Friday, February 19, 2016

Visit to Juarez, Mexico to see El Papa Francisco ; 36 hours in Juarez to see Pope Francis

Hello, everyone

I had the amazing pleasure of attending Mass in Juarez Wednesday February 17th, 2016 for Pope Francis' historic trip to this borderland city that has seen much strife in recent years.

About three weeks ago I decided to make an effort to get across the border to Juarez to experience the Pope's visit, whether I was going to be able to procure a ticket to the actual event or not. Once I made the decision after researching the logistics I put the word out that I was looking for a ticket to the Mass. Tickets were not sold, they were distributed to churches in Mexico and the El Paso Diocese of the Catholic Church.

A friend of mine based in El Paso but closely associated with St Mary's Catholic Church in Marfa was kind enough to acquire a ticket for me. I jumped at the chance to actually attend the gathering, and finalized my plans to go.

I left Marfa twice on Tuesday to get to Juarez with time to spare, including time for potential car trouble or border crossing issues. The first time I left I thought I had all my jail/JP ducks in order, but wound up being called back after finding out that there was no other local Judge available to handle a prisoner I was responsible for performing a magistration to. I turned around, came back and took care of the young man, after finding out once I got there that this gentleman was detained in the City of Presidio and was not technically my responsibility. Not to worry, I had plenty of time to spare.

I drove to Tornillo, TX, about 30 miles east outside of the city limits of El Paso to avoid a hectic and long border crossing, taking my advice from the El Paso Times. The Tornillo bridge is a recently constructed bridge, designed to handle truck traffic primarily. The U.S. finished our side of the bridge long before the Mexicans finished theirs and for years it was a visible "Bridge to nowhere" and considered a boondoggle. Mexico recently finished their side and I can say that the bridge is very easy to use. There is nobody there. The roads leading up to the bridge on both sides of the border are old and thin, not built for trucks, and signage is spotty. The actual bridge and Port of Entry is enormous, and practically devoid of vehicles and officers. One lane on each side out of tens available was open, and this was the day prior to an expected influx of travelers to see the Pope. It was a Tuesday and also, presumably, a day on which trucks would be running. I say none.

I was asked to shut off my truck on the U.S. side so the guards could ask me questions, which was less of an inspection and more of a general Q & A about Marfa and my trip to see the Pope. They warned me about Juarez, and also about traveling the border highway on the Mexican side.

Once I got into Mexico, the Mexican officials gave my passport and the back of my truck a quick inspection and asked me where I was going. I have been taking Spanish online daily since the first of he year and have also been attending a weekly conversational class in Marfa, so I was able to reply to the questions in Spanish. I later found that 24  hours plus of immersion into a Spanish speaking city really makes it easy to understand a deliberate, slow speaking priest with excellent diction. What a win!

The border highway Number 2 between the Tornillo Port of Entry and Juarez is pretty much a two-lane opposing traffic road with speed humps and multiple speed changes. Speed limits range from 30-80 km/h and the speed humps in the small, nearly deserted towns require you to nearly stop to avoid bottoming out.

Getting into Juarez you will pass countless Yonkes (junkyards) and when you eventually get into the east side of the city you are more or less given the option to head south to Chihuahua City or slightly northwest into downtown. I drove around for a bit trying to get my bearings. No cell service here and I did not bring a map.
Anyway, I found downtown and got turned around a few times trying to figure out where Chamizal Park was in relation to where I was. I finally kind of lucked into finding a lot of military personnel and then the location where the papal gathering was to be. It is surprising how little of El Paso you can see even being right there on the border, but the skyline is still very impressive. Juarez lacks the skyscrapers of El Paso, having few buildings over 20 stories even in the center of downtown.

I made an educated guess as to where to park and make my de facto in-truck campsite but found a place a block away from a long row of porta potties and the fence of the fairgrounds. I parked in front of a wrecked former residence and got out, looking for signs saying "No Estationarse". No sign of any of that and a few cars parked nearby gave me the confidence to not move the car again until I was ready to leave town.

Walking any city gives the pedestrian insights to the culture and condition of the place like nobody driving could ever get. I walked around the park area and over to the giant altar, first thing. The walk looked kind of short, but the fairgrounds area is gigantic, and there were already people selling funny Pope flags and food cooked on small grills once I got near the altar and the barricades surrounding it. News teams from Mexico and El Paso were taping their reports for later in the evening everywhere. Bulldozers and water trucks were still working on tamping out the grounds.
 Above: My stay in "Hotel Tahoe", 1995 model.

 Later in the evening as the sun went down I walked several miles around downtown making mental notes of where to go the following morning for breakfast and to search for a large-brimmed hat, which I had forgotten to bring. I had bought a copy of El Diario and decided to find a place to sit down, eat, and read it. On Calle Juan Gabriel, the big stretch of bars from the border to the cathedral, I found a seafood place that was excellent. I ordered a shrimp cocktail and a beer, only to be told they had no beer, despite it being on the menu. Reading El Diario five minutes later I learned that the City of Juarez had banned all alcohol sales from 4:00 Tuesday until 10:00 PM Wednesday. I think this turned out to be one reason why the trip was so remarkable; great masses of people everywhere on Wednesday and not a single drunk person that I saw.

Left: Shrimp Cocktail and newspaper. The Peso is 17.5 per dollar. Total cost with bottled water: 54 pesos. After tip, 84 pesos.
Right: Men's room at same joint.

After I finished dinner and explored the possibility of phoning in some commentary and live sound for Marfa Public Radio (and concluded that some sort of strange blocking mechanism was in effect or the TV crews were using all the bandwidth on my TELCEL data subscription) I decided to go back to Hotel Tahoe and listen to some music and head on to sleep. I got to bed in the back of the truck after brushing and getting pretty comfy around 10 PM. It's a good thing because I tossed and turned much of the night and I knew that they would be letting people queue up for getting in at around 6 AM. I must say, there's enough room for me in the back of a Tahoe, but I am accustomed to the extra foot or more of Suburbans and I couldn't stretch my arms out above my head, like I usually like to. It got down to about 40 that night, so I am glad I had a sleeping bag and blanket on top. I was not cold.

It was very loud throughout the night, and got louder after midnight. I thought that I was hearing people partying or even parading, and then  eventually heard the sound of large gates being dragged around. I sort opf made a mental check and note of that and went back to bed.

I woke around 7 AM Juarez time (8AM Marfa time) to the sound of lots of people talking from a short distance away. As I realized it was time to get going for breakfast and then make it into the "Green ticket line" I rose up and saw soldiers with machine guns right outside the truck rear windows. I quickly realized I had parked within the now-cordoned off security area and that I had been hearing security crews and gates moving around all night. I decided to move slowly within the truck, which has tinted glass, gather my needed items for the day and sneak out the side door of the truck and into the crowd that had been let in through security already. "Security Parking" in Juarez, MX

I made that happen without anyone hearing or seeing me move out of the truck and headed downtown to get some breakfast and search for a large hat, since the sun was already out in full force under clear skies. It was still pretty chilly at this hour, but I planned on moving quickly on foot and getting my body temp up.

Downtown was dead outside of a few taco stands that I wasn't willing to take a chance on since I was to be under the direct sun in an arena with very limited access to bathrooms for at least 6 hours that afternoon. I made it back down to the main cathedral and the marketplace area (limited to pedestrian traffic) and took some pictures in the beautiful morning light. Got a few more shots of the Cathedral and the plaza area. It's a wonderful place to go for a walk.

 En El Centro de Juarez, MX

For a little while I was shadowed in my picture taking by three female tourists, two older ladies and a daughter of one. I spoke in my Spanglish to them and took some pictures of them in a few places. The daughter spoke to me in English, which I found pretty much everyone who spoke any English did for me when I began to struggle with words in Spanish or got verb tenses or forms obviously wrong. this is one of the differences between Mexico and France. The French are aggressive in their disparaging nature of someone's not having mastered the language, while the people of Mexico tend to be happy that you are trying to speak Spanish and helpful in making conversation easier.

Great morning, great pictures and nice conversations and interactions with folks this particular morning, but it was time to go get into a line and find a hat, as even by 8:30 AM no shops that had any decent hats were open.

I made my way east far beyond Hotel Tahoe and probably walked 3 miles or so to get into line for the Green ticket line, relying mostly on overheard Spanish language conversations to get my bearings and directions.

I bought a "Papa Francisco, Juarez" ball cap for about $4 in case nothing else was available. The intensity of the sun reminded me of when I stayed at Big Bend Ranch State Park for 3 weeks in September of 1998. No sunscreen was going to adequate on its own today, in a large field, with no shade. Just like an unpaved version of the Astrodome parking lot...
Here are pictures of several neighborhood churches I passed by on my walk.


Before I finally got to the end of the line, at least a mile from the entrance, and not fenced or gated, I had been able to purchase, for 100 pesos, a "Pancho Villa" style used sombrero from a man selling used hats. His cowboy hats included two "Rustler" brand high-crowned denim cowboy hats from the Urban Cowboy era that I would have loved to have rocked, but, as usual, my head is far too large. Measuring in at minimum 7 5/8 few hats in Mexico on the rack fit me.The straw sombrero I bought is one that stretched pretty well, so I was able to wear it over the ball cap I already had on. Otherwise being clothed in jeans, tall cowboy boot Noconas a white undershirt and a classic polyester Guayabera turned out to be the right combination to keep me from burning up. Heat-wise or sun-wise. I spotted one other guy looking quite so "unique" and he was another gringo muy alto.

Speaking of ethnic presence, I saw very few obviously Americanos there, and as I would see later, leaving town, it appears that there weren't that many people who crossed the border to attend in person, compared to the huge size of the overall crowd.

 To the left: a rare gringo wearing an old white guy style "Tilley Hat" y su familia. They stayed throughout and somehow wound up being near me the whole time. I did not get a chance to speak to them.

To the right: federal Police look for line cutters. Two older ladies, myself and a few others who had been in line for hours helped bust some line cutter near the front of the queque.

No cameras were allowed into the ceremony, although cell phones were. So the remainder of my photos were taken all on my Motorola phone.No real zoom feature, unfortunately.

Oh yes, I had to get back into Hotel Tahoe to drop off some trinkets and the camera and had a hard time getting my soldiers to agree to let me set foot into the zone I slept in for even a second. A local older gentleman who was very well dressed helped me convince them to let me throw a few things into the truck. Thanks, stranger!

Two hours or more in a steadily moving line of friendly people who were well behaved and enjoying the weather and the upcoming event kind of flew by. I bought a coffee (instant) and a large donut from a vendor who was walking by. There were vendors of all types selling everything I saw for sale was something I was grateful I wouldn't have to carry around for the next 9 hours. The sun was already beginning to affect some of the older folks, I could see. I wondered how our indoor, sedentary American society would have handled this kind of line. The more difficult situation was still ahead, in the park itself, with no trees, dust, intense sun, virtually no access to bathrooms, no vendors of any sort and EMS service there only to cart people out who couldn't handle it. I was mentally prepared to meditate for the upwards of four hours we would spend sitting and/or standing in one place waiting for the Pope to arrive and begin the two hour service.

Once the line progressed to where we were near the first entrance (pre search/metal detectors) things began to move fast. Confusion but mostly calm was prevalent. Military police with automatic weapons moved people along in a friendly fashion. I saw only one or two people even put up an objection to being moved quickly or in a direction they did not want to go. Nobody at all was taking any pictures at this point, and I was afraid to, since cameras were banned. Cell service went from OK to zero in the course of two blocks prior to entering the fairgrounds and having our tickets picked up and replaced with wristbands. My "seat" in F-3 changed in a second to a "seat" in H-1. Not too different, but the places pre-printed on the tickets obviously were completely meaningless.

Metal detection/search went quickly. Lineas a heysquierdo por las mujeres, to the right, for men only.
Last chance for bathroom. Slam your bottled waters. No containers of any type other than the tiny juice pouch given to you as your water was taken away. I used the bathroom, planning not to use it for another 6-8 hours, and despite my doubts several times during the ultra hot day while drinking water from the spigots provided, I did not need to urinate and did not until about 7 hours later or longer.

Once the group I was near and therefore in got settled into near the front of our corral named H-1 the video screens, barely visible in the intense sunlight, showed a previous speech from El Papa that was quite nice. I focused on the four hour delay between now and the appearance of El papa in no shade and shaded myself with my sombrero, sitting Indian style for 20 minutes or so, speaking to nobody, nearly sleeping several times sitting up, and occasionally standing and stretching out my legs for the next 2 hours or so.

Most of the music being played was some kind of strange generic church-pop that I was surprised about. I expected Gregorian chants and classic hymns, but got none of that.
The closest thing to traditional church music to me was a sing-along about midway through of "Cielito Lindo" that the band played. Overall, the music was underwhelming but OK.Mostly what I did from about Noon until 3:30 was try to stay out of the sun, conserve my mental and physical energy as much as possible, and keep my space in the crowd. The dust was Terlingua-style extreme, so I was sneezing a good bit, but thanks to some neighborly people. I had a supply of water as people going to get water from the spigot were bringing back extra cups for anyone and everyone around them.

I neither saw nor heard any arguments of any kind, and people were respectful of elderly folks, who had a battle to fight to even be there under that sun for that long.

As the arrival of Papa Francisco got close, I realized that my self-preservation efforts had succeeded. I was only slightly sunburned, and felt good. Did not have to pee and risk my entire ability to be in the area I was in to relieve myself, had water and did not feel dehydrated. I was offered burritos and emparedadas by several folks and turned them down; I was not really hungry and did not want to need water to digest anything. I was relaxed and felt that even if I had to do the whole Mass in the direct sun I would be fine, if not pretty well sunburned, by the time everything concluded.

Once it was announced that Papa Francisco was on his way there and would be there very soon, everything sort of becomes one thing; the service itself seems, in my mind, to have begun in some way. I will let the audio and video footage I have speak for itself for the most part, and will only say that the crowd of 200,000 plus was respectful, pensive, grateful and compassionate to each other and to the Pope. Kudos to the volunteers and to the state and local police who were courteous and well organized throughout the ceremony.

The statements made by the Pope in his sermon are well-documented. Thanks to his wonderfully calm,clear voice and excellent diction, I was able to understand nearly every word he said. This is a man who speaks in clear, simple words but makes strong statements. I particularly liked his words on the immigration and migrant crises, and his pointing out that these are global crises, not merely regional. His message of compassion and responsibility completely make sense to me and I was inspired by it. I was inspired by the Mass as a whole and by the people around me. There was incredible pride in Juarez, and in the event itself. There was so much love for Papa from people young and old, who braved the sun and travel from afar to witness this ceremony. I saw as many younger people wearing Hollister mall clothing as I saw old ladies wearing traditional clothing and everyone was paying attention, praying and singing.
The entire Mass was in Spanish. The only real trouble I had as far as the language goes was singing the hymns and speaking the recitations which I know only in English.

I saw a few people break down and weep during the day, but as I said before, overall the audience was in a sort of positive meditation as a group and was very calm and happy. It's very hard to describe exactly how this appeared, as I don't know that I've ever been a part of a very large group where the mindset was so relaxed and attentive at the same time.

 As the sun goes down, shadows and dust inhibit the camera...

The Pope arrives in The Popemobile!

 The Mass concluded with a traditional Catholic Communion,which for the audience was limited to wafers and water from the spigots. There was not enough for everyone to partake but nobody was bitter. The Pope had some great final words about hospitality and being neighbors to one another. Much more, much soul. People were very happy, as was I. The golden sunset provided an excellent way to see El Papa leave in his motorcade towards the airport.

Following that, the crowd scattered very slowly, as, unlike in the USA, the fairgrounds had very limited ingress and egress. It would have been scary if people had needed to leave faster. As it went, though, it was calm and people were friendly, even after being exhausted by the sun for hours and hours with no food, bathrooms and just some water to get through.

I walked around for a bit and was patient.

After leaving the fairgrounds, my mission was to get away from the giant crowds and also to get some good food. I walked fast and decided to head back to Calle Juan Gabriel to the same seafood place I went to the night before.

Blazing my way by walking fast and taking some side streets, I got to  the dinner spot right before the big crush of customers and had a shrimp dinner with a Topo Chico en una botella retornable. Bathroom break at 8 PM, about 7 1/2 hours after the last. By the time I returned from the restroom the palce was already full beyond capacity.

 I ate a delicious meal and witnessed hundreds upon hundreds of Mexican travelers from interior Mexico getting on buses near the International Bridge downtown to head home. I noticed far fewer people traveling over the bridge back to the U.S. and many of them were on foot as it was.

After I got back to Hotel Tahoe I crossed over with a one car wait at Bridge of the Americas/ Paisano Hwy 62 near downtown El Paso/ Chamizal. Very quick passage. I was shocked at the lack of US folks there and the border patrol guard actually laughed about it. They were expecting more from our side of the border, as was I. I assume most people watched it on TV or in the confines of the Sun Bowl, which the Pope referenced in his closing remarks.

A short word here- I am disappointed that I cannot upload the audio files I have of Papa Francisco speaking. Some really good stuff, but the main thing I wanted to demonstrate was the utter silence of 200,000 hanging on the words of a truly great speaker. A man with a wonderful voice and a strong but compassionate message.

 I can say that the overall experience I had here will stay with me forever. 36 hours in Juarez of wonderful people, a man close to God and to the masses. A message of compassion and an audience of gentle, calm people in numbers like I have never seen in person. Brutal heat that was tempered by a calm meditative energy exuded by people from multiple nations, on a border known for violence in recent years.
It was a fantastic blessing to be able to attend this Mass.
I will never forget it.

I made it home to Marfa after a large Iced Coffee at Starbucks Airway and some good conspiracy talk about Presidio County and Scalia on AM radio. By 2 AM I was back at the Airstream and in bed...

Thank you for reading this account. I am sorry I cannot add anything further, but Ii hope you enjoyed reading it.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Notes on Brewster County Democratic Primary Candidate Forum, Alpine, Feb 13th, 2:00 PM.

I attended the Candidate Forum hosted and moderated by Big Bend Gazette publisher John Waters at the Alpine High School Auditorium Saturday February 13th, 2016. Offices up for election include the regional 83rd District Attorney position. The territory for this election includes Brewster, Presidio, Pecos, and Reeves Counties. Current DA Rod Ponton is being challenged in the Democratic Primary by Alpine attorney Jaime Escuder. The winner of the Primary will face Republican nominee Sandy Wilson from Marathon in the general election this coming November.

I had to leave this meeting near the end of it when I was notified about the passing of Antonin Scalia. I had to make some phone calls and respond to some messages regarding the inquest, which I would have had to do if I hadn't already committed myself to attending this forum.

Here are the notes:

Brewster County Democratic Party Primary Elections Debate
Alpine ISD auditorium, February 13th, 2016. 2:00 PM

Candidates present:

District Atty race: Rod Ponton, Jaime Escuder
Brewster County Sheriff's race: Ronny Dodson, 
Brewster County Commissioner Pct 1 race: Angie Bermudez, Luc  Novovitch
Precinct 3 commissioner up for re-election Ruben Ortega present.

Not present: Commissioner Precinct One candidate Carlos Lujan, Brewster County Sheriff candidate Cornelio Vega.

John Waters, moderator

Questions limited to one minute.
Questions from the public. Questions should be directed towards policy, not towards the candidate.
Rebuttals allowed within certain parameters.

Mary Bell Lockhart asks everyone to check out some handouts available at back of the room, including precinct maps.

Beginning comments:

Includes unopposed candidates

Roy Ferguson: 
Says that Poncho Nevarez was on his way from Del Rio, but children got sick in the car ride, and he is going to miss. Sends message of thanks for support, talks about progress last session.
Ferguson thanks everyone for support in 2012. Talks about jury pools and case loads. Thanks also the legal community for their support. 
Talks about running for re-election and how running for re-election focuses on accomplishments. Speaks about the improvements his office has made in the last four years. Speeding up legal system, affordability issues. Digital conversion has been achieved. Judge-driven docket instead of atty driven. Change from the past.
Digital dramatically cut expenses. In-court technology upgrades.
Streamlined docket system, leaving more time for jury trials than ever before. 
Cases are now disposed in months rather than years. Goal is to dispose of cases as quickly as possible. Backlog has been eliminated.
Every verdict has been affirmed by the courts of appeals, criminal and civil. 
Court appointed counsel takes hours instead of days, weeks. 
Outside work helping educate the community about the legal system. 
Currently serving in second term of Court of Appeals in El Paso as a substitute.
Oversees County Auditors.
Gives thanks to the community for support and for voting.
End at 2:16

Betty Jo Rooney, Brewster County Tax Assessor.
Reviews roles of County tax office.
Can now offer quarterly payment options to senior citizens.
Escrow payments can be made as well. These are new advances.
Her office tries their best to assist everyone as much as they can. She has been a public servant for 30 years now. She and Leo Dominguez have seven Sul Ross students as asst deputy election administrators.
Urges everyone to vote.

Candidate opening statements: 3 minutes each

Rod Ponton: active Democrat for 23 years. Thanks all the elected officials, voters for their interest. Commends Brewster Co commissioners court. Thanks Ken DeHart, former district judge, who is present.
Says he knows almost everyone here personally. Moved to Alpine in 1957. Loves it here, thinks this is the best part of Texas.
People are the thing that help make this area special. 
Graduated from UT, went to Texas Tech law school. Practicing lawyer since 1982. Elected DA in 2012, has served as Presidio County atty and Presidio city atty.
Current with all dockets, works hard to bring justice to all victims of crime in district, the largest in Texas. Honored to serve.

Jaime Escuder: Agrees with Ponton that he, too, loves this area. Remarks that he works very hard every day trying cases as opposed to campaigning.
Doesn't feel like he is an outsider, but doesn't think that has anything to do with justice or the DA job, regardless.  DA office is very important. Must make sure that victims have recourse, but also that the office has utmost integrity.
The process of being indicted is the most important thing that can ever happen in an accused's life. Not to be taken lightly or for political purposes.
Humility is extremely important. Must be careful about the job as well as firm.
District 394- he believes we need a better DA office, focuses on increasing the reputation of the court system in this District. 
Requirement is justice, not necessarily number of  convictions. 

Questions from audience regarding DA

Oscar Cobos: wants to know about expertise versus beliefs. 
Favor and disfavor, beliefs matter, first question is regarding whether you believe in God and separation of church and state.
Ponton says he is a Christian, church member, believes in first amendment, also in practicing beliefs
Escuder says we have an obligation to live as morally as possible everyday in every way, preserve the habitat. Believes in Constitution of TX and USA

Second Cobos question: open meetings act violations have not been pursued. How much would you be willing to pursue investigations.
Ponton says he knows the act and will fully investigate any violation of act. No reports thus far, but would be investigated if they were.
Escuder says that he would definitely pursue charges is they were warranted by law enforcement investigation.

Barry Zavah: Asia about caseload. Ponton: What is the difference in caseload as compared to before your tenure? Escuder: what do think about cases not pursued by Ponton vs case pursued and any controversy?
Ponton: says victims had been crying out for justice, picked up old cases, reviewed them, pursued them. Channing Murry case referenced. Chacon case referenced by Ponton in bringing forth old cases, succeeding in convictions. District-wide pursuit of back logged cases. Over 300 cases back logged when he came into office. Took care of it.
Escuder: Speaks of indictments that have been possibly biased. Says that prosecutors have the power to indict and dismiss therefore there is no reason to be losing jury trials if the cases are not strong. Weak cases should either not be pursued, or should be negotiated to plea.  Says he would like to leave it to audience's own imagination as to why some things look bad.
Rebuttal from Ponton: says that jury outcomes have been presented by opponent as DA's fault. References Tony Flint case. Took case to trial to represent victim and family. Sister of Glenn Felts wrote a letter in support of the efforts by the DA's office. Grateful despite loss. Jury system has the opportunity to say not guilty. He is not ashamed of the system, despite disagreeing with the outcome. 
Escuder: Estella Watts DWI case, other cases that Escuder and Kirk Meade won that were not prosecuted properly.

Brian Shugart: do you believe in death penalty?
Ponton: yes, but in rare occasions.
Escuder: I will not avoid the question, despite opinions of public. Says he absolutely  does not believe in death penalty.

Sheriff Forum:
Ronny Dodson:
Opening statement. 
16 years, seeking fifth term. 
Took office 16 yrs ago and had substandard equipment. 
Developed impound lot to generate revenue to purchase equipment. Money is used for law enforcement purposes and and drug education. Chief deputy is great at managing grants. Putting together a great long term staff has been rewarding. 
Jail: has increased jail fund by nurturing relationship with Federal Marshals. Have increased yearly from $270,000 to over $700,000. 
Jail is successful for federal and local people.
Huge responsibility.
 Wants to continue on as Sheriff. Happy with the new commissioners court, has more to do in this job prior to being done with it. Opponent did not show up, but wants questions from the public anyway.
Questions from public:

Theresa Zelasny:
Asks questions about what the crosses on the vehicles mean to the Sheriff's office.

Dodson: says that the thin blue line on the crosses are pretty cool. Local person brought it to them. Whether you believe in God or not, nobody helps deputies when they are in the field. Situation can be scary. Feeling of divine person watching over them can be a help to individual officers.

Theresa agrees but she sees that sometimes a person of another faith could be made to feel like they may not be treated fairly. Disregard for separation of church and state? She thinks it's wonderful from a personal perspective to have faith. Is it best practice to appear as if beliefs could affect law enforcement activities?

Dodson: oh no, we don't feel like we would ever discriminate against everyone. Has nothing to do with anything but spiritual protection, mindful protection for officers. 
Border is not secure, it is dangerous, and extra security for people in the mind means a lot. Mentions Jewish friend who put cross on his own car to support law enforcement.

John Waters asks about Jewish friend: what about putting a Star of David or Muslim symbol on cars? Yes, I would says Dodson, as long as there is a thin blue line on it. 
Pressed further, Dodson says that he would not put a Muslim symbol on the car since that is not what he believes.

Ponton: says when issue arose, he took a picture, sent it to TX AG for an opinion. 
Recently a nativity scene on a courthouse lawn was ruled to be ok. 
Clarified to TX AG that Sheriff was not providing discriminatory service. Asked for opinion, but it is not DA's decision to make. Will comply with whatever decision comes down.

Escuder: says he does not believe and has never seen evidence that Sheriff Dodson discriminates, but would have strongly advised against it, since it could discourage people from contacting Sheriff, bring doubt about service. Even the hint of bias on public offices is not something he would encourage.

Question from Bernie Zelasny
Suggested in an email to sheriff to put a Co-Exist sticker on cars. Would he do that? Sheriff says yes, as long as there is a thin blue line. 

Congenial behavior amongst audience members.

Break for five minutes at 2:58.

Reconvene at 3:07

Commissioners Court pct 1

Angie Bermudez: opening statement
Glad to see everyone. Native of Alpine. Raised here, born in 1947, raised in Catholic School until third grade, tried public school. Went back to Catholic school. Later went to public school and played basketball. 
Sul Ross University majored in eduction, minor in Spanish. Enjoyed working as long distance operator. Zero dialing came in, she moved to teaching for a year. 
Assistant clerk at post office at Sul Ross. Worked as director for 35 years. 
City council at Alpine from 2009. Loved council so much she decided to try for commissioner. She loves challenges, knows it is harder than city. She wants to serve and promises to be great.

Luc Novovich- moved to Big Bend in 1998
Came to US in 1988. He and wife were in the news business. 
Marathon for fifteen years, moved to Alpine three years ago. 
Had been appointed last year by Judge Cano to commissioner. 
Very surprised to be chosen. Made it clear to Cano that if he was chosen he would not be a rubber stamp. Has not been. Open to compromise. Working on what's best for County. Baptism by fire with introduction of pipeline by company at his first meeting. Was blunt with the company. Pipeline has been one of his big issues, he has been insisting on safety and security after researching what his power really could be. 
He has a strong interest in improving the ambulance services, especially for long distance transport. Out of county transport by ground had not been available. Has now initiated a ground transport ambulance service at hospital.
Truly believes that locally democracy still exists. One of the last places for localized democracy.

Brian Shugart: question for Carlos Lujan (not here). Received a campaign flyer with serious accusations about current commissioners court. Wants to see proof of accusations because allegations are destructive. Unfounded accusations need to be addressed. Put up or shut up.

Waters: invites candidates to reply to Lujan's accusations. Does either candidate have any information regarding these accusations? "11 ghost employees stealing $50,000"
Novovich says he does not know the details on it, says it's important to know who is asking the questions, making the accusations. Novovich tried to speak to him about the allegations, Lujan said he would provide info, but never got it to him. Novovich thinks the new County Auditor would have found something, anything like this, she is very competent.

Sheriff Dodson: says that the allegations and that the incident in Terlingua when the former treasurer made accusations about all this that is was a blindside. 
Sheriff and commissioners called Homeland Security to get expertise. HSI and the bank determined that it was run of the mill attempted fraud by unknown people outside of county government. 

Novovich says that they were surprised at the commissioners court meeting in Terlingua when this was first presented by the treasurer. Says that with further investigation that it was determined that it couldn't have come from within the County. Lujan has been trying to turn it into a large conspiracy.

Dale Christopherson: question for Bermudez and Lujan. Concerning 2014 negative audit. Incumbent Novovich has been educated and responsive to these issues. How does it make sense to replace someone who is educated about this already? 

Bermudez: says audit speaks for itself, she has been through multiple audits. It speaks for itself, you read it, get in and fix things and try to improve for the future.

Novovich: says with all due respect this is from 2014, before the current commissioners court. Putting new policies in place by the new court includes knowing why things were not right, fixing these things through policy changes.
Says that problems are from throughout County government. Educational process about issues takes time, unity. New unified software system is a first step, a really good one. This is 2014 audit, 2015 may look worse. We are dealing with it

Bermudez: she knows about this audit. Her experience on the City council makes her qualified. She has been able to ore with things like this, she can do it as well as everyone else. Has a lot of education on this. 

Ruben Ortega: current commissioner making opening statements.
12th year Precinct 3, Marathon and all of eastern part of County, all the way down to Lajitas. Includes part of Alpine as well. Very vast territory. 
He works for propane company as well. Gives him a chance to see people and serve them in person. Sits on the board for Big Bend Community Action, Solid Waste Board.
Audit is an issue, new court is getting a good handle on the issues. New treasurer office will be a plus. 
County and City need to be working together with regard to road and bridge. Budget for roads is about $150,000 year. Lots of miles to cover with very little money.
He is mindful of the County as a whole.

Joseph Goldman:
Water issues. Nobody is talking about this. Thinks groundwater conservation district has made everybody concerned and has tried to get the TX Leg to enable local control, but now that pipeline is here, can anyone speak to the concern for water to accommodate the higher risks of the pipeline coming through? Water for grass fires? Noxious chemicals? Welding? Does Sheriff's office have a plan.

Ruben Ortega says that commissioners can only help water district. The state has this set up this way. As far as welding goes, all of it will be robotics and under a tent to discourage stray sparks. 

Novovich says that these questions are best for the water district board. They have had years to figure this out, and maybe they can address this. County can only assist and try to push issues. 
The county has very few powers regarding concerns about addressing pipelines, land rights, etc. County does have some power when it comes to specific projects, industries, etc. Not much with regulating water.
He brought attention to FERC about fire possibilities. We do not have the means to combat a major fire event. Also brought this to ETP. No answer from either thus far. Due to the nature of being in the middle of nowhere they may have the responsibility to provide their own service

Bermudez: says that since it looks like the pipeline is definitely coming that agencies should have a round table and try to plan for emergencies, contingencies. 
She believes that the area most likely cannot handle any major issues and we need to evaluate risks. She met with Carol's ambulance service and they were wanting to find out how to serve the area. Bermudez advised her and now the company is here to serve the area. Possible future expansion. Fire dept, hospital, water system, all are concerns.

Ronny Dodson: says he got a call ant sparks and high winds at Pumpco site. confirmed report. Emergency burn ban was issued by commissioners. 
Says that there will be a huge influx of unemployed oil field workers coming in for pipeline. Going to stress the criminal justice system. Says that the Pumpco bosses themselves are professional, but the labor crews are rowdy. Same everywhere.
Going to be really tough to handle any major emergency. Now and down the line like in Cuero.

Novovich: says that county has a professional emergency management coordinator. Has been asking Pumpco and ETP ant whether they will be having specialized trainings for gas/pipeline fires. Says that he himself asked for a Class 3 pipeline around Alpine and ETP agreed. Says that county and city do not have the dollars to provide a large emergency management system. Will have to tap private companies.

Bernie Zelasny: 
Concerns about pipeline. Says that he understands that once pipeline is built it will be a local emergency management issue. No support from ETP after construction. Is there a way to force entities to provide manpower and/or equipment in an emergency.

Ortega: there's not much there to force them to do anything. They are regulated by state and Feds. We will have to pressure them and make do with hat ever small extra monies we get from the pipeline and use money judiciously.

Novovich: he asked ETP what the blast radius of a pipeline explosion would be. No answer.
Cuero blast radius was 1200 feet and grass ignited 1600 feet away from blast. Same company, same size. 
Says that pipeline project was planned by very smart people who are connected and wise. They have the regulators on their side. What do we get out of it? Not a lot, but high tech remote controlled valves and state of the art safety equipment. That is it. 

Bermudez: agrees with other commissioners. Money talked in the case of the pipeline. 

Zelasny comments about FERC review: is there a chance that the county would support the new efforts by the BBCA trying to sue the FERC?

Novovich says that he has to represent both the people who oppose and also those who support the pipeline. His ethics make his focus on safety, technical aspects. Legal aspects with regard to County.

-- Apologies, everyone- at this point I was notified about the situation concerning the Antonin Scalia inquest at Cibolo and had to leave the meeting to take telephone calls and messages.---

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Presidio County Conflict of Interest Policy

Scanned here is the current Conflict of Interest Policy for Presidio County employees, department heads, and elected officials.
At this time of writing, most everyone who should have signed this document and turned it in has done so.
One notable exception if Sheriff Danny Dominguez, who has not. It has also been relayed to the Treasurer's Office that the Sheriff has stated that he will not sign this policy.

Please read the policy and perhaps you, the reader, can help shed some light as to why our elected Sheriff refuses to sign the policy.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Marfa City Council Agenda February 9th 2016, 6 PM, City Hall

Notes on Marfa City Council meeting February 9th, 2016 6PM

Here are my notes on the Marfa City Council Meeting February 9th, 2016 at Marfa City Hall.

City of Marfa Council Meeting 02/09/2016 6PM, Marfa City Hall

All council members present. City Administrator Jim Mustard present. City Atty Teresa Todd present.

Convene into meeting at 6:00.

Citizen comments:
Melissa Bent : requests that city create or reconstitute a citizen feedback committee regarding law enforcement. Sheriff's office is not responsive and she would like for council to consider having a way for citizens to file grievances.

David Beebe: brings up that County did not approve the City's contract for law enforcement. Main reasons were that Sheriff had not provided any information to commissioners, including whether or not he had even seen the contract, and that commissioners wanted to be certain that the terms in the contract specifying financial reporting to the City on how City's dollars are accounted for is followed. This is because the Sheriff's Office refuses to provide these same numbers to the Commissioners. Beebe also supports having a way for citizens to file comments on law enforcement activities within the city, contrasted for by the City.

Item 4: Approve minutes:

Item 5: Mayor's Report: 
New ambulance update. Mayor and Bert LaGarde will travel to Houston to meet with Frazer co to specify ambulance order. Process will be on its way at that point. Funds for travel will be paid by grant fund. Proposal for radio addition is approx $4700. Radios to be installed and programmed by mid-May. Ambulance could arrive as early as mid-July.

Administrator's Report:
One matter: City of Andrews TML meeting. Registration needed by Thursday. Baeza will attend, Simpson will attend, Bassham will attend, Mayor will not, Mustard will attend. Scott and Stanley unknown.
Trip starts the 19th. Bid openings for library project same afternoon at 3 PM
City atty will open bid.
Senior citizens meal program. City contracts with RGCOG to serve food at MAC. Portions, menu, execution requirements set by the COG. 
There is paperwork involved as a recipient of the program to allow participation. 
Currently about 20 meals on wheels. Highest number of served in person is 24. 
Mustard says there is one new person who wants to be a congregate member at MAC. It is to the city's benefit to have more people right now.

Texas Railroad Commission. Gas company problems. TRRC assessed a penalty of $2500 yesterday for a violation from last year. Dig test controversy regarding Coke drilling by contractor on city streets. Request for dig test was for 75 feet from that point. Contractor drilled hole in wrong place, outside of 75 foot radius. Mustard protested to RRC and they dismissed the fine but still assessed a violation. RRC says that because city marked some lines outside of 75 feet but not all then city was still in violation. Frustrating. No penalty outside of a violation on record. 
Dealing with TRRC becomes harder everyday.

Simpson asks about West Stripes easement situation. Concrete over gas line. Resolved. Library position still open. Four or five applications have been received.
New gas line will be put in out to the field.
What about railroad containers? Are they the same thing as travel trailers? No, not a mobile home as defined by HUD. City does not have architectural controls. 20 unit container hotel has been approved in front of Pizza Foundation building. 

Item 7- no council member comments, no presentations, 

New Business:

Item 1- Discussion with action regarding Hotel Paisano outdoor signage. Mustard says city has both an electric sign ordinance and an outdoor lighting ordinance. Outdoor lighting ordinance is detailed. 
Joe Duncan has asked to have item tabled. Design changes. 
Design is to replace the original long gone sign on top of the Paisano Hotel. 
In this situation Mustard would usually call Observatory. Bill Wren from Observatory has been working with designers to get this sign into good graces with Observatory. 
Mustard has item on agenda since it will still not comply to the word with existing outdoor lighting ordinance. Item will appear on a future agenda once it is ready.
Item tabled unanimously.

Item 2- Malorie Cano to use USO for wedding on March 12, 2016 without charge. Death bed marriage for Ms. Cano. Tragic story. Deposit has already been made. Manny Baeza moves to waive fee. Mark Scott seconds. Regular fee for use with kitchen is 480. Unanimous.

Item 3- Resolution 16-01 to designate admin and engineering service providers for 2015 CDBG . Replacing Yale St from Galveston to San Antonio and Galveston St from Yale to Hoover St. Two blocks total. Jerry Carvahal from Grantworks is here on behalf of Grantworks. Only one proposal received. From Grantworks. Two proposals received for engineering. Parkhill Smith and Cooper scored best and is recommended by Mustard, Dunlap and Peter Stanley, scoring committee.
Manny Baeza wants to review scoring sheets. Given sheet to review. 
Other engineering bid was from Burgess our of Midland. Does work for Davis County.
Awarded as recommended. Scott makes motion, Bassham seconds. All in favor minus Manny Baeza dissenting.

Item 4- Resolution 16-02 to designate signatories for contractual documents for above Grant activities. Approved. Mayor, city administrator and Councilmember Peter Stanley reviewed items. Josie Simpson asks why the rest of council was not included. Just asking, not demanding.

Item 5- Resolution 16-03 adopting required CDBG civil rights policies. Passed from HUD to state to city in order to qualify for grant funding. Jerry Carvahal clarifies this. 
Includes excessive force policy re: law enforcement. Complaint procedures.
April to be declared "Fair Housing Month" as well as part of the requirements.
Approved. Unanimous.

Item 6- Resolution 16-04 designating a planning service provider for the 2015 CDBG Planning and Capacity Building Fund Contract 7215114. City long term planning requirement. One proposal received from Grantworks. Produces long term goals, creates map to be posted. Approved unanimously.

Item 7- Resolution 16-05 designating signatories for 2015 CDBG Planning Capacity a Building Fund Contract.
Mayor, city administrator and Peter Stanley. Manny Baeza would like to add at least one name. Checks require two signatures. Simpson recommended. She moves to adopt as presented without adding her name. Unanimous.

Item 8- Monthly Revenue and Expenditure Reports and Accounts Payable Reports.

Simpson wants to know what vehicle service receipts are for. All vehicles combined are on invoice.
Odessa mechanical bill for water system repair parts.
Stalker radar- vendor. Municipal Court purchased two radar units for traffic tickets.
Sheriff's office. City purchased for Sheriff's Office. 

Mayor mentions professional services agreement- code enforcement fees are applied there, not budgeted there. Melendez is working as a contractor, not an a ploys. 
Page five has radar expense. Technology fund expense from minus court.
Ambulance EMS vehicle maintenance budget over. $2000 for Dodge repairs on big ambulance. Work done was diesel exhaust fluid system refurbishment, other repairs. 
Facility rental- $11,232 for year to date to city.
Recycling program- money is available through solid waste grants at RGCOG. Budgeted $5000 but could be more. Mark Scott interested in a citywide cleanup. Possible free roll-offs to be place around city for large trash. Run about $1500 per roll-off. Something to consider. Normally city does tire collection but there are not as many as usual at the composting area. 
City can use employees to help collect trash for citywide cleanup and pay them wages as part of grant funding. Volunteers plus city workers could get a good bit done. 
Conversation about when, what day of the week. Best for weekends for volunteers. 

Natural gas utility: cold weather coming up, Nat gas sales are not too good this year thus far. Hopefully boosted up soon, but for year will probably be below original budget projections.
Rental income from USO and MAC going well, still some empty dates during busy seasons. Simpson brings up AC/Heat repair/replace upgrade at MAC as a potential project soon. Wants to place it on next agenda to discuss air conditioning for MAC.

Approved unanimously

Adjourn at 7:03 PM

Notes on Presidio County Commissioners Court meeting Feb 9th, 2016, 9 AM, Marfa

Here are my notes on the meeting, as taken.
Noteworthy in a general sense is Commissioner White turning in his County gas card and County issued truck at the end of the meeting and getting a ride with someone else once it was revealed that grant funded vehicles not reassigned by the granting agency (HSI or DPS) for non law enforcement purposes are being used illegally if not being used for law enforcement purposes. Word is that the situation regarding the grant funded vehicles will be clarified by the overseeing agencies at a meeting on March1st.

Presidio County Commissioners Court 2/9/2016 9AM Marfa

All present

Public Comments:
Barbara Baskin: re: block grant. Will comment later

Oshwanna White Eagle submitted an item for agenda, not approved by a commissioner, will not be presented today. Judge confirms that items not approved by commissioners will not be presented. Regarding item number seventeen. Error, was not approved.
Native American, "sovereign citizen". Judge clarifies that a request must be filed with and approved by a member of commissioners court. White Eagle says that she assumed that she was on the agenda. John Fowlkes clarifies that each agenda item needs a sponsor. Giving her an opportunity to leave the information for inclusion next time. Leaves room. 

Announcements from County Judge
Casa Piedra: inquest. Presidio ambulance called and said it was not their area. Marfa ambulance came. Citizens of Casa Piedra concerned about coverage. Hernandez says it's between the cities. Judge says it is generally understood that Marfa goes to Casa Piedra since it is easier to get there from Marfa. White says that we should maybe give dispatchers better instructions. Judge predicts this issue will come up again.
THSSAA grant. List of deficiencies. Mileage logs not being maintained despite commissioners court edict. Have until March 1st to come up with corrective action plan. Judge says that everyone needs to cooperate and keep mileage logs; it is part of the manual for the grant programs. Aranda wants to know if every County vehicle I going to be included. OMB officers say that all county vehicles must have logs. 

Conflict of interest policies must be completed and turned in immediately. All dept heads. Passed by commissioners court and was due last month.

Candelaria water issue: citizens of Candelaria need to have a vote on the issue, and then Stormy needs to go to El Paso to take his class for the Class D license. People down there are interfering with Stormy's work on the chlorination system. People are clipping the lock, breaking in and adding extra chlorine. Hernandez says they know who is doing it, deputy says that he feels there is some general dispute regarding water system supervision. Judge wants to have a meeting down there.

Commissioners announcements: None

Executive Session: real estate issues. Convene into executive session at 9:20.

Reconvene into regular session at 9:38 AM
Action regarding possible land sale item 6 (see agenda for description)
Judge makes a motion to deed the property to Jeff Fort contingent on paying four years of back taxes. Motion carries. Unanimous.

Item 7- excess phone lines billed to County. Katie Sanchez presents.
List of phone lines includes lines for multiple departments, land lines, fax lines, cell phones, phone allowances, jet packs for Sheriff's Office for CopSync. Inactive CopSync feature since although lines activated, no CopSync corresponding equipment has been installed in Sheriff's Office cars.
Four employees get cell phone allowances. $30/month. One commissioner, south Constable, county clerk, and county AG agent.
Katie recommends cutting ten land lines. She says most offices have one fax and one main line. Sheriff's office has more, some affiliated with 911. 
Judge Bishop has an Internet and land line at her home paid for by County so she can access to work items. Hernandez says she should pay for her own internet per month. Paid for out of technology fund for JP 2. Cut judge's IPad phone access for tethering. 
Treasurer's Office has been researching long distance charges. Progress made. 
Possible long term contract issues. Katie speaks about using cell phones for long distance, since it is free. White says that he has talked to Big Bend Telephone and they are moving forward with plans to serve County. Will be making presentation. Judge says that if County decides to go with Big Bend Telephone they can have us set up and going by May. Katie says that ATT contract would be one year contract. 
Hernandez asks about doing away with land lines and moving long distance to cell phones. Multiple issues with land lines, land lines more secure, according to County Atty. There are certain requirements legally. Katie says there are ten lines that can be eliminated right now. 
Hernandez brings up JP 2 home internet. It is paid out of dedicated JP tech fund. Judge Guevara questions home usage. Commissioners generally agree.
Hernandez wants to wait on signing up for new contracts until situation with Big Bend Telephone is clarified. Fowlkes mentions that Big Bend Telephone internet is close to 20 times faster (100 MB) than what we have.
Virgie Pallarez asks about getting a cell phone and using it for long distance and eliminating a land line. Some discussion. Judge wants to wait on what Big Bend a telephone tells the County. Judge makes motion to disconnect ten phone lines as described by OMB.

Item 8- requires commissioners court approval before dept heads can modify any utility, phone agreements.

Item 9- executive session- not happening, judge explains that exec session not necessary as per statutes. Makes motion to stay in open court. Approved. TCDBG
Redford Water Supply Corporation. Water facility improvement came Norwich. Proposal from Grantworks. Jerry Carvahal is here. Engineering services proposal. 
Six admin firms had been contacted for proposal requests as per grant requirements. Was also advertised in paper. Questions from Jim White about notification to firms. Apparently not satisfied with having only one submission. Firms were notified by email by judge's clerk Crystal Funke. 
Patty Roach clarifies that county purchasing policy requires that contract bidding process goes through OMB. Carvahal says this is not for construction, just engineering. Goes through how prices has been in the past and how the grant requires it. 
Patty says that an Request for Proposal should have been sent out marked as such and should have come before commissioners court before being advertised. This is likely a requirement that has not been followed in the past and the county's purchasing policy now says this is the way it has to be done. Nobody is necessarily to blame. 
Jerry C says that this has not been brought before commissioners and has not been in the last three years, since the policy has been adopted.
Aranda says that commissioners want to do this the right way. Carvahal says that the only thing that wasn't done here was that commissioners did not approve the RFP.
Two proposals wee received, one from Grantworks and one from Ramon Carrasco. 
Patty wants to know who was on the proposal review committee. Answer is commissioners court. Has not reviewed this one proposal. Patty says that if there is even just one proposal the committee needs to review it.
Fowlkes says that more firms can be contacted I case the County wants more proposals to review. 
Patty says that the review proposal that was received after the due date cannot be accepted (Carrasco's). 
Aranda would like this to be considered next meeting. There are due dates involved for the project as a whole. One more month is probably OK to wait. Try to receive more proposals, review this properly.
Patty says that state requirements are minimum, but is County policy is more stringent, commissioners has to go with the more strict requirements. She has an overall concern about the County following the words of the adopted purchasing policy on a consistent basis. 
White wants to call a special meeting do that the project can get started. The work needs to be done. Aranda agrees. Carvahal has no problem making a special meeting. 
General agreement among commissioners. More proposals require county to re-advertise, start process over again. How much time will this take? Need to place ad today for this week's paper, at least ten days to process proposals. Judge says there is enough time, Carvahal not sure. Talk about paper's deadline. 
Fowlkes says that following the policy is extremely important. Patty is becoming the enforcer on commissioners' passed resolutions. Not totally fair to auditor. Commissioners should follow their own requirements without needing auditor to enforce it on them. Commissioners state that they are happy about having a check and balance on them. White and Hernandez agree that they need to be corrected at times, and they are grateful. Patty stresses that commissioners are going to need to get more familiar with adopted County policy regarding purchases and other items.
Patty discusses the general process of scoring grant proposals. 
Fowlkes says that Carvahal has helped educate County on the process, but now County and OMB need to run the process themselves. Patty agrees. 
Patty recommends tabling item and restarting process. Talk about advertisement wording, dates. Procurement of engineering piece of contract must be completed by March so that environmental reviews, other state requirements can be met by overall deadline. Further discussion regarding scoring sheets, committee, etc.
Motion to table made by Aranda. Unanimous. Process will start over again.
Barbara Baskin here with comment, called on by Judge Guevara.
Barbara says she is providing information from people including herself and her neighbors about effects of project. She requests notification about project when it begins. She says they have had a problem with the engineering firms selected in the past. Refers to a supposed "list of three" engineers that can be approved by commissioners. She sees a cozy relationship between state regulators and engineers, and also between county and Grantworks, Ramon Carrasco. Jerry intervenes with a comment denying involvement in a particular project.
Baskin says that at this point they are receiving damage to properties from the last county grant project. Lots of work to repair damage by rains and still cannot find why certain roadwork along waterways was done. She requests that the County selects someone to come look at the work done and evaluate the situation. Destruction to habitat, waterways. Would like continued and greater communication between county and parties. Says that their executive secretary for their water group does not share much info. More stories, etc...
Ramps put in for roadways have blocked eszekias. Virgie Pallarez gives Baskin one minute notice. She continues. Baskin advocates for more checks and balances in grant project admin. Time called by Judge.

Item 10-12 related to tabled item 9. Tabled.

Item 13- Burn Ban order. Gary Mitschke presents. Shows conditions of fuel on ground. Says that it is at the highest level. Comparable to the worst on record, Rock House Fire year of 2010. Weather conditions such as temp and wind put county into extreme risk currently. White says he has no doubt ban is needed. Talks about agricultural burns in Presidio Valley. Gary says valley is exempt from contacting county about burns. 
Rest of county must contact county to inform of controlled burns. 
Gary would like Presidio Valley to make clear match with Presidio Fire Dept notification of burns. White disagrees, says that farmers in the valley are responsible and they have been doing this for 300 years and have no troubles. Gary says this is really for informational exchange. White wants to remove the stipulation of requiring Presidio Valley contacting. Gary doesn't fight it hard. Hernandez clarifies that this is really just for informing the FD of fires, not to regulate AG burning. Gary says yes. Aranda asks more about that, wants to be sure nobody would be denied burning for agriculture.
Says as long as there is not regulatory power, he has no problem. White agrees. 
White sees no potential in Presidio for a huge fire. Doesn't necessarily have a problem with farmers making a call. Loretto Vasquez chimes in with a general agreement.
Ban to be effective today, Feb 9. Will last 90 days. White makes motion to adopt but that farmers in Presidio Valley not prohibited but only need to call fire chief in Presidio to inform of agricultural burns. Seconded by Vasquez. 
 Five minute break at 11:06 AM
Reconvene at 11:27 AM

Skipping to item 27-
Executive session regarding contract airports management with Big Bend Flight Support. No executive session as per local govt code. Motion to deliberate in open court. Motion carries.
Contract proposal from Big Bend Flight Support.
Auditor speaks referencing purchasing policy.
Says that this is over $50,000, must be bid in formal bidding process.
Must be advertised, RFP issued, etc.
Chase Snodgrass speaks. 
Says that it has been advertised properly twice in the past. Has documents to support this. Dates are Oct 2013 and May 2014.
Aranda asks to table. Aranda asks about commissioners court involvement regarding past advertisements. Chase as he does not recall exact details. 
White says either way court will have to table item. Says there is a out to this, commissioners are not likely prepared to move on this thing. Needs auditor input. 
Auditor brings up that ads were for FBO and contract is for manager.
Chase says his proposal is for above and beyond requirements of an FBO. Patty brings up potential conflict of interest in that county employee who manages the process of advertising and writing up proposal being the bidder. 
Fowlkes says that there hasn't been a vote to decide that contractual management of airports management is what the county wants. After that is decided or not decided then advertising and RFPs issued. He doesn't know of this ever being decided. 
Hernandez asks about Hugh Howard's contract. Fowlkes says that Howard's contract was canceled and airport manager (county employee) controlled fuel sales. County does it in house. 
Foelkes says that this contact has many differences from Howard's old contract that was canceled. This contract is different. If commissioners want to we can go line by line. Or to table since this has not even been decided to pursue a proposal. 
Patty Roach says that regardless she feels that decision has not been made. Fowlkes says old ads are completely insufficient. Patty Roach says that conflict of interest is inherent.
Chase asks for confidentiality. Fowlkes says that only if County is put into a position of detriment then confidentiality applies. Says this is not a traditional FBO contract. Chase agrees.
Patty says that if everyone agrees that this is not a traditional FBO contract then new RFP and advertising needs to reflect this.
Hernandez recommends that airport manager recommend a route. Is this a great conflict? 
Patty says that she will have to review the policy.
Fowlkes says that inherently Chase has a conflict since he is the current airports manager, grossly, inherently. Even bringing this up shows the inherent conflict. 
Judge Guevara makes a motion to table. 
Patty says that tabling doesn't address that the commissioners have not even presented that they are looking for this type of agreement. 
Fowlkes says that in addition to even asking for this, the County will need to delineate what type of parameters would need to to met to turn over the county's assets and exclusive access to fuel sales, airport facilities. This is a hugely valuable asset, and there are multiple issues. Proposals, requests for proposals should have guidelines to attract bidders and make stipulations and requirements clear. 
Aranda talks about the past, how the county made very little money.
White asks if the Tim should be tabled or no action. Hernandez is concerned that no action taken could make this not come up again. Judge says that new item or same item could be placed on a future agenda. White says that purchasing policy and conflict of interest policy need to be consulted. Fowlkes questions whether county wants to give up revenue to have someone else run airports. 
White makes motion for no action. 
Aranda brings up conflict of interest policy. We need to stick with it and also with purchasing policy.

Item 14- executive session re: sealed bid for property in Presidio at 1500 Anderson. 
No executive session. Sealed bid.
Open session. White says that he though commissioners had agreed to hold on to that property until development around the area shows whether the county has a better use. Motion for no action by White, unanimous.

Item 15- Total ID Solutions for technical support contract. Been in use for employee IDs and school IDs through sheriff's office. At jail and for school children. Tech support renewed yearly. White makes motion, unanimous.

Item 16- Dome visitation hours. Judge makes motion for no action. Unanimous.

Item 17- motion for no action, proper procedure placing on agenda not taken. Unanimous.

Item 18- discussion with action to approve certification of me funds and increase county expenditure budget for maintenance projects.
Patty presents and recommends action to increase budget for projects that were not budgeted. Insurance funds received and unbudgeted will cover expenses. 
White makes motion to approve. Seconded by Hernandez. Unanimous 

Item 19- vending machine income for Coke machine at courthouse to be added to budget. Last year funds were deposited. No reflection in budget. Approx $2000 in and out per year. Money will go into vending machine fund. Small profit goes into general fund. Hernandez suggests spending budget items on a party or something. Frances Garcia says the money made is so small that it won't even pay for a party. Profit of $7/case. Not much money. Judge makes motion to approve as presented. 

Item 20- payment to Horton Stack Door Company.
Patty presents. Door for airport hangar. 20% down payment already paid to vendor.
Payment due within five days of receipt and acceptance of doors. Wants approval with a not to exceed amount so when doors show up will not need a special meeting to approve. White asks what exactly she wants. Patty Repeats.  Aranda makes motion. $14,885.00 unanimous

Item 21-  payment from jail fund to "Correct Solutions" invoice for $800. 
Last year's invoice was paid out of jail fund, should be paid out of sheriff's commissary fund. Patty recommends that commissioners court direct sheriff's office to cut. Check from commissary fund to jail fund to correct. Unanimous.

Item 22- Interlocal law enforcement agreement between Presidio County and City of Marfa. Same as previous contract except sheriff's office will need to enforce more 
White brings up that contract requires activity and financial reports to City of Marfa. Says that city has not received reports, county never receives reports. Wants to be sure that if contract is agreed to that reports are given. Pointless to enter into a contract that is not enforced. Judge says she has not talked to Sheriff about this. Sheriff not here, no representative from Sheriff's office here to speak on this. Commissioners unsure of whether Sheriff has even seen the contract. Judge says she doesn't know. Aranda agrees that anything in the contract should be enforced, including financial reports. 
Aranda asks whether Sheriff has seen the contract. Unknown. Vasquez makes motion to table until Sheriff approves, agrees that all stipulations of contract need to be followed if agreement is reached.

Item 23- long distance phone logs to be submitted monthly to treasurer. Judge says she believes some abuse has taken place. Judge has followed up on this and fund abuses exists. To deter abuse, phone logs will need to be kept. Dept heads and employees will be responsible for phone calls, authorizing phone calls. 
Frances Garcia says a lot of long phone calls are being made and they are personal in nature. Repeat offenses. 
Coming from certain offices.
Virgie wants to know how this log is supposed to work. 
Judge says she has examples and recommendations. Gives examples.
Vasquez wants to know about realistic compliance. Judge says at least we can know.
Only for long distance, not for local calls. Bills have been up to $2800 per month.
Discussion between commissioners.
Vasquez asks about a cell phone for each office and block long distance from land lines. Back to issue of research on Big Bend Telephone. In the meantime, commissioners support phone logs for long distance.
Hernandez wants to know what consequences would be for no log. Asks Frances. She does not know. Asking John Fowlkes. Fowlkes says it's not technically stealing unless very specific wording is adopted. Patty says that it is helpful for audit purposes. Maybe not enforceable technically, but provides a check at least. Patty says maybe there is not a consequence right now but it can have results nonetheless. It is a deterrent.
Consider consequences once first step here is taken if violations occur. 
Judge makes motion effective immediately, by the fifth of the month. Unanimous.

Item 24- 
Approve hiring of personnel for maintenance worker. Executive session at 12:15 PM. Facilities manager Sam Cobos present for session.
Reconvene into open session at 12:48 PM.
Cobos wants to hire Caesar Quintana for position. Approved

Item 25- courthouse janitorial position. Currently temporary and part time, Sam Cobos requesting to have budget increased to full time and permanent. Katie says it is not an emergency, not able to amend budget unless permanent. Fences wants to know is he has anyone in mind. No, says Cobos. Frances says that Sam says position has to be advertised, but other position just approved was not advertised. Fair? John says positions do not have to be advertised, but being fair is best. Sam says position had been advertised weeks back and no applicants. Luckily found some folks anyway.
Judge motions to keep it at temporary part time basis. Unanimous.

Item 26- water well at Presidio airport. Chase presents that there is no water there, only a tank he provided. Water wells are listed as eligible for RAMP grants. PMDD met and budgeted to pay half the local match. Fifty percent would be paid by TXDOT grant. Espy Howard says he can drill, hit water. Costs would be within budget, but there is a risk of dry hole.  $47,000+ for large casing drill. Does not include pump. 
$12,500 out to county. 400 feet deep well recommended. 6 5/8 and 8 5/8 width. 
White wants to know how deep Chase is willing to go. Sometimes water is less deep, sometimes deeper, costs vary.
White recommends drilling well and hopes that water could serve other entities near there for other customers. White says you can drill its smaller bit, ring it if need be.
Vasquez asks about wells drilled nearby. Chase says that some wells have been drilled and are operational. Not many. Rio Grande river aquifers extend approx ten miles from river banks in varying formations. White says it's risky, very. But if you hit water it will be well worth it, says risk is worth it. Aranda says that there are functioning windmills nearby, good drinking water. White recommends stopping drilling at first good water.
Patty says that this is close to $50,000 total price, which is cap, regardless of who pays, for bid process. Be careful. White says there are many variables so it's hard to predict. White says that Chase can go ahead and put it out for bid. County does not have to take lowest bid, but process is required if project exceeds $50,000. Pump is separate project. Well casing begins at sand level, about 210 feet down. 
White says that you should not be limited to a specific depth. Sole source specification discussed to avoid bid process. Chase says Espy Howard is only driller who wants to drill this well. Skinner says he does not want to do it, does not have the right equipment. Discussion regarding bid specifications... Residential well would be sufficient for airport alone. 20 gallons/minute more than enough. Patty recommends motion to proceed with bid process. Judge moves to approve bid process. Will come back to commissioners court after RFP settled on. Seconded by Hernandez. Unanimous.

Item 27- already covered

Item 28- reassign vehicles to other county departments. Judge says that county has to contact state first for any grant funded law enforcement vehicles. State has check on that. State will reassign, or if they do not need it then commissioners court can do it. 
White asks about reassigning a vehicle which has already been reassigned. Discussion as to whether that has ever been done properly. Referencing single audit. Judge says that she sat down with reps from state and was given specific instructions regarding any and all grant funded law enforcement vehicles. Katie Sanchez says county will have to go back and do that process correctly.
White wants to discuss the trucks that are obviously not being used by law enforcement, including command center van. Judge says that the county can't necessarily say that the vehicles will not be needed. White wants to know if the truck he drives can be reassigned. Katie says that the process will have to be redone regardless of who is driving it. Says that all those vehicles are still on the grant funded list. Aranda wants to know process. Do commissioners have to talk to Sheriff to see which ones they are "using" and which are not being used. State can reassign vehicles to other counties that may need law enforcement vehicles. 
White asks if he is driving his county issued truck illegally. Judge says that this has come up recently, she is putting county on notice. Yes, if trucks were not reassigned by state to commissioned they are driving trucks illegally. Judge needs to make a written request to state to reassign to county. 
Aranda discusses the way Sheriff used to assign vehicles after two years to various people. Katie says that Stonegarden grants work differently. White asks about me truck last year Sheriff bought without permission from general fund. Can it be reassigned? Yes, says Katie.
Aranda says that they can reassign any non grant funded trucks to county. White says he wants to reassign that brand new truck today. Hernandez wants to know of there is a list as to where all the vehicles came from. Katie says most came from Stonegarden. 
Stonegarden trucks have a plaque inside the door stating they came from HSI. 
March 1st report to HSI and DPS is due.
White makes motion to have a list of these vehicles and where they came from so that we know what we can and can't do by next meeting. Loretto agrees. OMB and Treasurer make list of different categories of grant funded vehicles including general fund vehicles and how they are being used. Re-states motion as such. Unanimous.

Administrative Session- White makes motion to approve all reports from "A to R"
Judge disagrees. Do not have tax assessor report because month has not been closed out yet. Table tax assessor report. Want to hear auditor's report. No activity report from Presidio EMS despite writing a letter asking them to submit a report. Aranda says there has been some confusion, this time they only sent a financial report, not an activity report. Need to send both, Marfa EMS sends both. Judge does not want to approve that report. 
Auditor says she has already presented, for the most part. 
Approve "A through R" with exceptions. 

Jail Report- Gracie Parras, jail administrator presents. 
Pop. 78 currently. 72 Feds, 2 Jeff Davis Co.
Says that repairs have been mostly completed but constant issues. Jail standards came Jan 29 to inspect. In compliance.
Vasquez says he is constantly concerned about having a regular maintenance person. Gracie says she has advertised for maintenance permission, no responses. 
Jail transport- Gracie says that everyone is doing it. She and Sgt Fox often have to do it. White asks about who watches jail when top two people are running prisoners. Gracie says there are two people on the floor. What about emergencies? She says they have to handle it.
Vasquez asks about compensation for running prisoners. The marshal time is better paying. She says that people, including herself, clock t of county time and clock in on marshal time. If not on county clock, they clock in on marshal time. 
Grace says she is three short on jailers. $15 hour, no applicants because people don't want to work night shift. Gary Mitschke asks about dispatchers. Just hired two more. Up to date on employees for dispatch service. Judge asks about meals during transport. County pays meals. Patty says that marshals do not pay employees directly, county pays employees and marshals reimburse pay and mileage. Month of Jan just over $141,000 billed to marshals. Hernandez wants to know what the inmate count for breaking even is. She says less than 45 is not optimal. Trend is upward right now. Report finished.

Judge makes motion to approve all reports A through R. Unanimous

Item 30-
Line item transfers:
Uniforms for PISD police part time Sheriff's Office employees. From abandoned motor vehicle fund. From fuel to Misc in Sheriff's Office. For membership dues.

White motions to approve. Unanimous
Katie Sanchez says that form for reporting for outside entities does not work for inside entities. Need a form for financial reporting for in house parties.
Commissioner White turns in his county gas card to Frances Garcia. Does not want it or his county issued truck.

Item 31-Bills and expenses:
Hernandez makes motion to approve bills. Unanimous.

Item 32- approve minutes from previous meetings. Jan 12, 26
Motion to approve made by White. Seconded by Vasquez. Unanimous

Item 33- Adjourn. Judge thanks assistant Crystal Funke for helping with meetings, documents, lunch, etc. Applause.
Adjourned at 1:49 PM