June 14, 2023 738 PM
ALPINE — At the most recent Alpine City Council meeting, as Mayor Catherine Eaves began initiating a motion to enter executive session so council could “deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal” of City Attorney Rod Ponton, the motion was very suddenly rendered moot — Ponton himself interrupted the proceedings to tender his resignation.
“It was a pleasure to serve,” said Ponton, handing a letter of resignation to Mayor Eaves and to City Manager Megan Antrim before making his exit.
Given the turn of events, instead of convening into executive session, council voted to accept Ponton’s resignation. City Manager Megan Antrim explained that the agenda item they would have been discussing had Ponton not resigned — the matter of his employment — had been placed there to follow up on an earlier performance review.
“The reason why this was put on the agenda [is] in February, we did ask for some considerations, and then we were going to do a 90-day evaluation,” said Antrim. “This is the 90-day evaluation.”
On February 21, an executive session item to review Ponton’s employment was followed by a motion — initiated by Councilmember Judy Stokes — to “approve the parameters discussed” in the executive session. Ponton was present at that meeting and was present for the motion’s passage.
Mayor Eaves confirmed that those parameters, which she declined to talk about in any detail, had been the start of the 90-day review period referenced by Antrim.
“We had given him, I guess, some objectives, and basically a growth plan … and gave him 90 days to meet the city standards,” said Eaves. “And so we were going to review his performance that evening in executive session on whether he had met his goals and objectives. So that’s what was coming up. But he resigned right as we were moving into executive session.”
The issuing of those “parameters” had followed a series of agenda items over the previous month focused on Ponton’s job performance. At a February 7 meeting, following yet another executive session agenda item to deliberate on Ponton’s employment, Councilmember Chris Rodriguez initiated a motion to terminate Ponton as city attorney. No other member seconded the motion, so it died.
And at the meeting immediately preceding that one, on January 17, Councilmember Rodriguez had spearheaded an agenda item for “discussion regarding the behavior of the City Attorney, including comments made to the media, taking action without authorization of the Council or City Manager, and other performance issues.” That discussion centered around comments made to The Big Bend Sentinel in a December article about how the city’s attempts to stall the controversial construction of a third Dollar General had placed it in legal jeopardy. Ponton had stated that after he told Dollar General that the city had taken no action on a replat request by the company and did not wish to issue a building permit, Dollar General had threatened legal action against the city. And legally, he said, the city could not deny the replat or decline to issue a building permit.
Rodriguez had taken issue with Ponton’s characterization of the matter, stating he had made it sound as though the city were operating outside the bounds of the law. Ponton defended himself by stating that he was only reiterating what had already been said in a city memo, and that the memo had been crafted with input from city staff. Ultimately, no action was taken on the discussion item.
At the following meeting, Rodriguez would move to have Ponton terminated. Rodriguez did not return requests for comment by press time.
When asked whether the episode was related to the ensuing performance review period, Eaves said that, as she recalled it, “It’s pretty much all related,” though “there were multiple issues, not just one.”
Despite the discussions and accompanying agenda items regarding his employment, Ponton claimed he was completely unaware of any performance review and had resigned for no reason other than to focus on the clients of his private law practice.
“No one on council, or the Mayor, told me about any 90 day review, or any other issues with my work,” wrote Ponton in a text message. “I resigned as Alpine City Attorney in order for me to devote more time to my private clients. I have been honored to be Alpine City Attorney off and on since 2004. I wish Alpine the best.”
Ponton had been fired as Alpine city attorney in 2021, then was rehired.
Councilmember Judy Stokes called The Big Bend Sentinel on Wednesday morning, noting she told Ponton she would call the newspaper. “I think this is great for Rod,” she said of his resignation. “I think he was overstretched, and I think it was good for him to be able to go back to his private clientele.”
When asked about the performance evaluation that was cut short by Ponton’s resignation, Stokes also claimed ignorance. “Nobody made me privy to why we were going to executive session,” she said. “I just knew we were, I didn’t know why.”
Eaves said Ponton had been made aware of the upcoming review. As for his resignation, she saw that as a positive development.
“We appreciate all of the work that he has done, but the city is ready to move in a different direction,” said Eaves. “I can’t speak for anybody else, [but] I think this resignation is actually going to be a good thing for the city of Alpine.”
The city is now represented by the Bojorquez Law Firm, which also represents the cities of Marfa and Presidio.