July 15: Letters to the Editor

Dear Editor,

There are times and circumstances which warrant the firing of public officials, elected or appointed. The terminations of city managers Chuy Garcia, Bill Lewis, Karen Phillipi and Jessica Garza were, in my opinion, appropriate exercises of council authority and were executed with very extensive public discussion of the reasons for the action. In some instances public opinion was divided and views were aired in large public meetings.

This was not the case with the terminations of Erik Zimmer and Cynthia Salas. At the first full meeting of a council with two newly-elected members, a motion was made, seconded and passed with absolutely no discussion despite the clearly articulated warnings of then-City Attorney Wilson. It is obvious to me that at least three council members came to that meeting with the intention –– framed and agreed to in advance –– to carry out that coup, thus breaking the law. In doing so they have deprived citizens of Alpine of very effective leadership and refused to provide any reasons whatsoever in support of their completed conspiracy.

In his Alpine Avalanche column of June 10, Mayor Ramos referred to “mysterious motives” of former Councilman Stephens with some very odd speculation. No mystery there, nor as to the outrage felt by a great many citizens at this “mysterious” council action.

The City Charter provides a remedy for outrageous actions by elected council members and mayors –– the direct democracy device of recall. While two months have passed with no explanation and justification of the May 18 terminations, the basis for recall of the mayor and Councilman Sandate is perfectly clear: they participated in an action very detrimental to the citizens of all wards and refuse to respond to demands for justification, rejecting any sense of responsibility to the public, something we call “democracy.”

I encourage all to sign the recall petitions being circulated and prepare to vote in the election (secret ballot if concerned about retaliation) which will follow; vote to carry out this clearly necessary termination. Fire those who need firing! Before they can do more damage.

Dale Christopherson

Alpine

Dear Editor,

I want to thank The Big Bend Sentinel for printing Ms. deVolin Tebeaux’s letter on July 8. She is right that we need to listen to multiple perspectives. My disagreement is with her reluctance to allow Marfa’s Hispanic community the validation of their experiences and perspectives.

First let me share where we are in agreement. Indeed, Jesse Blackwell was an esteemed teacher and principal at the school that bears his name. During his tenure from 1922 to 1947, the school went from one building and 120 students to a multi-building campus with more than 600 students. One student remembered: “Mr. Blackwell never raised his voice, he was always pleasant. Maybe that’s why we loved him. He had a lot of respect from us without ever demanding it or wanting it. It was there.” When the Mexican School received state certification for its junior high school in 1940, the school was renamed in honor of Mr. Blackwell.

Many teachers also deserve accolades. Students tell warm and appreciative stories about certain teachers including Miss Harper, Mrs. Shannon, Mrs. Giles, Mrs. Bentley and Mrs. Davis (to name a few). These longtime Blackwell School teachers went above and beyond in providing a quality and rigorous education for their students. Many students have said so.

I would suggest, however, that what these skilled educators were doing was mitigating the impacts of a system that regularly sought to make Brown and Black people lesser-class citizens. This was a societal norm in Texas and the borderlands for decades. We certainly cannot be the first to suggest that in the state of Texas people of Mexican descent were regularly excluded from commingling with Anglos at barber shops, restaurants, funeral homes, theaters, churches and schools. Separate schools for children of Mexican descent existed all across Texas. This was not by law, as it was for African American children in Texas. Rather, it was an accepted practice that continued until court cases such Hernandez v. Texas and Cisneros v. Corpus Christi Independent School District made the practice untenable.

Marfa itself was divided largely by the railroad tracks, had separated seating at the Palace Theater, and some businesses did not welcome customers from our Hispanic community.

The point on which I most strongly disagree with Mrs. Tebeaux is her characterization of our coloring book artist as “indoctrinated.” The artist grew up in Marfa with family members who attended the Blackwell School. What the artist expressed in her work and Ms. Perrault’s article was the experience of her family. Whatever that experience was, those who lived it and those who speak for them are entitled to that experience. They are entitled to their feelings and point of view and — at heart —the story of their lives.

As is Ms. deVolin Tebeaux. We all are.

One reason the story of the Blackwell School is so important in understanding our history is that it is complex. Many teachers were compassionate and dedicated AND some teachers treated students with undue cruelty. In 1936 and 1937 Mr. Blackwell organized a Spanish-speaking branch of the Interscholastic League, believing that Spanish-speaking students should not have to compete with English-speaking students in literary events, with more than 150 Spanish-speaking students from Fort Stockton, Alpine, Sheffield, Fort Davis, Redford and Marfa attending the competition; AND less than 20 years later, students were being paddled for speaking Spanish anywhere on the campus. Some students have terrible memories of their treatment at the Blackwell School AND some students are proud of their education and remember school with fondness. Some children made friends easily with Anglo kids through neighborhood sports AND some children felt the sting of discrimination trying to navigate the town. Some former students would rather that the Blackwell School just be torn down and forgotten AND some former students have spent years preserving the school to tell these stories.

Today we are sharing our coloring book project to provide vocabulary and structure to our young learners about differences. Research shows that young children notice and think about race. Although we worry that talking about race will encourage racial bias in children, studies show the opposite is true. Newsweek had a great article about this a few years ago at www.newsweek.com/even-babies-discriminate-nurtureshock-excerpt-79233. Silence about race reinforces racism by letting children draw their own conclusions based on what they see. Teachers and families can play a powerful role in helping children develop positive attitudes about race and diversity and skills to promote a more just future — but only if we talk about it.

We invite continued dialogue about these issues and our history. We welcome everyone to come to the Blackwell School Museum during our open hours on Saturdays from 12 noon to 4 p.m. If you can’t make it in, you can look at our exhibit text and photographs on our website at www.theblackwellschool.org and learn more about the mosaic of experiences of everyone involved.

Thank you,

Gretel Enck

President of the Blackwell School Alliance

Dear Editor,

Regarding Alpine’s outdoor lighting ordinance, questions were answered, and later, the same questions were raised. For the benefit of the community and to respect everyone’s work, the public narrative needs to be cleared.

Alpine’s previous ordinance was about 20 years old and needed updating to address the use of LEDs and rapidly changing lighting technology. A community group started work in winter 2019/2020, and when COVID-19 forced closures we pivoted to meeting online. Alpine’s updated ordinance is dynamic and forward thinking, addressing many things including excessive lighting, light trespass, glare and shielding, color-temp and more.

West Texas is huge, made up of several counties. Updating or enacting outdoor lighting ordinances is underway to support local dark sky initiatives to protect the night sky. McDonald Observatory is proposing a staggering 9.7 million acres of International Dark Sky Reserve https://mcdonaldobservatory.org/dark-sky-reserve. A terrific neighbor, McDonald Observatory provides great education, events and community outreach. Stephen Hummel and Bill Wren are night-sky-friendly lighting experts from the observatory.

At Alpine City Council’s meeting on July 6, council members asked about citizen comments made during the meeting. Bill Wren and I addressed the questions we could answer. Alpine Downtown Association issued a proclamation in support of dark skies and the ordinance which council members acknowledged receiving within the past two weeks.

Contrary to what was stated, Sul Ross had been contacted during 2020 and 2021; they were undergoing change, we were told they were busy but someone would get back to us.  Important to note that Bill Wren has been working with Sul Ross for several years to help them bring a dozen or so of their lights into compliance. Sul Ross is aware there is an outdoor lighting ordinance.

All three public workshops and at least two town hall meetings were public, recorded and posted to the city’s website and their YouTube page. Participation was encouraged at every opportunity. In hindsight we all probably could have done more, especially those with working relationships with the city’s significant partners.

Retail availability of night-sky-friendly appliances depends on market forces and customer demand. Alpine has limited availability of many things; there is greater consumption of ink jet cartridges than lighting appliances, and those need to be ordered. Advocates will continue to provide online accessible resources to help consumers and retailers make good choices. If retail requests help, we can aid with labeling.

Workshops and awareness campaigns provide resources and help explain lighting ordinances. Understanding how light works encourages the use of night-sky-friendly lighting. I asked the city if they would ask staff to attend. Education is worth the investment.

We advocate for education. Enforcement, fines and penalties should be a last resort, and the city has health and safety ordinances that are enforced through education and fines.  Information regarding requirements for night-sky-friendly lighting for permitted activities is critical to compliance.

The city’s estimate of readiness would be based in part on their experience with the existing ordinance. The interim city manager stated she believes the city is prepared, and she is in the position to know. The biggest repeated concern is providing proper information for permit applicants. It is up to the city staff to manage information integration, we offered and provided information and are available for additional discussion. The ordinance includes language enabling the city to ask for outside advice. McDonald Observatory is ready and willing to help.

This is a huge win for the City of Alpine who now can apply to the International Dark Sky Association for recognition as a Dark Sky Community and post signs informing the community and visitors that Alpine is a dark-sky-friendly town.

Questions about outdoor lighting or retrofitting? Do not hesitate to contact Laura Gold, West Texas Friends of the Night Sky, or Stephen Hummel and Bill Wren at McDonald Observatory.

Stephen Hummel and Bill Wren can be reached at:  mcdonaldobservatory.org/lighting-questions-contact

Wishing you a starry night sky,

Laura Gold

WestTexasFriendsoftheNightSky@gmail.com

Alpine

Dear Editor,

Last week’s letter to the editor by Elizabeth deVolin Tebeaux where she asserts that Blackwell School wasn’t a segregated school campus of the Marfa school system is, to quote her, “patently false” and ignorant of the facts.

The purpose of having the two campuses was to keep the town’s Hispanic and Anglo children apart. Segregation is a totally and unequivocally racist policy.

Contrary to her revisionist history, most of the Blackwell students were born and raised in Marfa, American citizens of Hispanic descent and not “undocumented individuals” who “walked across the Rio Grande.”

Contrary to her alleged grasp of facts, the Marfa High School auditorium is not named for Mr. Blackwell. It’s called Gregg Auditorium.

And no, Blackwell students weren’t transferred to Marfa Elementary or Marfa High School once they learned English.

Blackwell School wasn’t closed because of a lack of funds, as she purports, but was finally shuttered in 1965 as the result of the landmark Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that U.S. state laws establishing racial segregation in public schools are unconstitutional. Handed down by the highest court in the land, it took 11 more years for the Marfa school board to comply with the law.

Oh and Ms. Aguilar’s coloring book is beautiful and promotes cultural pride, while factually documenting a dark school policy when speaking Spanish on campus was not allowed.

“Very few of us remain who know the true origin of Blackwell,” she writes. Actually, many former students are still around who know the real story of Blackwell School, and they continue to tell their stories, which include good memories of many of the teachers. Several members of the Blackwell School Alliance Board of Directors and membership are Blackwell School alumni.

Ms. deVolin Tebeaux may try to rewrite history, but the fact remains that Blackwell was a segregated school.

Sincerely,

Rosario Salgado Halpern

Marfa

Dear Editor,

In the 30-plus years since I’ve lived in Marfa:

A Presidio County sheriff is caught smuggling a ton, yes, 2,000 pounds of cocaine, and is sentenced to life in prison;

A Presidio County tax assessor-collector pleads guilty to embezzling tax money;

A clerk in the tax assessor-collector’s office in a different case is found guilty of theft of funds;

A Presidio County commissioner pleads guilty to accepting a bribe to vote a certain way;

And now, Presidio County, the Presidio County treasurer, and commissioners court members lose a federal civil rights lawsuit, and the jury awards $2 million to the former county employee who brought the retaliation charge against them.

An FBI agent testified during the bond hearing in the bribery case that Presidio County has a history of corruption. This most recent court judgment and the actions of the current county officials once again proves the agent’s point.

Rosario Salgado Halpern

Marfa

Letter to the good people of Presidio County:

I would like to take credit for the ideas of bad alliances, but I can’t. This comes from a county judge much wiser than I am.

An alliance in government whether for personal, political, monetary gain, or just plain vengeance, can only hurt the constituents and leave the government entity in a bad place, and the taxpayer is never the focus.

On July 1, a jury in federal court found Presidio County Treasurer Frances Garcia and Presidio County violated the civil rights of Katie Sanchez.

The jury awarded Mrs. Sanchez the maximum amount allowable, $2,000,000. The jury seemed incensed by the actions of Ms. Garcia and the commissioners court.

The final outcome is still down the road. Post-trial motions and an appeal will surely be filed. Make no mistake, no matter the final outcome, Presidio County has been harmed!

If nothing else, our insurance may not pay for all the settlement, as Mrs. Sanchez’s attorney may ask for fees that I have been told may not be covered by insurance.

You can be assured our insurance premium for liability will rise as a consequence of this action.

Why would good people want to work in a place where someone in power who didn’t like you could go after you and make your life miserable or cause you to lose your job?

It is my opinion that Ms. Garcia and the commissioners court did a great injustice to Mrs. Sanchez as well as the people of Presidio County. The honor and integrity of this county has been lost.

How do we restore the honor and integrity of our county?

If the outcome of this issue ends the way I believe it will, the voters of Presidio County will do the right thing and rectify this problem.

At the very least, the people of this county should realize if the final outcome stands as it is now, a great injustice was done to Mrs. Sanchez and to condone or support such action is terribly wrong.

Frank (Buddy) Knight

Presidio County Commissioner, Precinct 4

Dear Editor,

This letter is in response to Elizabeth deVolin Tebeaux’s letter to the editor from July 8, 2021.

No, Abbie Perrault’s article about the Blackwell School is not patently false.

“The Blackwell school in Marfa, Texas was the sole public education institution for the city’s Mexican and Mexican-American children.”

“Texas school districts perpetuated the practice of ‘defacto’ segregation through the mid-twentieth century.”

“From 1902 to 1940, Texas school districts operated segregated schools for Hispanic and African-American Students in 122 districts across 59 counties throughout the state. By 1965 there were more than 600 districts statewide that integrated local schools.”

(All quotes from: National Park Service/National Register of Historic Places Registration Form, Section 8, page 12, published on the Blackwell School Alliance website: www.theblackwellschool.org)

And while the teachers may have loved their school children and were essential in teaching them the English language, these are historical facts that should not be ignored.

And no again to Elizabeth deVolin Tebeaux’ assumption that the recently published coloring book, which can be downloaded on the Blackwell School Alliance website, is just another version of CRT and will teach and/or encourage racism and hate for others of a different skin color.

The coloring book tells in short, appropriate language some of the school’s history through the experience of a young girl’s first day at school based on historical facts.

It does not teach CRT or hate for others. It teaches facts.

In admitting that she knows nothing of the Blackwell School Alliance, Elizabeth deVolin Tebeaux admits that she is ignorant of historical facts and ignorant of what the Blackwell School Alliance has achieved in its 14 years of existence.

It should be in all our interest that we learn about the history of the town we live in instead of using catchphrases to perpetuate falsehoods.

Thank you,

Bettina Landgrebe

Marfa

Honorable President Pete P. Gallego:

The writing of this letter is very saddening for me. It has been hard to process the proposed Sul Ross State University academic program closures and faculty/staff terminations.

I appreciate the position you are in, having been made president of Sul Ross State University at an inopportune time. On top of weathering the pandemic, you inherited a fair amount of the difficulties from your predecessors –– difficulties that seem reminiscent of what you worked to remedy when you were first elected to the Texas House of Representatives.

I am a 2005 graduate of Sul Ross. My degree is in one of the programs that the Sul Ross Academic Planning Committee (APC) is recommending be shuttered, the Master of Arts in art. I also taught as an adjunct in the Fine Arts and Communications Department in 2015-2016. I have an acute sense of what could be lost here.

In a way, the Alpine region and Sul Ross are wrapped up in the topics I studied in the graduate art program. I was advised and mentored by art professor Bob Hext and the founder of the Center for Big Bend Studies, Bob Mallouf. I was granted a National Parks research permit and visited petroglyph sites in Big Bend National Park for my thesis research. I’ll acknowledge here that I am not of Native descent, so my work with rock art required a fair amount of reflection about the ethics of cultural research. Part of this reflection included looking at the history of rock art research at Sul Ross. Former Sul Ross art professor Miriam Lowrance did a lot of photographing, drawing and publishing on rock art during her tenure 30+ years ago, and I had the opportunity to meet her at her home and talk with her about Alpine and Sul Ross during her time as a professor. It is an era of Sul Ross and Alpine you probably know well, President Gallego.

I could go on about my other experiences at Sul Ross, like getting special access to the Chinati Foundation archives, being involved in Alpine’s Gallery Night with art professor Carol Fairlie, and making a mural on Holland Street on the side of the Ringtail Records building. After finishing my masters, my first teaching job was at the middle school in Presidio. I taught for Sul Ross after all this — art history and art appreciation, set design and developmental math. Currently, I’m pursuing a PhD in art education at the University of Arizona.

The seed of all of this was the visual arts program at Sul Ross.

And I’ll tell you, President Gallego, my brother Gregory Tegarden, your studio art professor at Sul Ross, has the same feeling. He got his bachelors at Sul Ross and then came back and gave back. But now his job is on the line. It is a job he dedicates himself to tirelessly, working nights, weekends and summers fine-tuning lessons, loading kilns of student work, preparing students for shows and organizing art club meetings. The Sul Ross ceramics studio has the only high-fire kiln for probably 400 miles, and many artists from Brewster and Presidio counties depend on Professor Tegarden’s expertise. I don’t think I need to go into the economic devastation his firing and the firing of other instructors will cause. And I know this is probably where you are most torn yourself.

I have deep concerns about the state of education at Sul Ross. As an experienced educator, I have a strong sense of how detrimental the ACP’s recommendations will be. First, arts and communication at Sul Ross should be growing, not shrinking. Similar arts offerings should be available at the Rio Grande College campuses, too. Arts education involves a very necessary kind of pedagogy, one that’s different from STEM, humanities, education and business classes. Arts and communication are dialogue-based. They involve flexibility, social skills, collaboration and engaging with and thinking critically about media. Along with science, culture and creative problem-solving — the latter being the ultimate 21st century skill — should be at the core of the curriculum.

Second, it’s obvious that downsizing the Fine Arts and Communication Department will be demoralizing. A reduced program will likely result in lower overall graduation numbers for the Fine Arts and Communications Department in Alpine, and possibly in other programs as well. If we reduce enrichment opportunities, we reduce engagement, and if engagement goes down, so does achievement. A principal at an under-resourced but successful public school in Tucson taught me that.

The strongest contingent of students in the art program at Alpine come from Presidio, Texas. I want to share their story as an example of what’s at stake. The students from Presidio are bright and have a special drive for visual art that I have not experienced anywhere else I’ve taught. It’s something that comes with the unique life experiences in La Junta de los Rios. The Presidio students want to be close to family but still want a college experience. The ACP recommendations mean these students will have far less educational opportunities. It is a problem of equality. The Presidio students are at a disadvantage to students in higher population, high-percentage Anglo regions. Add to this the more immediate problem of the transition period: the APC recommends giving two years for mid-degree students to graduate. The research literature is clear that students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds often take longer than four years to graduate (Zarifa et al., 2018).

Further, a reduced arts program undermines the Sul Ross college experience in general. I’ve heard my brother talk about students in his ceramics classes who play football and do rodeo. A world opens up for these students; they are connecting to culture by working with their hands, bodies and spirit  in the comradery of other students, some young and just out of high school, and some coming from the community who are tapped into the life and history of the region. The ability to facilitate those cultural connections requires a robust program, not just one or two classes on offer, and not taught by ever-rotating adjunct professors.

Lastly, the idea that a Bachelor of Fine Arts without an area of art concentration is dubious. These sorts of programs are not unheard of, but it is very difficult for a worker to compete in the culture industry without a strong area of specialization. The creative economy requires deep experience, not broad experience.

I also want to take a moment to talk about the series of events that have led us here. The APC report states that the impetus for the first-ever convening of the APC was suggested by Provost Kinucan and a special “Second Century Committee,” chaired by Vice President Muñoz at Rio Grande College and rodeo coach CJ Aragon, and made up of various other university administrators (Payne, 2021). The appointment of this committee, as I understand it, is at the discretion of the university president (Texas State University System, 2014), and that this occurred early on in your tenure as SRSU president (Payne, 2021). I can find no public report from the Second Century Committee about the process they used or their rationale for recommending the convening of the APC. I find this to be a big transparency issue. I would like to know, and I’m sure others would too, why this mechanism for realignment was triggered when it was, in the middle of a public health crisis. I understand the pandemic and declining state support are anecdotally to blame for some of the budgetary problems (Payne, 2021), but what exactly have been the enrollment and funding numbers? And were the Board of Regents involved in any of these recommendations, as the SRSU Faculty Handbook says can be a trigger for convening the APC? This information may be available publicly, but again, with the remedy being so draconian, and with a truncated decision timeline in effect, this information needs to be shared with the public across Sul Ross’ service area, and quickly.

The APC recommendations do not have to be followed. The Texas Legislature nixed the 5% budget cut and allocated federal money from the 2020 CARES Act (Fort Stockton Pioneer, 2021). I understand there are chronic budgetary and resource allocation problems at Sul Ross, and there have been problematic uses of reserves to shore things up. However, I hope that your experience in government rather than business administration can help save Sul Ross and its historic arts program. And you are not alone in this. You have me and other alumni to help. You have a proud community across the 23rd House District that is indebted and marked by Sul Ross to help. Call on us to back you up.

The Sul Ross art program was founded in the early 1920s by pioneering women at Sul Ross Normal College — Nellie Clements, Beatrice Matthaei, Mabel Vandiver and others (Bones, 2016). Their pictures grace the walls of the basement art office in Alpine. During the Depression, the art program was sustained by a Sul Ross summer art colony, one not unlike the art colony at the famous Black Mountain College. A mural-size painting from this time by Sul Ross art professor Xavier Gonzalez still stands in a lower stairwell at the Museum of the Big Bend. I ask that you please go view it before you make your decision.

Thank you for your time and thank you for considering my perspective.

Sincerely,

Andrew Tegarden

Tucson, AZ

References:

Bones, M. (2016). The Lost Colony. Big Bend Galleries & Artists. https://www.galleriesartists.com/the-lost-colony.html

Fort Stockton Pioneer. (2021, June 10). Legislature shows financial support for Sul Ross. Fort Stockton Pioneer. https://www.fortstocktonpioneer.com/news/legislature-shows-financial-support-sul-ross

Payne, L. (2021, June 8). Recommendation report, Academic Planning Committee. https://www.sulross.edu/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/Academic-Planning-Committee-Report-to-the-President.pdf

Texas State University System. (2014). Policy and procedure statements. Texas State University. //policies.txstate.edu/university-policies/01-01-05.html

Zarifa, D., Kim, J., Seward, B., & Walters, D. (2018). What’s taking you so long? Examining the effects of social class on completing a bachelor’s degree in four years. Sociology of Education, 91(4), 290–322. https://doi.org/10.1177/0038040718802258

Dear Editor,

Frontlines of the moral arc

The tumultuous ’60s witnessed Jim Crow’s evil. The Gulf of Tonkin lied America into Vietnam’s nightly body counts. The JFK, MLK, RFK assassinations and 1968 Democratic Convention-Chicago police riot hit hard.

Boomers blamed our elders for problems as evident as Ulysses shoving a log into Cyclops eye. “Don’t trust anyone over 30” was a given.

The Greatest Generation’s experiences were different. The government’s Depression-era New Deal provided hope and jobs, won WWII and opposed communism before the Cold War turned Korea hot.

Nixon-Agnew countered civil rights and anti-war protesters with “law and order-silent majority-southern strategy.” Reagan’s pandering “welfare queen” elected an actor’s supply-side (“voodoo economics”). Deregulation’s blind-eye validated Wall Street’s Gordon Gekko’s “Greed is good”.

Look at the stew we’re in. What is my generation’s excuse? Record temperatures evaporate Western reservoirs and scorch the Arctic 50+ years since the first Earth Day.

I apologize for not caring half-enough, though some joined anti-NAFTA, Occupy Wall Street, speaking-out, Bernie supporters, Women’s March and BLM. Thank activism’s engaged love.

You are rightfully worried about an inevitable tipping point. Bless the younger generations harnessing an elevated social consciousness bending the arc of the moral universe towards sustainable human and environmental justice!

Rev. Barry Abraham Zavah

Alpine

 


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