Wednesday, May 09, 2018

Notes on Presidio County Commissioners Court Meeting, Thursday May 3rd, 2018, 8:30 AM, Marfa

I knew I was going to make some comments regarding the moving of County Attorney Rod Ponton’s Presidio Annex office into a building that was to also house his private practice since Rod and I had a heated disagreement the weekend before in a public place about the ethics of it, and since I can’t talk and write at the same time, I recorded that part of the meeting and transcribed approximately ten minutes from voice recorder, hence the actual verbatim quotes in that part of the notes. Thanks for reading. -DB

Notes on Presidio County Commissioners Court Special Meeting Thursday May 3rd 2018, 8:30 AM

Commissioners Present: Brenda Bentley, Loretto Vasquez, Eloy Aranda, County Judge Cinderela Guevara

Also present at table: County Atty Rod Ponton.

Meeting convened at 8:37 AM.
Skip to payroll item 16.
Payroll- approving two payrolls, last one did not come before commissioners court, no quorum for meeting.
Treasurer Garcia says the current payroll is not exceptional except for comp tie payouts for two dispatch employees who have quit.
Aranda moves to approve current period. Unanimous.

Judge asks Sheriff how he fills in for dispatchers when people quit. Start at $13.50/hr. Sheriff says that dispatchers have to be certified as dispatchers and also jailers. They make it work by having people rotate shifts. New one is starting this week. There will be four, still short one position.
Judge talks about Sandra Bland act required mental heath training for dispatchers and jailers. RGCOG has sought a grant for unfunded mandate from State.

Bills and expenses: commissioners review bills.
Judge says that sometimes bills don’t get paid because auditor removes them. Commissioners are not made aware of this every time. Judge would like to have commissioners be aware and given a list of rejected bills from auditor.
Conversation begins to skip to item 7 about credit card for Sheriffs Office. Commissioners show support.
Judge says she still would like to see a list of submitted and pulled bills. Marsha from auditors office says that is possible.
Jail fund expenditures: Bentley asks about Marco Baeza, he quit, is he working on contract sometimes? Sheriff says yes.
Big Bend Telephone build out will be completed by June.
Bentley motions to approve. Unanimous.
Frances Garcia returns to the room with last payroll period numbers.
99,495.53. $70,663.25 in other bills paid.
Judge motions to approve payroll from April 2-15.

Item 4: Citizen Comments- none

Item 5: announcements to commissioners court from Judge
Talks about fire in Jeff Davis County. Some livestock is being held at the Roping Arena. Jessie typed up a release of liability form for County. Reba Griggs is back to assist. Firefighters are also assisting.
Aranda says it doesn’t look too good.
State and national forest services have arrived.
Judge has been in El Paso the last two days for the RGCOG criminal justice advisory meetings. Increase in human trafficking, more mental illness issues for detained. City of Marfa may be attempting to get their own dispatch system.
Alpine has been working to get their own school security officer.
Brewster County requested a grant for a crime victim coordinator. Rod Ponton asked for one as well. Judge had to excuse herself from that vote and presentation. Rod presented. He says they were attentive and recognized the need for that here in Presidio County.
535 persons from Presidio County were seen by the Family Crisis Center last year. CVC would help see and assist these victims and others including non family violence victims. Judge agrees that this would be a great help for local victims.
PCAD software hacked. Rod and Judge called FBI and they are now involved.

Commissioners announcements:

Bentley says that she and Aranda attended the commissioners conference.
Learned a lot. Also visited the KoFile offices and saw the county restoration and digitization process of county records. Very impressed. Amazingly painstaking process. Very pleased.
Vasquez has questions and comments about the sick leave pool in the County.
Will put it on next agenda. Maximum donation per employee of ten days per year sick leave. Vasquez says he finds that to be backwards. Talks about when people run out of sick leave in the program. Wants to be more like federal leave program. Make it easier for anyone to donate sick leave time, even when people are not participants in the program.
Bentley says she thinks that part of the reason that people need to be in the pool to participate is to increase pool hours donations in general, by encouraging participation. Judge would like to look at how other Counties deal with this.

Approval of minutes. None

Item 7: County credit card requested by Sheriff for employees.
Sheriff Dominguez presents:
Says that they have had problems in the past with trips for training, using their own credit card and having trouble getting timely reimbursements.
Says he is not here to throw anyone under the bus, just looking to make things easier for his employees.
Says that auditor has not been approving things prior to needing funds. Many of his employees live check to check. Hotels only accept cards these days.
He is trying to get the County to move to a system where there is a card and then the county department is responsible. Judge talks about how the RGCOG does it. Says that County could do something similar.
Sheriff reiterates that he really wants to take the burden off the employee. That’s the main issue.
Judge agrees. When she goes to COG functions room is booked, on file, and she just has to leave her own card in case of incidentals.
Bentley says that she spoke with auditor and she would like to be the one who administers the reservations, etc.
Judge does not agree, says that Treasurer should be the one, especially since Patty is only here three days per week.
Virgie says that often the host hotels for conferences run out of rooms fast and she has to book very quickly to get a room there. Sheriff agrees.
Vasquez is concerned about the work load at the Treasurers office during payroll periods, etc. Frances says that it should not be a problem, it does not take a long time. Vasquez says he sees the importance of this issue.
 Bentley says that if there is a card that it should not be shared, too risky.
At one time the County had a credit card. Sheriff says he once had one for his department, an American Express.
Judge makes a motion to approve that Treasurer seek and obtain a county credit card for the purpose of business trips for employees.
Sam Cobos says that he would like commissioners to consider using this for purchases from companies that don’t accept PO’s. Can this card also be used to make pre-approved purchases with POs from companies that don’t accept POs. Next agenda, Judge says.
Motion passes unanimously.

Item 9: Water District Board chair Trey Gerfers update on activities.
Trey says 5hat new board met April 6.all directors were there other than J.P. Baeza. Trey voted as chairman. Vicky Carrasco new Secretary/Treasurer.
Next steps for board: need for more solid data. Also need for a general manager.
Rudy Garcia and James R Mustard had been the previous volunteer managers. Trey and board believe that hiring a full time general manager is necessary and a phone. $1000/month for salary plus phone costs.
General manager would work directly with the board and would receive drilling applications and process them quickly .
Right now processes are very slow.
Manager would work on getting grants through local and state agencies.
Well monitoring essential, manager would manage getting monitoring wells up and managing data.
Proactive approach instead of reactive.
District is currently not prepared for challenges ahead.
Judge commends Trey for breathing new life into the board. Pat Simms and David Williams had planned to resign, but are now willing to stay.
Trey says yes, this is important. Judge says she gives him 100% support. Issues facing the Middle Pecos Water District could also be ours if we’re not careful.
We have been taking water for granted.
Ponton says that these Water Districts locally are unique in that the local districts here do not have taxing authority, they get their monies from commissioners courts. Maybe in the future they can look into becoming taxing entities, giving themselves more power.
Asking for $13,000. Judge says that Trey has spoken with auditor and understands that he understands that if he receives this money the Water District will be required to report quarterly to the commissioners.
Trey says that auditor told him that a budget amendment can be worked up if commissioners approve.
Aranda wants to know how they know that someone will work for $12,000. Trey says he does not know for sure; this is a number that the previous board had in the air. He thinks that they can find the right person. Three people are interested.
Judge believes that the County can afford this.
Trey says record keeping will be key here. Says that in some ways the Water District is ahead of the game, as the bylaws are in compliance with current regulations, as is permitting process. Says being organized can help cooperation with other agencies to achieve more, reduce redundancies .
Aranda says this is all very important, commends Gerfers. Ponton reminds commissioners that El Paso owns much water in western Presidio County and they have plans to take it in fifty to a hundred years.
Katie Sanchez says that there are only five months left in the fiscal year and that should be taken into account with regard to funding. Budget amendment would only be for FY 2018.
Gerfers says that in next budget process he will bring much more informed and detailed presentation.
Judge suggests making the motion refer to quarterly payments.
Trey hopes to have someone in place by June 1. Four months of FY 2018.
Judge motions to approve increasing funding for $4,400 for this budget year.

Item 8: County road 169 Donnell Lands roadway reroute.
Work has been completed and need to accept it. Aranda and Vasquez have been out there. Ruben Carrasco recommends approval.
No problems, they say.
Aranda motions to approve.
2nd by Vasquez

Item 10- move County Atty office to private practice office for Rod Ponton.
Ponton says that he needs another office, need two offices, majority of the population is in Presidio.
He likes to work hard for the County and the City of Presidio.
Needs a professional space, needs a private meeting space to talk with citizens about issues. Current office is inadequate. No possibility for confidential meetings.
He leased 601 W O’Reilly. Has plenty of space. He offers it to County at no cost.
Issue has come up about an office somewhere besides a county building. Yes, it is legal. he provides statute. 292.002 of local government code. Provides that commissioners can provide a location for an office outside of county seat as long as original records are kept at a County seat.
Prefers to live and office in Presidio. Talked to TAC. Paul Miles, assoc general counsel. Routine that county attorneys have offices outside of courthouse buildings. Gives examples of other counties doing this. Reeves County in Pecos county atty actually owns the office and rents it to Reeves County. Will not use County secretary for private work.
Says that all of his private work including City of Presidio work is done at office in Alpine. He is very strict about keeping things separate. Only cost to County is continuing to pay for phone and internet lines in Presidio. He will pay for any charge for moving phone lines himself. Third person added to office would be in Presidio.
Crime Victim Coordinator. Aranda asks if that person would work in that office.
Judge says that position is not on the agenda. He will have to come back to Commissioners Court for that permission. Rod agrees.
Bentley has a concern about blurred lines about what county employee does. Make sure the County incurs no expenses. Rod says there is no blurring of lines.  The lines are black and white. All private work is done in Alpine.
Judge says she was never informed about moving to another office.
Says that she called Jim Allison’s office and they said it’s completely up to commissioners court but in the future she would like to see county offices remaining on County property. Taking office out of the county annex is puking of ironic. Rod says that it will be a county office with a county signing it. Rod repeats that it will cost zero.
Bentley did the research and found that it’s not uncommon for this to exist like this with private and public practices conjoined.
Judge Beebe is called on to speak.
Says that he and Rod have already discussed this and “we have a difference of opinion on what he would avoid and what I would avoid. I’m not accusing him of anything illegal and I’m not angry with him” Rod is an attorney and he is not but there are a couple of things that we disagree on. If this is really the case it is generous of Rod to offer a free office to the County. This weekend we had a heated discussion about this and asks Rod to correct him if he is wrong but at that time Rod was saying that he was moving the County annex office into his private practice office.apparently now, as of this meeting, that story has changed to having that office be only the county office and not his private practice office . Now here today that’s a different statement but if that’s true then that’s great.
Beebe says, “I would just caution commissioners- yes, this is legal; this is done elsewhere. This County has a history of blurred lines, of multiple... I’m going to quote Doak Painter (independent auditor) of ‘multiple complex conflicts of interests’ . We have already an issue where Rod does work for the City of Presidio and also for Presidio County- that’s legal. That presents an inherent conflict of interest with anything that we deal with the a city of Presidio with, I think, but it’s legal. We also have an issue where Rod represents civil clients in cases against the PCAD (Presidio County Appraisal District) which is not our agency... but it does affect our appraisals and our tax collections. That is legal.
It’s also to me some type... I would say that I would avoid that if I were an attorney. I’ve talked to Rod about this- he and I have a difference of opinion as to what I would avoid versus what he would avoid and I’m not accusing him of wrongdoing and I’m not angry with him. I’d just like to point out to commissioners that the citizens of this county have watched “weird things” where there’s questions like this go on for decades and decades. “

Rod speaks up and invites Judge Beebe to please come see his office in Presidio for himself to see what’s happening there and how it works.

Beebe speaks, “I will, I will definitely see the new office. And I’m not trying to attack you, Rod, I am actually talking to commissioners. Commissioners have a choice, and I’m not saying you shouldn’t do this, I’m just think that for the future I would love to see commissioners avoid situations like this from the get go. From the beginning, like hey, I don’t think that’s a good... maybe there’s a lot of questions here. Maybe when we create situations that have a lot of questions those are situations we can avoid before they get to the point where the office has already been moved. Before commissioners court addresses it, which has actually happened. That has not been mentioned, by the way.
Bentley asks Rod if he’s already moved it. Rod says yes. Bentley asks why has that not been brought to the court, before today. No response from Rod.

Beebe says, “This is something that commissioners court could do a better job at for the permanent future as a court, just be better about, don’t even let this stuff start.”

Ponton says that if the County had adequate space in Presidio for his office that’s where he would be. Beebe replies, “Food Bank”.


Judge says she has checked, it’s up to the Court. It would be nice if we could stop all wrongdoing, there’s a lot of wrongdoing, but we can’t. Rod says that he is just trying to have a better space to do work inform his job.
Judge says that in the future she would like to see county employees stay in a county buildings.
Bentley says her biggest disappointment is that he’s already moved this office before we had a chance to discuss it.
Judge brings up that our County Constable does have equipment in the Marfa PD force that was approved to move by the COG and Judge without bringing it to commissioners court. As long as OMB can inventory items and find that County equipment is in working order than it’s ok.
Judge asks for motion.
Aranda says that if it’s all legal, even though he’s already moved it he makes the motion to approve at no expense to the County. Unanimous.

Item 10- Approve HVAC renovation and design. Sam Cobos presents
AEP confirmed the capacity of the existing lines and transformer so Sam has no further concerns about the presented contract.
Design phase is now complete after many back and forth discussions. Sheriff is on board.
Contractor likely to use Trane equipment. Proceeding with submittals. Equipment ordering will proceed. Giving go ahead on that with courts approval to proceed.
Begin setting up logistics to bring in workers to work on it and I think the next three weeks.
Few months for manufacturer to build. Installation proceed in 2-3 months,
Design is same commissioners approved at prior meeting. Meets jail standards and other national standards.
CFM qualifications per cell also addressed.
Aranda motions to approve.

Item 12- Rio Grande Mining Company agreed judgment in tax suit refund to RGMC. Value reduced, balance on 2016 already paid. County required to rebate. Amount rebated is 10,479.77 County share. Balance from schools, etc is the rest of the amount, which will be reduced in their next payouts to outside entities we collect for.
Other entities have been notified.
Bentley motions to approve.

Item 13- Interlocal agreement between City of Presidio and Presidio County for engineering services for TxDOT TAP grants.
Agreement makes Presidio County the bidding agent for the projects.
Over $7 million in projects. Judge says she is very excited about the Bledsoe to O’Reilly connector. Going to be fantastic.
Ponton says that TXDOT sees this as a gateway to the new bridge project.
Vasquez moves to approve

Item 14- budget amendments:
None, but six line item transfers, says Marsha.
Pretty much boiler plate.
Elections issues, transferring some funds laterally to pay for elections. More transfers will be needed for runoff.
Bentley motions to approve

Item 17- OMB office.
Three engineering bids for TAPS projects. Frank Spencer, Kleinmann, and Parkhill Smith and Cooper have submitted. Ratings sheets will be worked on. Judge, joe Portillo, both mayors and Brad Newton on committee for ratings.
Rebidding Candelaria projects since no bid received. May have to split the bids. Current bid due May 11. Such a remote area that contractors are not willing.

Item 18- Adjourn at 10:45.

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