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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, November 10, 2006

Contreras wins judge’s race; Hanks seeks recount

Staff Writers

Town of Pecos City Finance Director Sam Contreras won a 96-vote victory over Robert Hanks on Tuesday in the election for Reeves County Judge, but Hanks said he plans to ask for a recount, saying the total number of votes cast in the race fell short of the county’s overall vote total.

Hanks, the Republican nominee, received 856 votes, while Contreras, the Democratic nominee, picked up 952 votes. Hanks said he was basing his recount on the fact that 462 people who voted did not cast ballots in the county’s judge’s race.

“We talked to the Secretary of State, and said we’ve never seen anything where 22 percent of the votes are not counted,” Hanks said.

However, Reeves County Clerk Dianne Florez said the total number of undervotes (votes for no candidate) and overvotes (votes for more than one candidate, which nullifies the vote) matched up with the overall ballot total. A total of 2,270 voters overall cast ballots, of which 1,808 voted for Hanks or Contreras, according to the Reeves County Clerk’s office.

The County Judge’s election was the only contested local race, and one of just two area races to draw significant attention. The other, which matched incumbent Congressman Henry Bonilla against a field of six other candidates, drew 1,876 votes in Reeves County, according to figures from the Texas Secretary of State’s website.

Hanks received a total of 440 votes on Election Day, while Contreras received 451 votes. During early voting, Hanks had 416 and Contreras had 501. A total of 1,215 people cast ballots early, the clerk’s office said, while another 1,055 people cast ballots on Tuesday. Hanks filed a petition for vote recount citing Texas Election Code, Sec. 212.0241, a petition for a recount for the subject Nov. 7, General Election for County Judge.

In his letter, Hanks, states, “I understand that the Recount Coordinator and/or Supervisor has 48 hours to alert me as to the decision regarding my petition (Sec. 212.029). Mr. Galindo, per Sec. 212.0241, it is understood that the Recount needs no grounds if an Electronic System tabulated the results.”

Hanks said he has sent a letter to Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo asking for a recount, along with a copy to Florez. “If he refuses, then the state will step in,” Hanks said. Contreras won the election after a 15-vote win in the April 11 runoff election against Al Gomez. Vote counting problems in that election resulted in a recount, and then a lawsuit being filed by Gomez, who had finished first in a five-person field in the March Democratic primary. Contreras was officially ruled as the winner of the runoff election in August, while Hanks ran unopposed in March for the Republican nomination.

“I would like to sincerely thank my family, supporters for all their hard work and sacrifice that they have had to endure. I would also like to thank everyone that voted for me, I intend to work hard for all the citizens of Reeves County to make it a better place to live,” said Contreras.

“I ask all the people of Reeves County for their support, I will need you more than you will need me. If the county is to move forward, we will need to work together to accomplish many things,” said Contreras.

“I would like to express to everyone that I am a believer in Christ, and I consider myself a man of my word. The saying says, ‘Practice what you preach,’ I believe I do,” said Contreras. “I am nowhere near perfect. However, I am a believer in God’s Word and my source of strength,” he said.

Contreras said, “I have faith that Reeves County is poised to experience prosperity like we have not seen before. I ask for your prayers and may the Lord bless us all,” he said.

Alvarez sworn in as Slack’s assistant

Alva Alvarez took her oath of office to serve as Assistant Reeves County Attorney on Tuesday morning, shortly after being sworn in as a Texas lawyer.

Alvarez was hired by County Attorney Dick Slack, almost a year to the day that the 91-year-old Slack assumed the position as an emergency replacement for Reeves County Attorney Luis Carrasco.

“She’s going to assist me in preparing legal representation for trial, and she’ll represent me in trials,” said Slack, after swearing in Alvarez in the 143rd District Courtroom in the Reeves County Courthouse.

Alvarez graduated valedictorian from Pecos High School in 1999, was accepted at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts and graduated with a B.A. in Social Anthropology with Honors in 2003.

She began law school in the fall of 2003 at the University of Texas in Austin and received her Doctorate of Jurisprudence in May.

While in law school, Alvarez participated in the Actual Innocence Clinic in which students investigate the claims of inmates who were convicted of a crime, yet maintain their innocence. Alvarez also participated in the Criminal Defense Clinic in which she represented indigent clients who had criminal charges brought against them by the State. In 2005, she served as an intern in Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle’s office where she assisted in bringing cases against criminal defendants on behalf of the State.

“I look forward to serving as Assistant County Attorney,” said Alvarez. “I enjoy Mr. Slack’s wit and wisdom, and I consider it an honor to work with him.”

With regard to moving back to Pecos, Alvarez said, “I like it here. I was born and raised in this town and I am happy to be home.”

Alvarez plans to engage in the private practice of law as well. She said, “For the last few years, I have been using my training in social anthropology to assist The Weinacht Law Firm in jury selection and I have been fortunate to participate in jury selection in two multi-million dollar wrongful death jury verdicts that were the largest awards in the history of Reeves County.”

Alvarez said that she plans to open her own private law office in the next few months. Alvarez is assisting Slack, who was elected to serve out the remaining two year term of Carrasco in Tuesday’s election after being appointed to the position last November.

Carrasco resigned after an investigation into allegations of theft and misappropriation of funds. He reached a plea agreement on three of the charges, and is currently in a residential treatment facility (halfway house).

Slack’s appointment was done less than 10 days after the resignation, in order to remove Carrasco from the county payroll. Slack served as Reeves County Judge from 1949-52 before moving to the Texas Legislature, where he served 28 years as the area’s representative, and helped pass legislation creating the Reeves County Court-At-Law, where many of the duties of the county attorney are handled.

Council approves land sale for proposed Hampton Inn

Town of Pecos City Council members approved the sale of land near Reeves County Hospital for a new motel, during their regular meeting on Thursday morning, and the buyer said he would be meeting with representatives of the hotel chain in town on Friday.

Council members also went over activities involving the Pecos Economic Development Corp., including expansion plans at the Texas Transportation Institute/Applied Research Associates facility, approved a ballot proposal to change the PEDC from a 4A to a 4B corporation, and approved a five-year tax abatement for the Reeves County Teacher’s Credit Union on the former Goodyear building at Third and Cedar Streets.

The council accepted a bid for 1,500 on eight acres of land on Interstate 20, between the hospitals at the State Highway 17 exit, from Dr. Arbind Ghandi, who along with his brother Henry plan to build a Hampton Inn on the interstate, similar to one which opened last year in Fort Stockton.

“We have a gentleman coming from the Hilton Corporation tomorrow, and we will show him the land,” Dr. Ghandi told council members.

Earlier this year, Ghandi had planned to offer $8,000 an acre for a 27.5 acre section of land near the hospital, which was awarded by the city to Jaya Corp., which is owned by Ram Kunwar, for $1,125 per acre. In an April 3 letter to the council, Ghandi said has built 12 motels over the past 20 years and has two current under construction, along with owning 80,000 square feet of office space.

The council had discussed the change of the PEDC from a 4A to a 4B corporation at their last meeting, and the ballot proposal approved will be on the city election ballot in May. The change would allow sales tax funds for the PEDC to be used on a wider variety of projects. At the last meeting, PEDC president Joe Keese warned the council that use of the funds on items such as street and sewer repair and replacement could leave the group with no funds for recruitment of new businesses.

City attorney Scott Johnson said the language in the ballot proposal is similar to the one used by Fort Stockton when a change to a 4B corporation was put in its election ballot. “We’ll get comptroller approval, also,” he said.

PEDC President Mike Burkholder spoke to the council, and told them that ARA is planning to begin work on constructing three bunkers in which the company will test explosives under a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense. He said the buildings should cost about $500,000 and some local workers could be employed in the project.

Burkholder said another company, Austin Energy, called him to see if the PEDC would support tax abatement for improvements to land the company wants to use for a solar generation plant. He said the project was projected to cost $50 million, but told the council that the site is 25 miles south of Pecos, while mayor Dick Alligood said the company only wanted the abatement on the improvements to the property.

On the down side, Burkholder said the city’s population and median household income still put in on the outside as far as attracting a number of restaurant chains, while a shortage of labor in the area caused him to tell a representative of Schlumberger that the city could not supply 80 workers for an oilfield related crew.

The tax abatement for the Teachers Credit Union would come to $2,279 over the five-year period for work done to renovate the former Goodyear building, which now houses the credit union and Alltel Cellular.

“The Main Street design committee has some suggestions and are working with the principals involved,” Alligood said. He said there were three items the group wanted to see changed, but added, “It’s a great addition to Pecos. It changed the look of the corner dramatically.”

Stockton coach faces probe on press box fight

A Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD coach has filed a complaint against a Fort Stockton ISD coach, following an altercation that occurred last Friday in the press box during the Pecos-Fort Stockton high school football game.

“The two officers that were working security, asked a Fort Stockton coach to leave the press box,” said Town of Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney.

McKinney said that the coach had filed a complaint following an altercation that occurred in the press box and that the two officers were notified of it. “The officers said that they asked him to leave and now that coach has filed a complaint with the sheriff’s department,” said McKinney.

P-B-T coach Arturo Rios filed a complaint in the Reeves County Sheriff’s Office, after he was shoved/bumped by Fort Stockton coach Charles Hammond during the Pecos-Fort Stockton game held in Pecos last Friday.

“The case is still under investigation,” said Reeves County Sheriff’s Deputy Ruben Dominguez.

Dominguez said that the sheriff’s office had received the complaint and that they are currently working on it.

“I have about four more witnesses that I have to talk to and then I will present the complaint to the judge, who will rule on it,” said Dominguez. “I just do the paperwork and then give it to the judge and it’s up to him whether there is enough evidence to arrest the other coach,” he said.

In the complaint, Rios alleges that Hammond had shoved him after he was asked to settle down, according to the report. Apparently, Hammond was upset and threw a chair at the wall and Rios stepped in to calm him down, which is when he was shoved/chest-butted by Hammond.

Hammond reportedly had been sitting on a stack of four chairs on the second floor of the press box, and became upset when P-B-T officials took two of the chairs for use on the press box’s first floor by two reporters for the Odessa American, who were covering the game.

“If he is arrested it will be a Class C misdemeanor, assault,” said Dominguez.

Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Jim Riley will preside over the case, once the investigation is completed.

Bonilla to face runoff election with Rodriguez

From Staff and Wire Reports

U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla fell just short of avoiding a runoff for the 23rd Congressional District seat he’s held since 1993, and will face a former congressman next month in a runoff election.

Bonilla finished with 49 percent of the vote, advancing to a runoff against former U.S. Rep. Ciro Rodriguez, a Democrat who got about 20 percent. Bonilla picked up 60,147 out of 123,749 votes cast, while Rodriguez received 24,593.

The Republican would have prevailed Tuesday with over 50 percent in the crowded eight-candidate race, which was thrown open to anyone after the U.S. Supreme Court found a portion of the congressional district boundaries unconstitutional.

In Reeves County, a total of 1,876 votes were cast for one of the candidates, out of 2,270 overall voters in the election. Bonilla picked up 1,004 votes to 365 for Uresti, 185 for Gilliland and 170 for Rodriguez.

While Democrats captured control of the House on Election Day, Bonilla said he was confident he would garner crossover votes from independents and conservative Democrats. "We're going to prevail," said Bonilla, who was first elected to Congress in 1992.

Rodriguez said he already has most of the other challengers in his camp.

"I'm excited, I'm ready and I'm looking forward to going out there and making some things happen and turning some things around," Rodriguez said.

Asked if he would be open to debating Rodriguez, Bonilla said he was open to requests and "happy to show the differences between the two of us."

"I'm just thrilled to death that he has a long history in Congress," Bonilla, 52, said of the 59-year-old Rodriguez. "And he has a career in politics that goes back to probably my time in diapers, and he has a record, a very solid one that people can look at and there will be very little that we have in common."

Rodriguez also said he would debate.

"Any time you get the incumbent into a runoff, he's in trouble," Rodriguez said, adding that the extra month to campaign will let him travel to new areas of the district.

Rodriguez said he expects support from the other Texas Democrats in Congress and said he expects to be well-financed, even though "I started with nothing and after the campaign I ended with nothing."

Challengers had little time to raise money after the high court ruling, while Bonilla had more than $2 million cash on hand at the end of September. Rodriguez announced plans to drop out of the race at one point due to a lack of funding, then changed his mind.

Albert Uresti placed third in the race, with 14,529 votes, while Lukin Gilliland, who spend the most money of any of Bonilla’s challengers, was fourth, with 13,725 votes.

Rodriguez served in Congress from 1997 to 2005. He twice lost in Democratic primaries to Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo, in the neighboring 28th District.

Cuellar’s narrow loss in 2002 to Bonilla for the 23rd District seat helped lead to the conditions that resulted in Tuesday’s special election.

This summer the Supreme Court ruled that the district, redrawn by the Legislature in 2003, violated the Voting Rights Act by diluting minority votes. The change included removing Laredo from Bonilla’s district to avoid a 2004 rematch against Cuellar, who instead defeated Rodriguez in that year’s Democratic primary.

The boundaries were drawn again this past August by a panel of judges, and the Hispanic voting-age population rose to 61 percent, from 51 percent in 2004. The new district stretches from near El Paso in far West Texas to the Mexican border and into San Antonio. Laredo remained in the 28rd District, while additional areas of San Antonio were added to the 23rd District.

Five districts that were redrawn by the panel because of the high court's decision held special elections Tuesday. The 23rd was the only one to remain undecided. The incumbents in each of the other districts got the 50 percent-plus they needed to avoid a runoff.

Scott Haywood, spokesman for the Texas Secretary of State's office, said no date for a runoff had been set because the votes in the district were not finalized. He said the runoff cannot take place before 30 days have passed.

Mr. & Mrs. Jeffrey Scott Brownlee unite in marriage

Miss Mindy Leeann Sonnier and Mr. Jeffrey Scott Brownlee were united in marriage on Saturday, September 30, 2006 at six o'clock in the evening at The Woodlands United Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas. The double-ring ceremony was officiated by Minister Howard Huhn. Following the ceremony, the bride’s parents hosted a reception in the Country Club Ballroom at The Woodlands Resort. On the eve of the wedding, the groom’s father hosted a rehearsal dinner at Brio Tuscan Grille in The Woodlands.

The bride is the daughter of David and Jeri Sonnier of Livingston, Texas and Brenda and Ryan Cornett of Georgetown, Texas. She is the granddaughter of Joyce Sonnier of Crosby, Texas, Gladys McRae of Sheldon, Texas, James and Francis Cornett of Austin, Texas, and David and Beverly Worthington of Naples, Florida. She is the great-granddaughter of Billy and Dorothy Kervin of Livingston, Texas.

The groom is the son of Mr. James Brownlee of Pecos, Texas and Ms. Jo Brownlee of Midland, Texas. He is the grandson of Jerry and Joann Bryan of Odessa, Texas and Floyd and Senaray Brownlee of Pecos, Texas.

Given in marriage by her parents and escorted by her father, the bride selected a Maggie Sottero strapless gown. The gown, made of satin with a lace overlay, featured an empire waist accented by a satin sash that wrapped to the corset back.

Miss Brittney Sonnier served her sister as Maid of Honor. Bridesmaids were Lisa Able of Plano, Texas, Anna Macias of North Aurora, Illinois, and Katie Patterson of Lubbock, Texas. Flower girls were Abigail Jackson, cousin of the bride, and Valerie Patterson.

Mr. Bryan Brownlee served his brother as Best Man. Groomsmen were James Brownlee, father of the groom, Jeff Knowles of San Angelo, Texas. and Chet Patterson of Lubbock, Texas. Ring bearers were Frazier Bourgoin and Kevin McRae, both cousins of the bride.

The bride is a 2001 graduate of Kingwood High School in Kingwood, Texas. She attended Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas and graduated in 2005 with two degrees, one in Accounting and one in Management. She currently is working as a Staff Accountant for Dixon Hughes LLP in Hurst, Texas.

The groom is a 1998 Graduate of Pecos High School in Pecos, Texas. He is a 2002 graduate of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, Texas where he received a degree in Finance. He is an Adjuster for Farmers Insurance Company in Richardson, Texas.

Following a honeymoon in Jamaica, the couple is residing in Grapevine, Texas.

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