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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Candidates tout improved county, city cooperation

Cooperation between local governmental entities needs to be improved, candidates for county judge and county commissioner agreed on Thursday night, during their issues forum at the Pecos High School auditorium.

The candidates also discussed their experience in handling budgets, along with ways to improve local housing during the 2 1/2 hour event, and all supported a code of ethics for local officials.

“My two top priorities are to bring back credibility to the commissioners court and county judge,” said county judge candidate Al Gomez, who cited his work as former Chamber of Commerce president. “We need cooperation in good faith with all governmental entities.” Grace Renteria said commissioners should be held more accountable to work done in their precincts, and they and the county judge should be more knowledgeable about the issues that come before the court.

“Do your homework,” she said, a statement that was echoed later by Precinct 2 candidate Gabriel Martinez.

Precinct 2 candidate Alvesia “Tita” Tarin said she was concerned about the lack of information being given to commissioners by current county judge Jimmy Galindo. “The county judge should provide all information available to him to commissioners,” she said, while adding that department heads should be able to better justify line-item transfers in the budget when shortfalls arrive.

County judge candidate Sam Contreras said “We need to have more accessibility from our elected officials,” while Precinct 4 candidate Ramiro “Ram” Guerra said he would call for quarterly meetings between the county, city and local school districts to discuss projects and issues that affect more than one group.

Precinct 2 commissioner candidate Conchita M. Hernandez said she wanted to move commissioner’s court meeting from mornings to evenings to allow for more attendance, and move it to a larger facility than the third floor courtroom at the Reeves County Courthouse. Incumbent Precinct 2 commissioner Norman Hill also hoped to improve communication with other governmental entities, while defending the current procedures. “There are guidelines and laws we have to follow,” said Hill, who also criticized some of the newspaper articles written about the commissioner’s court.

“We must remember that these articles and editorials are not carved in stone, “ he said. “The editorials are just the opinion of the editor.”

County judge candidate Bernardo Martinez talked about legal ways to award bids to local businesses, either at a cost no more than three percent above outside bidders or on contracts under $25,000. Later, during the question on handing the county’s budget, he cited his 20 years as county commissioner, and said “We don’t need outside people to help us, because the pattern is already set.”

Tarin criticized the $579 a month mileage expense given to commissioners and the $800 expense given to the county judge, while saying she wanted to go over budget items one at a time. Renteria said the budget needs to be evaluated, and transfers within the budget need to be checked to see if they are properly being used, while Ramirez said all departments needed to be looked. Guerra promised not to exceed the set budget, as did county judge candidate Israel Campos. “The most important duty the county judge has is solving the problem,” he said.

“With the county having a $50 to $60 million budget, you have to look at everything, and there are a lot of places for waste,” said Contreras. “I think my experience puts me ahead of my opponents.”

Hernandez called for equitable distribution between departments, while Gomez called for improved cooperation and said, “I will ask for help from all the department heads.”

On the housing issue, no candidate had a specific solution to the problem of raising housing values locally to the point that new construction of homes would be feasible which would being more people into the area.

“I do not believe that this is an issue the commissioner’s court has to handle alone, because there are so many factors involved,” said Hill, who also wondered how local businesses would react to having competitors brought into Pecos.

“I don’t have an answer to this, but I’m working on it, and I don’t believe any other candidates have answers to this,” said Hill, who said the county needed to work with other organizations on the problem.

Gomez said the reopening of the Smithers Test Track by ARA and TTI should bring some new jobs into the area, and said improving the business outlook would in turn make new home construction more likely.

“”We have not been working outside the county. Nobody has been out there shaking hands,” he said, adding he would attend outside events to try and lure businesses to Pecos. “We’ll have a proposal for you. You may not take it, but we’ll have it for you.”

Ramirez supported building new homes, while Tarin talked about cutting overspending and better cooperation with the city. Contreras discussed seeking out HUD or USDA loans from the federal government, or ORCA loans from the state for new housing starts, while Gabriel Martinez said he would work with the economic development committee to search for housing grand funds.

“The short-term goal is to work with realtors and put the word out that property is available,” said Guerra. Campos said the county should help newcomers in finding homes, while Hernandez said improving clean up within the city will improve the value of current properties. “I don’t think we need more low-income homes. We need medium income for bringing people into the community.”

Bernardo Martinez returned to the theme of cooperation, citing the recent fighting between city and county officials. “Business people will not come into a community where there is bickering and fighting. We need to establish trust,” he said. “If we can’t do that, we might as well say goodbye to Pecos because these water rates are going to keep going up.”

Renteria said along with attracting new workers, the county needs to help develop programs to keep the children of current workers from leaving town when they grow up. “We need to not only attract people to our community, but to retain then,” she said.

Prison pact sparks biggest debate at issues forum

Candidates for local office voiced only a few differences on Thursday night, during the Issues Forum for the March 7 Democratic primary election.

“It was really civil,” said Terry Gilmour, associate professor at Midland College, who served as moderator for the debate, held at the Pecos High School auditorium. “The more polished candidates had more to say, and the less experienced ones were more reticent.”

The biggest disagreement came during answers to the first question of the night posed by Gilmour. The question dealt with negotiating skills and negotiating a new contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons for Reeves County Detention Center’s No. 3 unit. The main debate was between former Reeves County Commissioner Bernardo Martinez and some of the other candidates on stage over the length of the contract and the need for a professional negotiator to work for the county.

Reeves County and prison management company GEO are currently in competition for a contract to house over 1,000 inmates at RCDC III. In 2003, the BOP refused to place prisoners in the new $40 million facility, after putting over 2,000 inmates into RCDC I and II. The refusal caused a financial crisis for the county, until after GEO was hired and inmates were secured under a year-to-year contract with the State of Arizona.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Norman Hill was the only incumbent at Thursday’s forum, and opened the session by saying, “My negotiating skills are very limited. I have no skills at negotiating. But I've been a commissioner for three years now and I believe if I had to sit down at a table and negotiate that I could do so. And as far as the BOP right now we are in negotiations with the BOP and I have been told we should be receiving an answer to the contract by at least July of this year.

“Now I cannot honestly say we will reach an agreement for a contract, but I can say this, Reeves County is one of the top contenders for this contract,” said Hill, who is seeking a second term as commissioner.

Martinez, who is seeking to replace Jimmy Galindo as county judge after serving five terms as Precinct 4 commissioner, said reports that the county could get a long-term contract with the BOP were untrue.

“I was county commissioner back in ‘82, 3, 4 and 5 when we started building RCDC I,” he said. “I was a full time commissioner and I was one of the persons that negotiated the first contract, and you don't get a long-term contract with the BOP. It's only three years.

“That is, you keep the contract for three years if you do a good job, and if you don't, you keep the same man-day rate and they'll take prisoners from you. There is no such thing as a long-term contract,” Martinez said. “You have to figure out your costs, which they'll approve at their convenience, but there is no long-term contract.”

Town of Pecos City finance director Sam Contreras, one of the four other county judge hopefuls, said he believed Martinez was mistaken on the issue.

“I know Bernardo said there is no long term contract,” he said. “As I'm not too familiar with the contract, but I as told there is a possibility of a 10-year contract.”

The second debate came when county judge candidate and former sheriff’s deputy Israel Campos called for hiring a professional negotiator to represent the county with the BOP.

“I know what my limitations are as far as negotiations are concerned. If I'm meeting with the people at the national level, at the federal level, I will have a professional there. We currently have a lobbyist that has been fighting for us and as Norman has described to us he is a professional negotiator,” Campos said. “At the current time Reeves County doesn't have any professional negotiator. This one of the ways I would address with BOP to extend the contract or even get a contract for RCDC III.”

“We don't need a lobbyist in Austin. We didn't need lawyers in Austin,” said Martinez. “These people are good people. The BOP are good people. They're not against you.

They're not against us. If you speak to them, they will speak back to you. They're nice people. We negotiated with them the first contract, the second contract without any problems, without any lawyers, without any lobbyists in Austin. That's just a waste of money.”

“In dealing with the people at the federal level, these guys are big league,” Campos said in his reply. “We need professional negotiators to go out there. Like they say in the cop world, you can't take a knife to a gunfight. These folks up there in Washington, this is a highly competitive contract. We cannot afford to damage, or to further damage, the relationship that we have just begun to re-establish with the BOP.”

Other candidates stayed away from those debates, while stressing their skills as negotiators. “I grew up in a business environment, and we do have plenty of time to negotiate in a business environment,” said local businessman Al Gomez. “We negotiate on a day by day basis where we negotiate goods and services and that is very important because we need to make sure we need to make we get a good product and we set a good price on costs.

“I feel that we never should put all of our eggs in one basket and so if we do that we'll lose all sorts of negotiation leverage and for negotiation leverage we're always available, at least I am to have Plan A Plan B and Plan C available,” Gomez said. “To the question of negotiating a successful contract we have to establish a cost. The county judge and county commissioners will have to establish a cost. That way we know what we're negotiating.” The other candidate for county judge, Grace Renteria, cited her 16 years of experience working at the RCDC, and her contact while there with BOP officials.

“I believe the proposal should be prepared for them, in that first you look and see what they need are or the county and what the needs are for the BOP. From there you prepare your costs for the first 12 months and from the 12 months you need to include the necessary costs, which would include personnel, facilities care, and education for the inmates that are being incarcerated,” she said. “Also you must be creative. Tell the truth. Don't lie to them, because we've already lost our credibility with them in the first place.”

Contreras cited his work negotiating with the U.S. Marshal’s Service for the city’s inmate contract with the Criminal Justice Center. “We negotiated successfully once, we are still in further negotiations,” he said. “One thing we employ at the city is no one person is involved in the entire process. We include other staff members that include the council, city manager.

“I don't take sole credit for any of the success we've had with the city, but I do take some of the lead in some of the negotiations or assist in some of the negotiations. So I believe I can definitely negotiate or bring in the same strategy with the county,” he said.

The five other candidates at the forum, who are seeking the Precinct 2 and 4 commissioners positions, listed their past jobs that would help in negotiations, along with some of their own ideas for dealing with the BOP.

“Commissioners court has to get together with the GEO officials, but we also should insist that a BOP official be present to take actions and to do things correct. We must follow the steps and that is to be informed and educated,” said Precinct 2 candidate Alvesia “Tita” Tarin. “As of January 2006 the BOP had approximately 18,764 inmates in privately owned facilities such as ours. Out of that amount we had approximately 2114 inmates. So yes we do have the facilities and we need to get a contract with the BOP.”

The other Precinct 2 hopeful, Gabriel Martinez, cited his 12 years at the prison, and said nine involved work with the BOP. “I understand the statement of work, which is the guidelines that the bureau follows. I believe we have a good report card with the RCDC 1 and 2 I think we have provided and excellent service and they shouldn’t have any problems providing problems with (RCDC) three,” he said.

“I would go to other prisons, for example for the one that's in Sierra Blanca or Fort Stockton and talk to the people that are there ask as far as what they have done or what has worked for them, and use that to work at dealing with BOP,” said Precinct 4 candidate Conchita M. Hernandez. “I feel that it's important that we communicate every that we need as far as what they need and do something that's going to benefit the community as well as BOP. And if it means giving BOP a break in the fees and the charges so that we can have more inmates, I feel that is important as well. “

“If elected this would be my first time going in. But I feel having good negotiating skills is essential to Reeves County,” said Precinct 4 candidate Ramiro “Ram” Guerra. “So I would work hard and research as much as I could to make the best representation for Reeves County.”

“I would allow the RCDC to raise their man-day rate for the utility costs,” said Alex Ramirez, who is also seeking the Precinct 4 seat. “If for every three years the utilities are going to go up have that cost in so we can come back and change something that went up. If were' going to go into a contract with them we have to be in good faith so we can reestablish our faith with them. We don't want them to leave and leave us with nothing.”

Hernandez, Guerra and Ramirez are challenging two-term incumbent “Hivi” Rayos for the Precinct 4 seat. Rayos was the only local candidate in the commissioners’ races not in attendance at Thursday’s issues forum.

Galindo contradicts Martinez on long-term deal

Reeves County has submitted a proposal for the detention of federal inmates on a 10-year basis, according to Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

“These long-term contracts give service providers an opportunity to bid on federal work,” Galindo said on Monday. “The BOP has been in business with Reeves County since 1998, in an intergovernmental agreement.”

Galindo’s statement came after former commissioner Bernardo Martinez, who is seeking the job Galindo is vacating at the end of the year, said at Thursday’s issues forum that the county could not get a contract longer than three years with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. A proposal to increase the number of beds at the Reeves County Detention Center III facility was discussed during a Reeves County Commissioners Court meeting held in January.

At that time, commissioners met to discuss increasing the number of beds at the RCDC III facility, a plan that would also involve housing BOP inmates for the first time at the site. “A proposal was approved to be submitted, which would increase the number of beds at that facility to 1,356,” said Galindo.

Galindo said that the Bureau of Prisons had requested 1,200 beds.

The county, along with prison management company GEO have submitted a proposal to the Federal Bureau of Prisons in response to a competitive solicitation issued by the FBOP for the housing of up to 1,356 FBOP prisoners.

“Seventeen years is a pretty long time to be in a relationship,” said Galindo.

In the proposal, RCDC III will require structural modifications and additions in order to accommodate additional prisoners beyond its current capacity of 960.

The estimated total coast of the improvements is approximately $3 million.

GEO has agreed to pay $1.5 and the county agreed an amount not to exceed $1.5, which will come out of the bond proceeds for the RCDC III bond issue, according to Galindo.

“The addition of 452 beds will improve the economics of operations of RCDC III,” said Galindo. “This will also create another 20 positions at the facility, mainly medical services personnel,” he said.

Another year extension was added in July of 2005. However, Arizona officials were hoping to return all their inmates being kept in out-of-state facilities once new prison bed space was added in their state.

“In the detention services, the BOP is an excellent customer,” said Galindo.

“The award of the latest solicitation has been moved to July of this summer,” said Galindo.

Madla, Uresti CHIP away at positions during debate

State Sen. Frank Madla and State Rep. Carlos Uresti took their traveling campaigns to the Reeves County Democratic Primary Issues Forum in Pecos on Thursday night, though the issues the two men wanted to focus on were often not the ones they were questioned about.

Madla, a San Antonio Democrat who has served as Reeves County’s state senator for the past decade, and Uresti, who has represented a section of San Antonio in the Texas House for the past nine years, have been trading charges in a series of mailings to residents across the 19th District, and more recently in television ads airing in the San Antonio area. Those charges were the main ones the two candidates clashed on during their joint appearance in Pecos.

Both candidates arrived late, after attending a similar event in Fort Stockton. The argument, centering around Madla’s votes on cuts in Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIPs) funds, began during a rebuttal by Uresti, on the second question of the forum posed by moderator Terry Gilmour of Midland College, on what role the state government has in ensuring all citizens have access to affordable health care.

“I served on the Public Heath Committee for five years and I chaired the Human Services Committee when a bill came forward that cut 180,000 children off of CHIPs. We never should have made those cuts to begin with, and I fought those cuts,” Uresti said. “I fought privatization of our DHS offices that placed barriers on our senior citizens to access health care. We never should have supported that bill I fought that bill as chairman of Human Services. My opponent didn't.”

“My opponent continues to mislead the people of this district,” Madla replied “He needs to tell you the truth, which is when this bill came back from the conference committee I voted against it. I did vote to suspend the rules along with the lady who wrote the CHIPs bill. The lady who wrote the bill. I voted with her because she knew more about that bill than my opponent and I put together. Yes. I voted to suspend the rules of the debate, but when it came back I voted against it.”

The senator went on to say, “I was never removed as chairman of any committee. My opponent did such a poor job that the speaker, the Republican speaker he voted (Tom Craddick of Midland) for removed him as chairman of that committee.”

Uresti replied to that charge during his rebuttal time on the next question, on school finance reform.

“I'd like to set the record straight. The Senator forgot to mention I was reappointed as chairman of Government Reform this past session. And he was the deciding vote, because why did 10 other Democrats vote against those cuts to CHIPs, except for him,” Uresti said. “I didn't vote for vouchers. There was a bill that came forward in the Senate that included a program for vouchers. I didn't vote for that. My opponent did.”

“There were 13 Democrats,” Madla said in his reply. “Ten voted not to suspend, three of us voted to suspend and debate a bill the way we were supposed to. That's why you elect us, to debate a bill on the Senate floor and not to run and hide behind the skirts of somebody that doesn't want to fight on the floor of the Senate. And let me tell you, I didn't vote for any voucher bill. No one can point out to that bill.”

Both candidates did have enough time left over to reply to the questions asked by Gilmour. On the question of revitalizing rural communities, Uresti said, “We must prevent further privatization which results in the loss of jobs to these small communities, and we must promote and utilize the enhancement fund this is how we accomplish what we're talking about when we talk about revitalization.

“Two sessions ago I voted, I supported for a bill to give the governor discretionary fund. By doing that he has the incentive to bring manufacturing jobs to these communities,” he said.

Madla focused on improving health care to rural areas.

“I've worked very diligently with local hospitals I have worked with local hospital here in Reeves County to keep local hospitals open. For example I worked very hard recently to bring a local physician to Van Horn. They have only one doctor,” he said. “I worked very hard for example to bring physicians to Maverick County hospital they're in deep trouble with the Texas Medial Association. They don't want doctors to work for hospitals they only want them to work for themselves. I passed legislation to allow physicians to decide for himself whether he wants to work for a hospital or not.”

He continued that theme in the follow-up question on affordable health case, saying funding needs to be increased for EMS personnel and equipment. He also talked about alternative options for health care.

“I want to make sure we do everything we can to help nurse practitioners and physicians assistants. Why help expand their scope of practice? So they can provide health care to those of you who are in this room. They couldn't do that because the doctors wouldn't let them,” Madla said.

“We have a moral and ethical obligation to make sure all our citizens have access to health care. To do less is unconscionable,” said Uresti, who said outside funds could be found to fund the CHIPs program.

“The way you make this happen is to get matching funds. For every dollar we get for CHIPs we get three dollars, and that's how you pay for it,” he said.

In the question on school finance, Madla said rural communities need more transportation funding and funding formulas needed to be changed for districts losing students.

“This school district for example spends $425,000 on transportation,” he said. “The state gives you $125,000 and that is wrong .I would make sure for small and rural school districts, we need to adjust the formula so when you lose students that you have an opportunity to adjust to that loss without us yanking the dollars away from you immediately. That is wrong.

“It is not your fault that you have to continue to teach in that classroom. You have to have time to adjust. I think we need to make sure in school finance that we have equity. You have to have equity not only in the large urban areas, we need to have equity here in Pecos and the dollars have to come from the state,” said Madla, who also criticized Uresti and the House for failing to pass a school finance reform bill.

Uresti replied by criticizing Madla on vouchers, and said, “Our future depends on educating our children. We must have equity so that any child, regardless of where they come from, can go to any college, whether it be UT, A&M, and they can compete and fulfill their dreams.

“The state needs to contribute more to our community and not put the burden on our local taxpayers. We must more money into transportation and we must provide more money to rebuild our schools,” he said.

Uresti cited preserving natural resources and education as his top two priorities if elected to the Senate, while Madla also cited natural resources, focusing on water rights. “Water in West Texas is like blood in your veins,” he said, while mentioning the Rio Nuevo proposal to pump water from the Davis Mountains area to Central Texas.

Uresti said he supported full financial disclosure for elected officials, along with bans on lobbyists being allowed on the floor in the Legislature and on being allowed to write bills for legislators. Madla said he also supported reform but added that Texas has the best lobbyist legislation in the nation.

Early voting for primary underway

Early voting opened on Monday and continues through March 3 for the Democratic and Republican primary elections, at the Reeves County Courthouse lobby.

Election Day is Tuesday, March 7 and will be conducted at the various polling places.

All local candidates except for county judge candidate Bobby Hanks are running in the Democratic primary, but voters can cast ballots in other state races in both primaries.

Local positions up for election include those of Reeves County Judge; commissioners precinct 2 and 4; county clerk; district clerk; county treasurer; county-court-at-law judge and county attorney.

Valenzuelas announce birth of daughter

Ayiana Nevaeh Valenzuela was born Feb. 8, at Midland Memorial Hospital.

Little Ayiana weighed six pounds, nine ounces and was 19 inches long at birth.

Her parents are April and Fernando Valenzuela.

Ayiana was welcomed home by her two big brothers, Junior and Austin Valenzuela.

Grandparents are Mr. and Mrs. Richard Jenkins.

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York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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