County candidates weigh in on their priorities and experience

Early voting begins on Tuesday, February 20, and ends Friday, March 1, for the March 5 Primary Election. All candidates are in races for the Democratic Party. No Republicans filed as candidates, which means the winners of the primaries will be unopposed to win the General Election in November.

Up for vote are seats for sheriff, county attorney, county tax assessor-collector, county commissioners (precincts 1 and 3) and county constables (precincts 1 and 2). This issue will include candidates for county attorney and county tax assessor-collector. Next week, we’ll include responses from county commissioner and constable candidates.

Candidates were all sent the same questions, but some submitted answers in different formats. Answers were lightly edited for brevity and clarity.

County attorney

Blair Park

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what makes you qualified?

My roots in Presidio County go back to the 1800s on both my dad’s and my mom’s sides. On my mom’s side, we traced our lineage back as far as my great-great-great-grandparents, Carlos and Diega Ramos Herrera of Casa Piedra. And on my dad’s side, my great-great-great-grandparents, George and Elizabeth (Lizzie) Crosson, were some of the first Anglo ranchers who settled here in the 1870s. I’m proud to be from a line of strong and independent West Texas women.

I lived in Marfa up until middle school, when we moved to San Angelo. I graduated from Texas Tech University in 2013 with a bachelor’s in business administration with a major in energy commerce and a concentration in petroleum land management. Then I went to Texas Tech School of Law, where I represented the law school in the top advocacy competitions. Due to my awards and success in legal brief writing, I was one of three law students to be nominated for the National Order of Scribes. I graduated cum laude with my Doctor of Jurisprudence in 2016.

After law school, I accepted a position with a prestigious Fort Worth law firm: Harris, Finley & Bogle, P.C. There, I practiced commercial litigation (predominantly oil and gas) and appellate briefing. In my first five years of practice, I represented ExxonMobil, XTO, Continental Resources, Lonestar Operating, Union Pacific Railroad, Blackstone Resources, Home Depot, Simon Property Group, City of Burleson, Mansfield ISD, and as Plaintiff’s Liaison Counsel in the Chesapeake Multidistrict Litigation (MDL) organized by the Texas Supreme Court.

While my time in DFW was vital to my experience and growth, I was itching to be back in West Texas. So, in 2021, I moved back — splitting my time between Marfa and San Angelo, where I worked for a real estate law firm. After I married my wonderful husband in 2023 in Big Bend Ranch, I opened my private practice in Marfa to practice real estate, oil and gas, estate planning, business transactions, and banking.

What would your primary goals be if you were elected?

I have had numerous criminal defense attorneys and law enforcement officers reach out to me about the status of their cases and how the docket is not running as efficiently or as quickly as it should. (One mentioned that he has a client with a charge from seven years ago!) My first order of business would be to get the oldest charges and cases on the docket, to begin getting it up to date.

The county attorney’s other major job is to provide unbiased and sound legal advice to the county commissioners, for anything from negotiating and drafting county contracts to real estate issues with county roads and county property to assistance on applications for bonds. Bonds, particularly, are vital for Presidio County. Our county budget is not enough to sustain expenses, especially with recent inflation. The county needs to ensure that it applies for every bond possible, and properly, to have a chance for state and federal financial assistance.

My last goal as county attorney is not necessarily in the job description: to advise and promote Presidio County with integrity, morals, intelligence, and with the capacity and desire to be an excellent attorney. These characteristics I intend to bring to the job with vigor.

What issues are you passionate about that you are looking forward to contributing to?

Healthcare Access to adequate healthcare is the biggest and most vital obstacle to living in Far West Texas — especially women’s healthcare and cancer care. I know people who have lived here for decades, who have had to move away from the only home they’ve known, to be closer to healthcare.

A good friend tried numerous times to get a referral from her local primary care physician (PCP) to address a lump in her breast. After 10 months, she went to another PCP, who finally submitted the referral required by her insurance. After this time passed, she was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer and had to temporarily move to El Paso for treatment. After the hardest year of her life, she is currently in remission.

I know women who had to travel to Midland-Odessa, San Antonio or Fort Stockton to give birth. A good friend of mine was turned away from the local ER while she was in labor and told to drive to Midland. Instead, her husband rushed her to the Fort Stockton hospital, where she had an emergency Cesarean section. But yet, in 1958, my mom was born in Marfa in Dr. Stover’s clinic. This cannot be acceptable, to have less access to women’s healthcare in 2024 than in 1958.

I’ve had three close family members experience terrifying emergency situations in Marfa –– all three were taken by ambulance to Alpine to be put on a helicopter to Midland-Odessa or San Angelo. Thankfully, two survived. However, they received astronomical bills from the air ambulance. That is the unfortunate choice many locals are left with in these horrible situations: risk of death or risk of bankruptcy.

These people are already facing the most stressful, scary, and precarious situations of their lives — and they’re having to experience that in a strange city, away from the comfort of their own homes and the support of their family and community. We have to demand better.

Rod Ponton

Why are you running for Presidio county attorney?

I am a lifelong resident of the Big Bend. My father was a physician in Alpine for 40 years. I have had a lengthy and successful career as an attorney, and I enjoy using my 42 years of experience helping Presidio County — the poorest county in Texas. I don’t need the job, but I want to help improve healthcare, develop jobs, improve trade, lower taxes, and help improve the communities of Marfa and Presidio.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what makes you qualified? 

I have been an attorney for 42 years. I graduated from the University of Texas, then from Texas Tech Law School in 1982. I practiced federal and state criminal defense law in El Paso from 1983 to 1997. In 1988 I was named “Criminal Defense Lawyer of the Year” by the State Bar of Texas. I worked for Enron Corp. (Houston) from 1997 to 1999 and returned to the Big Bend to resume my private law practice in 2000. I have been city attorney for the cities of Alpine, Presidio, Pecos and Balmorhea. I was elected 83rd District attorney from 2013 to 2016. I have been Presidio County Attorney for ten years. I was honored by the Texas Legislature as a Texas Distinguished Attorney in April 2023. I enjoy serving my communities by giving back to them and sharing my decades of experience to help solve problems.

What are your primary goals?

With the election of Presidio County Judge Jose Portillo, the Presidio County criminal dockets are now being kept current. We have monthly criminal dockets. I have obtained $170,000 this year in new state grants for the county attorney’s office. I have hired an additional legal assistant and a crime victim coordinator. The work of the office is being kept up to date. My goals are to work with the county judge to reduce taxes on working people in the county and develop more affordable housing for regular workers. I want to develop more jobs in Marfa and help develop more trade in Mexico to increase Presidio employment.

What issues are you passionate about that you are looking forward to contributing to?

I am passionate about trying to help the working people of the county keep their homes, reduce their property taxes, have more affordable housing, and increase the ability of folks to stay in Presidio County. This will increase the schools’ population and help our communities. I worked for five years to bring a state-of-the-art health clinic to Presidio, bringing the hospital and hospital district together, to open the new BBRMC/BBRHD clinic — open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. and for walk-ins, staffed by a physician. I will keep working to expand days and specialty care, then work to develop a new state-of-the-art medical building in Presidio.

Tax assessor-collector

Nancy Arevalo

Why are you running for tax assessor-collector?

I’m stepping up to serve as tax assessor-collector because I believe in unwavering leadership and genuine public service. My commitment to conservative values drives me to always prioritize what’s right and honorable. I’m determined to inject professionalism and accountability into this role, ensuring it operates efficiently and effectively for our community. With a focus on positive change and a track record of getting things done, I’m the strong choice for this position.

Can you tell us a little bit about your background and what makes you qualified?

With over 30 years running my own tax business in Presidio, coupled with a Bachelor of Business Administration from Sul Ross State University, my credentials speak for themselves. I’ve also served as the director of finance for the City of Presidio as well as holding roles on the city council and as president of the Presidio Municipal Development District. This experience equips me with the financial acumen and leadership skills needed to bring real improvement to the tax assessor position.

What would your primary goals be if you were elected?

My primary goals revolve around transparency, efficiency and top-notch customer service. I aim to foster open communication with county departments and the public, ensuring everyone is informed and engaged. By prioritizing professionalism and implementing modern, user-friendly services like online tax payment options, I’ll elevate the standard of service in the tax assessor’s office. Continuous education and training will be key to staying ahead and delivering the best possible experience for the people of Presidio County.

What issues are you passionate about contributing to?

I’m passionate about transparency and professionalism in government, especially in the tax assessor-collector role. Representing Presidio County with integrity and excellence is my priority, and I’m eager to bring positive change to this vital position.

Norma Valenzuela

I am currently working as a deputy clerk and would like to continue working at the office as your new tax assessor-collector. My roots are here in Presidio County. I was born and raised in Marfa, and I have two wonderful sons and daughters-in-law as well as four grandchildren.

I have 19 years of experience as a deputy clerk. Through my experiences, I have learned the many tasks that this office requires, and continue learning due to changing laws. The tax assessor has many responsibilities, such as tax calculations and contracts for other entities. As an employee, I know how to collect funds and make sure that our daily reports match with our daily deposits. Our office mails out tax statements annually. This occurs usually in the first week of October for Presidio County because of the discount that certain entities offer. In order for your tax office to send out the property tax statements on time, we have to close both offices to regular business activities. Here in Presidio and in Marfa, it takes all five employees to fold and stuff each individual tax statement and insert statements into envelopes. This process means that we work an approximate 12-hour shift for four consecutive days in order to get you your tax statements in a timely manner. 

Please keep in mind that we are talking about over 18,000 accounts and even more depending upon real estate sales or splitting out properties. First, we start off by printing the tax statements, followed by stuffing envelopes and finally running the envelopes through our postage machine. That alone takes a full day, which occurs on the fifth day while our office is also open to the public — as well as answering phone calls and emails. Once all statements are prepared, we take boxes to the post office. Then we start the new tax year. By the end of October, we are collecting funds from customers who are coming in to pay their property taxes. 

This collection of property taxes is for the county and other taxing entities that we contract with. My knowledge of processing ad valorem taxes includes collecting daily funds and depositing them to the bank and balancing daily reports. The end of the month requires the completion of a monthly report which shows how much tax was collected and must match our daily report totals. The report also breaks down each entity and will reflect the amount of funds an entity will receive.

From this monthly report, we are able to distribute funds to each entity as well as a clear report. During this process, I and my co-workers have other duties and responsibilities such as: vehicle and titling registration from an individual to a person or to car dealers, issue permits, special license plates, apportion and/or combination plates, disabled plates or placards, processing credit card transactions for vehicles, and balancing collection for the day. We handle voter registrar and collection of TABC licenses; all these duties are in service to the county. 

The tax assessor-collector is responsible for overseeing deputy clerks to ensure that reports are balanced and other tasks are performed. The tax assessor-collector must successfully complete continuing education hourly requirements each year as well. I have worked in the tax assessor-collector office for almost 20 years, and this has prepared me to run for the office of your tax assessor-collector for Presidio County. I am qualified for the position and can fulfill the duties Immediately when I am elected!

My primary goal is to continue serving the public. My commitment is to be here for the public and my doors will always be open. Our current tax assessor-collector’s goal is to initiate the ability to use credit card services for payment of property taxes. This is something customers have been asking us for. Though we have not been able to offer this service just yet, I will continue to work toward making credit card services available.

I am asking for the people of Presidio County to go out and vote and vote for me as your next tax assessor-collector. Thank you.