Bridge traffic, employee pay disputes covered at county meeting

PRESIDIO — The Presidio County Commissioners Court held a special meeting last Wednesday at the Presidio County Annex where they discussed additional compensation for county employees, a donation to buy another voting machine, and an agreement with a public defender’s office, among other items.

Before the agenda was addressed, the court heard from a couple of different residents and officials regarding several different issues.

Ramon Carrasco, an engineer with Kleinman and Associates, updated the court about the Redford water tank project. The county crew poured concrete for foundation last week, but the tank manufacturer won’t be there until later in February. There will be four people with the tank manufacturer that will be staying in the Redford Community Center, according to Carrasco, while they are working on the water project. They will be working in Redford for about a month.

After that crew completes the tank erection and coating, the county will start putting the pipes together and connect the new tank to the old facility. “Hopefully by the end of May we will be done with that project,” Carrasco said.

After Carrasco spoke, Constable Steven Coker asked the court about a meeting on January 9, where he believed an issue was brought up, without any evidence, regarding him getting a free car wash on his personal vehicle.

Coker passionately told the court that he found this alleged accusation to be insulting and ridiculous. Judge Cinderela Guevara called the court to order soon after and said that no one accused anyone else at the last commissioners court of any wrong doings.

“Do not use this commissioners court and public comment for trying to air out dirty laundry,” Judge Guevara said. “This is not the way we use commissioners court.”

The matter was tabled and later came down to a log system policy and needing specific documentation for mileage and fuel reimbursement. “It was never necessary for me to do this,” Coker said. The court later praised Coker on his work, saying he does a good job. Commissioner Eloy Aranda made a motion to approve all bills, Commissioner Cabezuela seconded, and the court voted to pass the motion.

The next non-agenda matter discussed was Census 2020. Peggy O’Brien, Get Out the Count coordinator for the census said that since most of the residents in this area get mail via P.O. boxes, they will have more people on the ground dropping off surveys and then coming back to canvas. 2020 will be the first time that the census offers an online and phone survey.

Judge Guevara said that the Rio Grande Council of Governments secured a $114,000 grant from the HOG Foundation to help with census. This money is to be spent between five counties in the area including Presidio, Brewster, Jeff Davis, Culberson, & Hudspeth.

O’Brien said that the census is still hiring workers and the pay starts at $18 an hour, plus mileage.

After the census conversation ended, Ponton brought up transmigrantes and said that he thinks the court needs to focus on the port of entry in Presidio. Ponton said he plans on asking the county court, and the cities of Presidio and Marfa to join in and write to Congressman Hurd, senators and the state departments in the U.S. and Mexico to not bring the transmigrantes to Presidio until the port can be updated and expanded to the level where it could handle it. “Right now it would keep people from Presidio from going across the border,” Ponton said.

Commissioner Aranda supported Ponton’s idea of writing to state officials. He said bringing the transmigrantes in without updating the port of entry would do nothing but hurt Presidio. “One day it took 12 hours to get from Ojinaga to Presidio. People have to think two to three times before making that trip.”

Ponton said that he believes the port should be expanded for the traffic it carries now, before more transmigrantes arrive.

After these remarks, the judge began the agenda.

Notably, the court discussed the compensation of three employees. First was Robert Salazar, a temporary employee who was not eligible for the county-wide raise last year due to having not been employed for 90 days at the time of the raise.

The issue fell on the commissioners to decide if they want to hand out raises midyear, which they said was a problem for them last year. This item was tabled and commissioners later voted to move Salazar to a permanent position and let him be up for a raise later this year. The motion passed 3-2, with commissioners Bentley and Aranda voting nay.

Second, they discussed a raise for airport manager Rudy Estor, although Estor had not asked for this raise nor filed a grievance. The county had denied the 3% “across-the-board” raises to Estor, as well as to select jail staff and a few other county employees during the fall budget discussions, because they had either previously given midyear raises to those employees, or they felt they were ineligible. Many of those midyear raises were connected with changes in job titles and job responsibilities.

Judge Guevara brought Estor’s pay before the court to see if the county wanted to do the same thing they did with the employees of the jail, who received raises after the budget was passed last year, after they had filed grievances.

Estor was denied the $.45 raise last year because of the raise he had received when the county contracted Chase Snodgrass as airport manager. Commissioner Aranda made a motion to not give Estor a raise and Commissioner Cabezuela seconded the motion.

Commissioner Knight then weighed in saying he has mixed emotions, that he has been told this is discrimination since it was a raise everyone else in the county recieved. “It’s a double-edged sword,” Knight said.

The Judge said she brought it before commissioners court in order to not be accused of discrimination. The motion to not give Estor a raise passed, 3-2 with Commissioner Knight and Judge Guevara voting against the denial of a raise.

Commissioner Aranda made a motion to rescind the previous passed motion in order for the court to speak to the attorney first. Then the judge made a motion to postpone this item, although there was some confusion as to if this was allowed.

And finally, Cherly Calvert, assistant treasurer, filed a grievance with the commissioners court, citing discrimination after being denied a raise during the budget cycle. In a letter to the court, Calvert said, “I feel that I should get the same as Frances was told when she put in for my raise, the commissioners told her I could have one or the other, not both. Every time the sheriff wants something, he gets it. No one else in the county gets what they want.”

There was no action on Calvert’s item due to lack of motion, but it will likely be brought back to the court at another time.

Additionally, the commissioners court voted in favor of an interlocal agreement with Far West Texas Regional Public Defender’s Office to provide public defense options for people in Presidio County. Providing public defenders is mandatory and can be difficult in rural areas like Presidio and would increase the annual budget by about $4,500 a year. The majority of their funding is provided through the state.

Far West Texas Regional Public Defender’s Office has signed contracts with Hudspeth, Jeff Davis, Brewster and Culberson counties as well.

The commissioners court unanimously voted in favor of an anonymous donation of $5,915 that was procured by the county democratic chair, Clark Childers. The donation was offered specifically to purchase an additional DS200 voting machine.

However, a donation cannot have designated-use attached. At the same time, Presidio County currently does not meet state requirements for polling locations. The county needs to have at least four polling locations during election dates; three in Presidio and one in Marfa.

Having an additional voting machine would alleviate manual counts in at least one polling location in Presidio County, which is a time-consuming task. The Texas Civil Rights Project sent a letter to the county judge and clerk that they believed the county was in violation of the Texas Election Code for combining polling places during the November 2018 election.

“This isn’t us moving up in technology, this is being put on us by the state,” Commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley said. “Once they’ve mandated something we’ve got to comply.”

Finally, Malynda Richardson, EMS director in Presidio, said that the city of Presidio will be down to one ambulance for at least a week while EMS Unit 565 is being worked on. If the vehicle does not come back, Richardson said they will then go to the state to seek emergency funds to purchase a new or used ambulance. In a later conversation, Richardson said they had identified the issue and hope to have EMS Unit 565 back later next week.