Alpine council appoints interim city manager, secretary

ALPINE – Alpine City Council called a special meeting on Monday in the wake of firing the city manager and city secretary last week, appointing employees from within the city staff to fill the jobs in the interim.

Early in the meeting, Alpine residents requested the council discuss in public session the action items to appoint an interim city manager and secretary. Chris Rodriguez, the Ward 2 council member, agreed, saying, “I think we owe it to the public to do it in open session,” and motioned to have the appointments discussed in front of Alpine residents.

Ward 5’s Jerry Johnson seconded, but the motion died when it came up for vote, with the remaining three council members voting against it.

A few residents also spoke against an action item that would discuss changing the time council meetings are held. “It’s very difficult for the working people in this town that you supposedly represent to come at that time,” resident Chris Muller said about the potential of meetings being moved from evenings to afternoons. “Since there’s some real shady things happening right now where you don’t want to tell us why you want to do things, I jus t really protest against moving the meeting time to a time when less people can attend, where you can do your little machinations and hope nobody else notices.”

The item had appeared on the previous agenda under Rodriguez and was tabled after the council member said she wanted more time to talk to her constituents. On Monday, the item reappeared on the special meeting agenda under Judy Stokes of Ward 1.

When the item came up for discussion, Stokes spoke against any change in schedule. “Right now there’s no reason to change them at this time. I move that we leave them at 5:30 p.m.,” Stokes said. Mayor Andy Ramos agreed, saying, “We don’t need to change the time folks, 5:30 p.m. is the proper time.”

Rodriguez spoke up in surprise that her agenda item had been reassigned to another council member. “Is this something I can expect to be happening?” she asked the mayor. “Who do I need to speak to in regards to this?” Stokes replied that she was called and asked to sponsor the item.

Rodriguez amended the motion, tabling the item for another week, to be brought back to discussion under her name again. “I never gave it up. I was sponsoring it,” she said. It was tabled unanimously.

Council also had to deal with some administrative details in the wake of firing some of the top administrative staff. “When you let go of your higher administration you have to start basically moving forward,” Finance Director Megan Antrim told the council. “We had payroll checks last week, we had vendor checks every week.” All of those checks need signatures by authorized signers, as business carries on at the city level.

City Manager Erik Zimmer, City Secretary Cynthia Salas, Police Chief Robert Martin and Director of Public Utilities Scott Perry were previously the four authorized signatories for Alpine.

“The two individuals left on the checking account, one is resigning and the other unfortunately made his comments at the end of the meeting,” Antrim said. Perry resigned last week, and Martin speculated at the end of last week’s meeting that the council was intent on removing him from office along with the others.

Thus far, Martin has not been fired, but Antrim recommended four new signers, saying, “I looked at people who will be here in the next six months at least.” She recommended Alpine Police Captain Darrell Losoya and Executive Coordinator Geo Calderon as primary signatories, with Gas Utility Director Randy Guzman and Animal Control Supervisor Jennifer Stewart as alternates.

Council moved into an executive session, discussing who would fill the roles of city manager and secretary in the interim. Though the city attorney had resigned last week, there was no discussion on who would replace her at the Monday meeting.

Coming out of the executive session, council unanimously voted to appoint Finance Director Antrim to the role of interim city manager and appoint Executive Coordinator Calderon to interim city secretary. Then the meeting was adjourned.

Four council members and the mayor did not respond to a request for comment on their plans to proceed with filling the vacant city attorney position. After the Monday meeting, Councilmember Johnson said as he left the building, “I don’t talk to the press. I learned that lesson a long time ago,” adding, “No comment.”

Even without legal counsel on board, the city is potentially facing legal troubles. Erik Zimmer, the fired city manager, said this week he was weighing his legal options. “Obviously, some people have thrown around, ‘He has a legal case,’ some have said, ‘He doesn’t.’ I’m not a lawyer by trade, but I’ll talk to some of the best out there and determine what’s the best next step.”

After Zimmer and Salas’ termination, former Councilmember Rick Stephens initiated efforts to recall Ward 4 Councilmember Martin Sandate and Mayor Andy Ramos, requesting documents from the city that are necessary to attempt a recall. With Calderon finally appointed on Tuesday, Stephens said he was able to collect the documents and begin collecting signatures. If successful, the effort would trigger an election where voters would choose to keep Sandate and Ramos in office or remove them.

Stephens, who said he is coordinating the push for a recall, offered three reasons as to why he, along with a few dozen Alpine residents, are embarking on a recall effort. “One is that many believe there’s a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, which is against the law. Second is they do not have the best interest of the residents and the city, in terms of taking actions, and third is they’re not being open and transparent which is important for any elected official,” he asserted.

The group would either need to collect 75 signatures in Ward 4, or 30% of the number of Ward 4 residents who voted in the last election, whichever is greater. To recall the mayor, the group would need either 350 signatures from Alpine voters, or 30% of the total number of Alpine residents who voted in the most recent election, whichever is greater. A recall, according to the Alpine city charter, can only occur if the elected official has held their seat for more than six months. Currently, Sandate, Ramos and Rodriguez are eligible for recall.

If successful, those being recalled would have a chance to request a public hearing. Then a recall election would leave it to the residents of Alpine to decide whether the official would stay or go. If two or more officials are recalled, a special election must occur to fill their seats.