for a new standard of quality, integrity and achievement. We now have enough vehicles to do whatever we want for the next 5-10 years. We now have enough policing equipment that is rarely or never used to last us just as long. We can auction off all kinds of unneeded assets to raise more capital if need be.; we can reclaim gifted vehicles and offer them first for bid to governmental agencies for cash (permitted under Local Govt Code) if we are concerned about other local entities losing something we own but they need.  It's time for us to stop relying on the handouts and pay enough deputies (and pay them enough) to patrol the County with or without grants. It's time for our County government to step up in this next budget cycle and work as a team to create a sustainable budget model for the future. It's time to eliminate the gray areas between agencies, employees, money and accountability by making inter-governmental agreements more specific and detailed, with oversight, communication and public transparency paramount. This can all be done. This may well disturb some people's perception of autonomy and "the way things have always been done and there was never a problem." Hopefully, some of the things stated this week in Commissioners Court and the paper are true and will stick. This, I think, would solve any problems outside of personal issues. Personal issues will take time, maturity and a rebuilding of trust and respect to heal, and that's a harder goal. Let's shoot for the first and work on the second once we reach the first goal for the health of the County.

On to items referenced in the article that I believe can be expounded on...

The first reference in the article to Operation Stonegarden does not mention the very integral fact that this Federal Grant program is strictly for reimbursement of overtime. This is not mentioned or alluded to anywhere in this article, and this simple fact is the basis for the Auditor's accusations of fraudulent activity.

Purchases for items other than wages such as vehicles, equipment, training and fuel are to facilitate the achievement of hours leading to and including overtime. Documentation must be kept on all of this.

In paragraph 9 the paper states the County is considering an outside investigation into the grant situation. In paragraph 10, the Sheriff says they have done nothing wrong and "welcome an investigation" During the County Commissioners Court meeting on Tuesday the 28th the Sheriff said he has already asked the Texas Rangers and FBI to investigate. I am looking forward to everyone presumably being cleared by several investigations that have been requested by the Sheriff, at least according to the record.

In paragraph 11, Sheriff Dominguez says he decided this week not to accept the approved Stonegarden Grant for the next fiscal year. This grant would obviously need the support of the Sheriff, but can only be approved and accepted by Commissioners Court, as the County's General Fund and credit rating hold the liability for any grant deficiencies, and not the Sheriff himself.

In paragraph 13 the Sheriff says that "We are severing ties between the County and PISD completely." I think this is a good idea for the health of the County. It's a smart reactive move to this situation.

In paragraph 14 Deputy Nunez says, "As of today, we lost all reserves, I told them they are no longer obligated to work for free. PISD will no longer work for Stonegarden, because of the conflicts perceived, conflicts and allegations seen by the public as negative. Now it's up to Commissioners Court to make up with local tax dollars what has been in the past with grant funds."
The line about working for free is a flag here (see last blog post on Commissioners Court meeting 7/28) but I agree that in order to prevent an issue or questioning here the County needs to step up and manage the situation in real terms and dollars. Period. If an inter-local needs to be created to achieve that, put in place specifications for accountability, communication and transparency.

In paragraph 17, Auditor Painter is quoted as saying his allegations of fraudulent behavior are based solely on the Stonegarden grant compliance issues. In paragraph 18, Nunez and PISD business manager Raquel Baeza state the officers in question, despite earlier documents indicating otherwise, are being paid as subcontractors. It's my understanding that contract labor, is by definition, unable to receive overtime. The grant reimbursements are strictly limited to overtime hours.
Allusions to labor performed by these officers is made, with grant reimbursement applied for and paid through the grant. Still no mention of overtime or under whose employment overtime hours could be justified.

The paper, in paragraph 19, discusses faulty grant administration by the County over the years. I am in agreement with this, as, I believe, the County Commissioners are. The remedy for this is/was the hiring of OMB officer Katie Sanchez in late last year, following her loss to Frances Garcia for the Treasurer position. Patty Roach is the Commissioners Court internal auditor and has been authorized by Commissioners Court to do "whatever it takes" to get information, and fix problems with grants and with County finances in general. The office of OMB and Commissioners Court have agreed to work with Auditor Painter on a quarterly basis to stay on top of all potential issues. It has been deemed imperative by both the external and internal auditors that all departments cooperate in order for the County as a whole to succeed in correcting our issues. Ms. Sanchez is in charge of administering the grants and she, since she came on board, has had extreme resistance to cooperation from the Sheriff's Office. This is a current issue.

In paragraphs 21 and 22  Mr. Nunez goes on to state that the County officials should have brought up any problems long before this moment, as they are the checks and balances here. He continues with an overview of how this was all beneficial to the citizens and how he saw only good things happening here with the influx of federal funds replacing local funds and all the additions in assets, wages and equipment. I can see this perception; I have also attended County Commissioners Court meeting regularly for over three years and the grant funding, administration and opacity of the running of the operations have been consistently addressed (without any repercussions) by Commissioners Court. None of these problems are actually new. this time we have a more comprehensive audit that calls it out, and we also finally have some public discussion and knowledge of the problems. I firmly believe that there would be no attention to this outside of Commissioners Court had not a few outspoken elected officials, including myself, addressing this in a public forum.

Paragraphs 24 and 25 discuss in direct terms the impact of this blog, which hopefully has helped you, the reader, understand at least some of the dense issues that are actually important here. Blaming the messenger is a classic tactic, but thanks to the internet nobody is now limited to the length of a letter to the editor.

In response to my demand that a financially strapped County with few resources should sell off any unnecessary items of any substantial value and not continue to hold then and/or pay for maintenance and insurance on them, the Sheriff and Deputy Nunez provided a list of vehicles that one or both of them had "gifted" to other governmental officials or agencies. Commissioners Court should, in any case, ever, bar none, determine what happens with County property. I personally have no complaint with intra-County transfers, although I sincerely question the need for County Commissioners to have their own trucks instead of access to a motor pool with a check-out system for accountability, transparency and money savings concerns. However, transferring vehicles over to PISD police, PISD maintenance dept, The City of Presidio's Water Works Dept and the Presidio Fire Dept without Commissioners Court approval or even knowledge is ridiculous. yes, no monies exchanged hands, yes, these agencies work for a common interest. But I think the public should ask itself if this kind of patronage, outside of any oversight, could result in an increased political influence for the individuals doing the gifting of substantial items not belonging to them.

Paragraph 32 reiterates the statements made by Deputy Nunez at the Commissioners Court meeting on Tues the 28th that he believes that the vehicles, if auctioned off by the County, would not be as much of a benefit to the County residents as a whole as they are now with himself and the Sheriff being the arbiter of where and to whom these assets should be disbursed to. Simply put, he and the Sheriff know better how to help the citizens using surplus County property than Commissioners Court and the Judge would, so they did it themselves without informing Commissioners Court.

Paragraph 33 speaks for itself. Deputy Nunez states, "It's amazing how miscommunication can lead to such an impact in our communities."

Paragraph 34 references some payroll invoices that are still outstanding and are in need of payment by the County. Auditor Painter is questioning two of the invoices. The invoices are not specifically referred to, but in the prior post I referenced a source in Presidio who said that some officers had not been paid for presumably reimbursable Stonegarden work past the point that the County was participating i the program. These officers wound up not being paid for some time worked, and that probably is what Deputy Nunez is referencing in his earlier statement that officers are "no longer obligated to work for free." The grants were not renewed some time ago due to these severe problems, but the hours overseen by Nunez for some workers were reportedly not eliminated. I expect for the Treasurer and Deputy Nunez to eventually clarify whatever these issues may be if the impasse continues...
"Presidio ISD has absorbed almost $38,000." I would expect the trustees to publish the reasons for subsidizing these funds in the interest of transparency.

That's about all I have to say about the article, which can be found in whole at www.bigbendnow.com

I now disagree with the idea that we need this "free" money so much that we are willing to compromise the integrity of multiple agencies. we have put some of our longest serving employees, such as Deputy Nunez and Sheriff Dominguez in a position of defending themselves and having to remake the structure of their offices, according to them. I agree with them.

I look forward to not only the surely impending investigations by multiple agencies to clear the names of all elected officials and employees and I look forward to the citizens of Presidio County being more active in demanding a better County government, from top to bottom. Because we can and should. Pressure your Commissioner and all elected officials to respond to concerns and be LEADERS.


Analysis of Sheriff's Dept response to 2014 Audit Report and related

As is documented within this blog under the post "Presidio County Commissioners Court meeting 7/28/2015" I attended and took my own shorthand-style notes on the meeting and then posted them, unedited. Now that I have had a chance to digest other happenings, statements and the general defensive approach from the Sheriff's Office related to the findings of the unanimously approved and accepted 2014 County Audit, I am ready to make some very (relatively) short comments on what was said (and the accusations and confessions made) at Commissioners Court by Chief Deputy Joel Nunez and Sheriff Danny Dominguez last Tuesday. What was not said was as important as the way things were stated in a prepared lengthy statement by Mr. Nunez, who was cited for "multiple complex conflicts of interest" in both administering and receiving Federal grant monies on behalf of the PISD police, where he is Chief, and through the Sheriff's Office, where he facilitated the initiation of the grants to his other agency.

Once again, remember that the statements below are my own and reflect my opinions on the facts surrounding how and why we, as a County, are involved in controversy in the first place.

First of all, let it be clear that in no way am I or, in my estimation, any of the Commissioners Court or other County officials questioning the value of the work the PCSO does in the Presidio area. Their service to the people who call in is clear, and there were people who spoke from the heart in support of their abilities as public servants. Unfortunately, this fact is probably lost a lot of the of the time in discussions of fiscal responsibilities and fiscal ethics with regard to Federal grant funds, reporting and integrity of grant-related expenditures. I appreciate the constituents' regard for their law enforcement officers' abilities and do not want to make it seem like I am questioning the competency of their being peace officers.

So, going forward, the Chief Deputy had a room full of supporters, many who were connected with him via the two separate governmental departments he works for. One, he is the head of and the other the de facto head of in the Presidio area. Many who were there were local citizen leaders. Most spoke in favor of his officers, and some "passed" their allotted three minutes of commentary time over to him. At which time it was Mr. Nunez's turn to speak on his behalf, County Clerk Virgie Pallarez clarified that "passing minutes" over to another person wasn't permitted, yet she was overruled by Judge Guevara, who, like everyone else in the room, I believe, wanted to hear what Joel had to say about the Audit Report and its findings implicating him in, at least, "complex multiple conflicts of interest" and also "fraudulent charges" to grant program monies. Which according to the audit, leaves the County liable for over $64,000 in reimbursements on behalf of PISD-DPS to the Department of Homeland Security.
What followed was an approximately 15 minute speech in which, as described in abbreviated terms in the previously referenced post, he defended his own actions, vilified Commissioners Court, accused the Auditor of incompetence and acting in bad faith, questioned the hiring of Katie Sanchez, accused unspecified elected official(s) in office for 7 months or less of "showing off for friends" and numerous other things. It was, at the least, interesting, and in listening carefully, I gleaned a message of defiance and obfuscating of responsibility for basic employee/employer definitions as well as at least one confession of violation of County policy.

Once Deputy Nunez completed his stand at the dais, Sheriff Danny Dominguez made an assertive and terse statement regarding his disappointment with virtually everyone in County government excepting his own employees.

I will dissect these statements here in my own words (and shaped by my own opinions) to try to relate them to the reality of the aftermath of a bruising Audit with these two individuals at the center of controversy.

Mr. Nunez began his speech with a short recap of his assistance in taking the PCSO from substandard cars, equipment and service to the community along with the Sheriff to a level of service that is respected and effective. He also referenced his being integral to the formation of the PISD-DPS, which came to be at a time when the school system in Presidio was in desperate need of law enforcement presence. He stressed his accomplishments in both law enforcement and community activism and went on to say that he is deeply offended by any accusations of any unethical or illegal behavior and wants to face his accusers directly to set the record straight.
And that's the preface to the next...

First off, he accuses the Audit Report of being sub-standard and the auditor of operating in bad faith, asking for things that would set him up to fail, including random invoices and other items that were not pertinent to operations or anything else. - A point here; I felt a bit taken aback when I first got the auditors list of items that needed to be pulled from my office- it was a pain and seemingly random. My office spent about 2 days getting the materials together to comply, but we did finish it.

Deputy Nunez then went on to scold the Commissioners Court for hiring this particular Auditor.

The next point was with regard to Commissioners Court Office of Management and Budget officer Katie Sanchez, who has been working since last December. She had been the candidate for County Treasurer versus Frances Garcia in the primary last year, and lost. She now works hand on hand with Treasurer Garcia to manage finances in compliance with Commissioners Court directives and answers to them exclusively. In another indirect attack towards the Commissioners and County Judge he questioned court and said, "What is the purpose of voting in this County?", referencing Sanchez's loss at the polls as a rejection of her qualifications for employment. There was no direct reference to why there was an attack on Sanchez, but I can tell you here that Katie has been at odds with the Sheriff's Office with regard to following official purchasing policy since she began working.
Next we listened to a long diatribe regarding officers being certified and licensed. "Has proof". Nobody ever accused anyone working for PISD, PCSO or under Stonegarden as being unlicensed or uncertified. Period.
Then we heard about his efforts to protect confidential sensitive information, such as employees' social security numbers, and that people in the Courthouse had left sensitive documents in an unsecured copy room. Says he is concerned about accountability from courthouse officials and is doing his best to counteract security risks pertaining to information (transparency?). He goes on to say that at every turn he shares any and all information with the press voluntarily (that week he did as a proactive measure- very rare from this Sheriff's Office in any case, ask any employee or member of any press agency). He states that some elected officials have "piled on to make themselves popular with the public" and he "welcomes any investigation from any agency." "Nobody has taken the time to answer his questions."

"I have great support from the City of Presidio, Border Patrol" Complains about inadequate personnel in the Sheriff's Office (overtime?!) and that the grants were "helping us save tax dollars."

Then he goes on to say that "yes, surplus vehicles have been given to other entities. Gifted to other entities, saving all of us money." This is one of my favorite statements he made this day; basically telling the Commissioners Court that he was and is a better arbiter than they are of where and to whom County property, be it purchased through County funds or grant funding originally, be distributed to for the betterment of society. County property which not only belongs to the County, but is not even under his own supervision as he is an employee of the County, not an elected official, not a department head, not tasked or permitted to give away public assets to anyone. One might suspect that a degree of his support from his local community comes from the value of those part and parcel gifts of extraordinary value and use. Regardless, I know that if I wind up giving my Windows 7 computer to the City of Marfa "for the betterment of the community" since my budget or a grant may include a new one for me that I would face a serious inquiry, even as a department head. So who gets the trucks? We know his other employer got at least two in the last year; that might help come performance review time... Others? Not yet determined at this writing...
It's all justified in his next statement; that Federal grant monies were used to get vehicles, and that other County officials (exactly the ones who are asking questions now and whom he is furious with?) are the checks and balances. "So now after 15 years am I all of a sudden now being questioned as to whether I can work here?" Suddenly someone is writing about it.
Then he goes on to claim the Commissioners Court has gone against him and the Sheriff's Office "at every turn in this case" and that he was "never asked for clarification". He defiantly refuses to "get in a social media battle" (surely referring to this blog's publishing of facts first and now, opinions and commentary) "with an elected official who is posting accusations on Facebook (links to this blog) to look good for his friends"  (Just a word here- my friends care about this only enough to know it exists, most of them would never read anywhere near this far- unfortunately.)
And then he accuses the Commissioners Court of being wasteful and irresponsible by hiring inventory cataloging and tracking company RCI to (finally) get a hold on County property asset count and valuation. Calls it a "Mickey Mouse operation" and a waste of money and abdication of departmental responsibility to handle their own inventory. (Since that has worked so well, especially with things like vehicles and trailers just exiting the County's possessions unknown over the last few years!) He finishes his session by requesting for any Executive Session regarding him to be held in public. Some debate ensues and Judge Guevara eventually states that Executive Session does not just concern him and cannot be made public.

Danny Dominguez comes before the Court in a rare speaking appearance. He goes on about the history of how the Sheriff's Office is/was trying to help the County by using Homeland Security grants to increase funding, coverage, resources, at no cost to the County, help officer retention with the ability for overtime, improve services (I have no argument with any of this, by the way, as a concept and a reality when done properly). He says that from 2005 onwards his office ran grants with "no problems". "All of a sudden there is a problem!" He doesn't take any accusations lightly. He relays that he is very upset with officials. "You don't trust us?" Bases confusion on a "Mickey Mouse rumor on Facebook... a real shame..." He is "very disappointed" and he wishes and hopes the current elected officials can "get it together and fix this problem". Says the "rumors are from people who have no idea what's going on, most who have been here a short time" (If you do the math, the group of officials that has been here the least amount of time are myself, Frances Garcia, and Loretto Vasquez- that's all.)  Danny then says he "has invited FBI and Rangers to do a full scale investigation on operations."

At this point in time, since this is the Citizen Comment period, technically, as per the Texas Open Meetings Act, Commissioners are not permitted to act on anything discussed and very limited comments or questions are permitted, since this item is not on any posted agenda for this meeting. However, several Commissioners ask some questions and get some responses from Deputy Nunez.

First off, Commissioner Hernandez asks whether the PISD officers receiving Stonegarden overtime grant funds are employees and whether the Audit says they weren't (which it did state they were not, confirmed via email with PISD's HR dept). Joel then states they were not necessarily employees but are contracted and paid by Stonegarden. (An aside here- Stonegarden funding reimbursements are only for overtime hours- period. And if there are no regular hours can there be overtime hours? Can there be?) Joel then goes on to say that the "auditor never asked us. He lied to us." Says auditor saw time sheets, log, etc. Joel says he was not in charge, not grant administrator for the PISD hours, reimbursements, etc. The "licenses are proof of being Officers" (no argument there, again). "Words mean different things; being hired... there are different levels, words don't describe." Then he goes on to explain that each of his officers receiving the Stonegarden overtime reimbursements on the time sheets he authorized for reimbursement with PISD through the County's grant program works for multiple agencies (such as Presidio EMS, Fire, City Police, etc) and is of great service to the community as public servants. Brings up Marfa ISD hiring Z Hernandez in 2014; auditor wanted receipts for training, hotel gas, etc. Could not produce, auditor immediately jumped to "fraud", but the documents didn't exist. Lorenzo then asks of officers are usually paid for training. Joel says that they usually are, yes.

An aside here from me- this was another moment of clarity for me. I have seen the documents from the PISD HR dept confirming that multiple people turning in hours that DHS Stonegarden Grant reimbursed for "overtime hours" under the parameters of the program, through Presidio County, in conjunction with PISD-DPS as a named "friendly force" were not employed part-time or full-time or on contract with PISD.
Quoting the email directly between Raquel Baeza of PISD and Presidio County outside Auditor Doak Painter;
"There are no contracts with any of those people. they are not set up as full time or part-time employees."
 "Presidio ISD did not pay for any training under Stone Garden."
"Presidio ISD did not pay for any travel under Stone Garden."
"The Stone Garden Program is managed by Joel Nunez, the Presidio ISD Police Chief. He is responsible for submitting invoices for reimbursements of payroll costs pais by Presidio ISD, The Stone Garden Program participants submit time sheets to the Presidio ISD Business Office Payroll Department and are paid on a biweekly basis. An account distribution journal is provided to the security department upon request for preparation of the invoices, the reimbursement checks from Presidio County are recorded as revenue received from local sources."

So the way I read this is that Deputy Nunez decided that qualified employees of other area agencies would be able to receive additional income (and provide services) free of charge to local taxpayers by working their regular hours on whatever jobs they had, and then turning in Overtime hours for reimbursement through the Stonegarden Federal grants without actually working PISD REGULAR hours. Lets remember, people, that nobody in the USA that I know can get overtime (time and a half pay, by the way) without first working a 40 hour week. For some law enforcement, it may be 42 or 43 hours, I can't remember, but let's just say 40.
So, if I work 40 hours for City of Presidio Police Dept and have an offer to work 15 hours for overtime with PISD under Stonegarden reimbursement, which costs PISD nothing, what's the harm?
Well, it's illegal. Straight up. Period.
I worked at Popeyes Fried Chicken in high school and the guy who prepped the birds for frying worked about 38 hours a week at Popeyes and about 30 hours a week one half block down at Mr. Bake-A-Tater. Did he receive overtime at either place despite working nearly 70 hours a week in the same neighborhood, serving the same people, doing essentially the same job? NO.
Based on everything I can glean, from time sheets to emails to pay stubs with regard to what Joel was running here, there were little to no regular hours worked for PISD by these certain people mentioned in the audit, and the reason why the County is on the hook for nearly $65,000 of wages in FY 2014 is because Deputy Nunez determined that they had fulfilled the qualifications for regular employment through their certifications as peace officers and their hours serving the community with other agencies and were, in his mind, eligible for "overtime" as PISD off the books wage earners through a Federal Grant program for reimbursements for overtime only.  I see this as unethical and illegal, despite bringing money into the community (see Big Bend Sentinel article on same, 7/30/2015). This is, of course, still just my best assumption on how this all "worked" at this point.

We're still not done!

After all this, Commissioner Aranda says he really doesn't appreciate the rumors from the Sheriff's Office. Says "Commissioners never went against you guys. The Auditor has been hired to do a job, and the conclusions are there." Judge Guevara tells everyone that the "public discussion is over."
Commissioner Hernandez mentions that he, like Joel, wants the Executive Session to be in public. Judge once again says no because of other employee issues. Judge Guevara goes on to say that the Sheriff's Office was given all the audit info prior to it coming out in public and a chance to address anything before a public issue could arise. The Sheriff declined to participate at that time "We won't be there" he said.  The Judge goes on to say that Joel and Danny could have come into her office at any time to discuss this. Any time. Door was open, invitation given. Judge says that by law we have to have an external auditor and these are his findings. Joel once again accuses Commissioners of hiring a "very poor auditor who does not do his job right." (aside- this is the first time in three years of observation I felt like we had more than a whitewash audit- AND- this County's performance over the years is so bad that most reputable CPA's won't touch us.)
Commissioner Aranda gets pretty vocal at this time and asks Joel why he didn't just "call and have this item put on the agenda?" "Anytime is fine". Joel says "open session is the only way to do this." (aside- so why not put it on the agenda so the public, not just your supporters, will know?)
Joel states he would "like to have a workshop with individuals who have 7 months or less experience." to explain how things are. Also says that "certain elected officials are blowing this out of proportion because of their lack of experience and knowledge of our situation."

I like the term "our situation" in this context.

Lastly, later in the meeting Commissioner Hernandez shows he is taking accusations of incompetence and disloyalty from the Sheriff and Deputy Nunez seriously when he asks to be part of any solution.
Let's note once again that these are not policing issues, but financial transparency and accountability issues exclusively.
Commissioner Hernandez states his frustration with the situation at large by pushing for full Commissioners Court involvement in dealing with these issues from here on out since the full Court is being held accountable by the Sheriff's Office. The Judge offers time in her office every Wed with Commissioners Court Internal Auditor Patty Roach. Invites everyone to participate. Comm. Aranda says the answers are in the Auditors report and recommended remedies. Says it's more administrative and policies via the Court have already been set. Up to dept heads and OMB/Treasurer to enforce, stick with it/ fix it. Hernandez repeats desire to be involved directly. Judge repeats here offer of any and all Wednesdays with Patty Roach. End of discussion.


So, before I dive into my analysis of the newspaper's theories about all this - and I will- (which 6 years ago I would have wholeheartedly agreed with but now I have seen this in two separate instances come back to bite us) I will say that the underlying issue may be that our society in Presidio County looks at Federal money as something we deserve as an historically under-served  population and that any ethics connected to this process are outweighed by the benefits of more dollars in the form of wages, trucks, and equipment into our collective pockets. This I see and understand, but if we are to aspire to ethically sound, transparent, honest and legal public government (think NOT Mexico), we must hold ourselves to a higher standard, especially when tempted.
I believe Joel Nunez when he says he was trying to do his best to not have trucks sold for $5000-$7000 when they could help his fellow law enforcement or school buddies in a more direct sense.I get it, but it's not his property or under his fiscal purview. Got it also that he believes his colleagues work hard and that the money is there for the taking. Sign a sheet, do a patrol, saves local taxpayers money, helps everyone make a living, more police on patrol. Yes, but illegal.
The fact that this blog is the "cause of the problems" is the most distressing thing to me. The fact that the people who enforce our laws, patrol out streets, decide whether to pull us over, give us a warning or a ticket and/or take us to jail are not able to accept the reality of these audit findings and their role on these deficiencies is disturbing.

Thanks for reading. I promise I will be covering Presidio County finances and politics from here on out. CLEARLY this is long overdue.

Wednesday, August 05, 2015

Text message with regard to Presidio Co law enforcement-

As always, please understand that anything stated on this blog not referred directly to as "fact" is in some way at the least, shaped by my opinion and should be taken as such. Thank you. I am also citing Section 230 of the US Communications Decency Act with regard to republishing this info, regardless of its source.

I received this text about a week and a half ago from someone down in Presidio who (may or may not) work under Joel Nunez, Presidio County's Chief Deputy and Chief of the Presidio ISD Dept of Public Safety. The person who provided this text shall remain unnamed, for obvious reasons. According to the source, it was sent by Mr. Nunez.

"Guys get all Sheriff's Office equipment ready to return to Marfa tomorrow. All vehicles, command center, weapons, cameras. Commissioners court is questioning the way you help the county and do not appreciate it. We will no longer work for free. I have tried to make them understand how important you work and help is to the people of this community however they choose to listen to someone that has been here a few months over all of our work and dedication over so many years. There will only be one deputy in presidio to handle the whole Presidio area. We will be available to help Deputy Sanchez and the Sheriff occasionally. Any complaints and law suites for failure to provide services can be referred to commissioners court. One deputy cannot be expected to cover 24/7. Remember this is not the Sheriff's doing this is commissioners court. Clean out your vehicles and I will see you tomorrow and make no mistake, I will not be a part of all the social media chaos. We elect our officials to guide and lead us so our community can feel protected. Lately some elected officials have made unfounded allegations against us publicly instead of communicating with us. This is causing people to doubt our local government. People are coming to me for answers so Friday Sheriff and I went to the newspaper to ask for help with documents in hand to support our defense. I have documentation for everything I say but very few listen. Hopefully they will print this hard evidence against words with no foundation from county employees. There are still some elected officials that have supported us at times, please reach out to them. Keep in mind, The Presidio County Sheriff's Office and PISD Police will always help our community whatever it takes. Thanks for everything officers."

This was originally sent on July 25th. The next meeting of Commissioners Court occurred on Tuesday July 28th in Presidio and is recapped in a previous blog. Since this message came first I will give my interpretation of the message he is sending to his charges before I address the statements made by both Joel and Sheriff Dominguez at Commissioners Court, and then I will also address the newspaper's opinion piece on all this.

On Tuesday morning the streets on the Jail side and rear of the courthouse were filled with all kinds of equipment, including trucks, a Jeep, the Mobile Command Center, and a bunch of outfitted trailers, in accordance with the text above. I assume this was some sort of show of either compliance or rebellion to the Auditor's Findings in the 2014 Audit, which was disseminated on this blog and is posted in complete form on the County's website.

So in looking at this text the first thing that jumps out at me is "we will no longer work for free". This may refer to what a reliable source in Presidio confided to me that PISD officers were no longer being paid for their Stonegarden overtime hours earlier this year. I believe this non-payment began around early March, right around the time that Stonegarden grants were suspended. At that time, these officers were under the impression that they would eventually be paid for those hours. At that time their supervisor, Joel Nunez, was aware that Stonegarden grants had been suspended. Thus far, according to my source, they have not been paid. Perhaps this statement is a way for the supervisor to blame Commissioners Court for the lack of pay instead of himself and save face while maintaining his local allies.
Next he explains that he has "tried" to make Commissioners Court understand how important their work is to the people of this county. I believe that if you ask any Commissioner you will find that the work of these people has never been questioned, and, as a matter of fact, has been supported.
The next statement either refers to the auditor, myself, Frances Garcia, Katie Sanchez, Loretto Vasquez or all of us.I am unsure.
Following that, the assertion that there will only be one Deputy to serve the Presidio area presumes that Deputy Sanchez will be the only officer, excluding, I guess, Deputy Nunez. Perhaps Presidio does need an additional deputy.
With regard to the "social media chaos" I will state that the chaos he refers to is coming out of this blog and any links to it or sharing. Since I am taking it into my own hands to shine the light of transparency into what has been an embarrassingly opaque County government, I will say we should all get used to it, and I invite anyone else in the community to take on the mission of covering County governmental activities much further than I ever will. With transparency we will have better ethics, and with better ethics we will have better behavior, audit findings, and service to our citizens. All this is is a web page. Period.
The accusation in this message about "unfounded accusations" must obviously start with and include the independent auditor, who would have no reason to target individuals unless there were financial deficiencies, which there were, and are documented publicly in the audit on the County's website. Also, if you choose, you may read each deficiency and material defect individually in previous posts on this blog. These are essentially findings of fact, and include "multiple complex conflicts of interest" with regard to this particular person's handling of his intergovernmental financial affairs. The foundation of any accusations is found in the unanimously accepted and approved in Commissioners Court 2014 Financial Audit. According to the County, it is FACT.
Lastly, in a vintage "Circle The Wagons" move, Mr Nunez gives a direct call to action for help in defending the status quo, playing the victim of a scheme by the Commissioners and other County officials with a few months experience as the unexplained and unwarranted aggressors. This is an understandable move and it worked well in giving him a full voice at Commissioners Court on Tuesday, which is a different story for later tonight. The bottom line is that without the multiple findings in the audit, no conversations regarding this would have ever been opened and it's not the fault of the messengers that we are where we are now. It's time for reform. -DB