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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Recount triples Contreras’ win in judge’s race

A recount last Tuesday of the Nov. 7 election for Reeves County Judge may have created more questions than it answered, after the new results increased the vote total of tentative winner Sam Contreras by 193 votes.

Contreras, who faced a four month challenge in court before being declared the winner of the April 11 Democratic Party primary runoff by 15 votes, had scored a 96-vote win over Republican Robert Hanks in the initial vote count for the Nov. 7 general election. However, Hanks asked for a recount, saying that only 1,808 of the 2,270 Reeves County residents who voted overall had cast votes in the county judge’s race.

But according to figures from Reeves County Clerk Dianne Florez and current County Judge Jimmy Galindo, while the recount added four votes to Hanks’ Nov. 7 total, Contreras’ total went up by 199 votes from the original figure.

The recount, held on Nov. 21 at the Reeves County Courthouse, more than tripled Contreras’ victory margin in the election, and increased the actual vote total in the county judge’s race by more than 20 percent.

According to the recount numbers, Hanks received 960 votes and Contreras got 1,251. In the Nov. 7 election, Hanks received 856 votes, while Contreras picked up 952 votes.

Hanks said Monday morning he did not want to comment at this time about Contreras’ victory margin going from 96 to 291 votes, but added, “I intend to make a statement later.” After scheduling the recount for Nov. 21, Galindo ordered the 2,270 ballots be placed in the custody of the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department on Nov. 16. They were turned over to Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez by Florez that afternoon.

Neither county elections officials nor Contreras had an explanation of why 203 votes were missed in the initial ballot count for county judge, but Contreras was hoping there would be no further challenges to the recount result.

“Right now, I just feel relieved that this is all over,” he said.

Contreras said that he plans to work closely with the commissioner’s and prioritize needed changes.

“The county judge’s office will be located at the courthouse,” said Contreras. “ I plan on hiring a administrative secretary, as for any other changes I will wait to till see where those changes will be needed,” he said.

In the initial Election Day vote count, Hanks received a total of 440 votes 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 Election Day.

This was the third election of the year involving the county judge’s race, and the second that has resulted in a recount. Questions about missed ballots in the initial count of the April 11 runoff election led candidate Al Gomez to file a suit, after Contreras defeated him by a 15-vote margin.

Gomez had placed first and Contreras second in a five-person field in the March 7 Democratic primary. After a series of hearings, Contreras was ruled winner of the runoff election in late July, while Hanks ran unopposed in March for the Republican nomination for Reeves County Judge.

All three elections were conducted using the county’s new optical scanning vote system. The new system replaced the county’s old punch card ballot system under federal order, after Congress outlawed the punch card ballots as of the end of 2005, as a result of problems with the 2000 presidential election and ballot recounts in Florida.

Rotary adds fireworks display to Christmas tree lighting show

The skies of Pecos will be lit up Tuesday night as the Pecos Rotary Club presents Holiday Show in the Sky, as part of the Sixth Annual Community Christmas Lighting Ceremony, set for 7 p.m., at Maxey Park.

“A new event has been added this year, that is sure to delight the entire community,” said Nancy Martinez.

A professionally choreographed fireworks display is set to light up the sky just before the tree and park area are lit up.

“Everyone is encouraged to come early because there will be many road closures in the area because of the fireworks display,” said Martinez.

Students who will be singing can be dropped off at the tree lighting location and the parents can park on the further west side of Maxey Park.

Master of Ceremonies for the event will be Rotarian John Grant.

The evening will open up with the Reeves County Detention Center color guard posting the colors and Sara West singing the National Anthem.

Mariachi Perla will then sing a couple of Christmas carols before the Austin Elementary, 1-3 grade students, begin singing.

The students will sing three carols before the lighting and three carols after the tree is lit. Several schools will be participating: Austin Elementary students will also be decorating three trees. Bessie Haynes will be decorating trees and a section of fence and Crockett Junior High will be decorating a tree.

The schools have participated every year and receive a matching grant up to $200 for materials by American Home Health and Hospice.

The Firework Display will be professionally choreographed and conducted by Western Enterprises of Oklahoma.

The show will be a 10-minute show that will take place just before the tree is lit.

“The ATF and NATF (Texas and National Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms) have specific regulations regarding the distance in which public must be from the firework display,” said Martinez.

The road heading towards the airport, behind Sunday House will be closed as well as streets directly around the park, according to Martinez.

“The firework display is expected to be seen from great distances and will be beautiful sight for all,” said Martinez.

Hospital hires new physician, administrator

Reeves County Hospital has a new CEO and a new doctor, but is still looking to fill a second physician vacancy on the staff, and remains in the process of finalizing the agreements with its two newest employees.

The new CEO and the new physician were hired by the Reeves County Hospital District board following meetings held on Nov. 17 and Nov. 21 at the hospital. Al LaRochelle was hired as the new Chief Executive Officer, replacing Bill Conder, who retired at the end of May, while Dr. Loris DrePaul has been hired as a doctor of internal medicine to replace Dr. Haitham Jifi, who closed his practice in Pecos in June.

Interim CEO and RCH Chief Financial Officer Frank Seals said LaRochelle would be moving to Pecos from Montana, but had been at a hospital there for only a few months, after spending 13 years as CEO of Grace Cottage Hospital in Vermont.

“He graduated from Odessa College as a radiology technician, and has worked in West Texas. He was administrator at a hospital in Spearman for eight years,” Seals said.

“What I like is his stability. He was in Spearman for eight years and in Vermont for 13 years, so he’s shown he’s somebody who won’t leave in two or three years for greener pastures,” Seals said.

LaRochelle is scheduled to begin work at the hospital around Dec. 20, though final details on a contract are still to be worked out. “We have an understanding, but we don’t have a salary,” said hospital board president Linda Gholson.

Seals said the hospital still does not have a starting date for Dr. DrePaul’s practice, and that the doctor is currently up in New York. “Hopefully, he’ll be started before the first of the year,” he added.

Seals said the hospital is continuing to search for a replacement for Dr. Oladele Olusanya, who announced in September he plans to leave Pecos, after serving as OB-GYN for the hospital since 2002.

“Dr. Dele is relocating to Dallas. His fiancé is in her fellowship in endocrinology in Dallas, so that’s where he’s relocating, ” said Nadine Smith, secretary to the hospital’s CEO, when his decision was announced in September.

In April, the hospital signed an agreement with Texas Recruiters at a cost of $22,500 will be to seek a replacement for Jifi. Seals said Dr, DrePaul was found through the recruitment service, and the hospital continues to retain the company in its search for a replacement for Dr. Dele.

“We have the same company looking for a replacement for Dr. Dele, and two or three others, because finding a family practitioner who does OB-GYN is very difficult to find,” Seals said.

He added that the deal with Dr. DrePaul covers moving expenses and a first-year salary guarantee. He said the doctor spent five days in Pecos earlier this year, but has not finalized an agreement for office space outside the hospital, though either Dr. Dele’s office on Texas Street or Dr. Jifi’s former office on Daggett Street are possibilities.

In other action, the hospital approved a contract for a second anesthesiologist with CRNA, while agreeing to hire their current contract anesthesiologist, Jerry Giardina, as a regular hospital employee.

“Jerry has been working at the hospital for 25 years, and he wants to cut back a little,” Seals said. He added that the new contract employee, Jack Edmondson, will split time on two-week intervals with Giardina, starting in January.

“Jack has worked here two or three times over the last couple of months, and they went to anesthesiology school together,” Seals said.

The board tabled any action on selling land it owns a one-sixth share of next to the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena to the West of the Pecos Rodeo Committee. The committee wants to use the land to expand facilities for rodeo participants at the arena, but Seals said the complicated ownership arrangement for the land caused the board to delay any action at this time.

Christmas bonuses were also approved for RCH staff during last Tuesday’s meeting. Seals said the bonuses are $50 for part-time and $100 for full-time workers, depending on their time of employment at the hospital.

City, EMS seek county help on rural ambulance coverage

Town of Pecos City officials and Pecos EMS members plan to seek financial assistance from Reeves County after January 1 for funding ambulance services in the southern part of the county, including the Balmorhea and Saragosa areas.

Pecos City Council members and EMS Chief Dennis Thorp discussed that problem, as part of an update by Thorp on EMS activities during the council’s Nov. 21 meeting at City Hall. Reeves County has not contributed money towards the Pecos EMS service since 1989, when county voters created the Reeves County Hospital District with its own elected board and taxing abilities. Since then, the ambulance service has received funding from the hospital and the city, to go along with federal tobacco settlement funds and money collected from users of the service and other surrounding counties that receive partial coverage out of Pecos.

But Thorp said the number of volunteers both in the Pecos EMS and with the Balmorhea EMS have dropped over the years, to the point that Pecos crews often have to be dispatched 40 to 50 miles south to handle emergencies or accidents on Interstate 10.

“Balmorhea is in service only about half the time. Pecos EMS takes up the rest,” said Thorp, who said something needs to be done to restore full-time coverage in the southern part of the county.

“I think some time in the not-too distance future we need to look at full-time personnel in that area, because those people need to have as good a coverage as in this area, and right now they are not getting it,” he said.

“There used to be a lot more services,” Thorp said. “The Saragosa Mission used to have its own ambulance. Toyah used to have their own service. Those aren’t around any more.” Councilman Danny Rodriguez asked Thorp if the city needed to go before county commissioners seeking help in improving EMS service in the Balmorhea area.

“No doubt the county needs to contribute to the EMS funds, and right now, they’re contributing zero,” Thorp said, adding that the county also contributes no money to Balmorhea EMS operations.

“Why don’t we put it on the agenda and go to their meeting?’ asked councilman Frank Sanchez.

Pecos mayor Dick Alligood said city finance director Sam Contreras, who will become the new Reeves County Judge in January, is aware of the problem. “We’ll talk about it at the first meeting in January,” he said.

“I spoke to the new commissioners, and they’re shocked that the county doesn’t contribute,” Thorp said. “They said they would do something.”

“We need to look at this in a very positive way,” said Rodriguez. “We need to approach them on a deal, and not make a judgment call.”

Aside from seeking county help with EMS coverage in Balmorhea, Thorp also asked the council again to consider making the local service a full-time position. He said none of those who took a recent class on EMT training have taken the test to join the service, and that the $4 and hour rate for the volunteer service prevents them from bringing in any outside workers, since full-time EMS crews in Kermit, Monahans, Van Horn and Fort Stockton make in the $17-$18 an hour range.

“We can raise more money if we take over the transfer service from Reeves County Hospital,” he said. “The hospital would like for us to have it. They’ll have to buy two new ambulances if they don’t get rid of it.”

He said Pecos EMS could see $350,000 in fees if it took over the service of transferring patients between Pecos and other area hospitals, but that would still be about $150,000 short of the money the service would need to become a full-time paid service, which would be required for such a change to occur.

Thorp added the service would also have to increase over its current eight members. The shortage of personnel led Pecos EMS to turn Jaws of Life operations over to the Pecos Volunteer Fire Department. Sanchez said the transfer will have to be formally done with a budget amendment at a future council meeting.

Thorp also said the new collection agency for Pecos EMS, InterMedics, has been doing much better in getting payments, averaging about $20,000 a month, up from $11,000 under the former collection service, NRS.

City studies costs, options for starting up Internet site

A new web page that would contain minutes of city council meetings, city ordinances and other information about Pecos was discussed by council members and city officials last week. But the cost of the project caused some concern during the discussion held at council’s Nov. 21 meeting.

Main Street Program Coordinator Tom Rivera showed council members a proposal from, a company that designs and hosts web pages for cities and other governmental organizations that started operations 12 year ago.

“What Pecos needs to do is work with a company that has been in business for a long time,” said Rivera. He told the council the website proposed for Pecos would be similar to one CivicPlus designed for Taylor, Texas, while the look would be similar to the western design used by Dodge City, Kansas.

City officials along with those from the Pecos Chamber of Commerce and the West of the Pecos Museum were given a demonstration of the site Wednesday afternoon. The design includes drop-down menus and search options, and officials were told new pages or documents can be inserted into web page templates for posting without the need of a full-time webmaster, and automatic expiration dates could be set for web pages where information becomes outdated.

Rivera said start-up cost for a site similar to Taylor’s would be $4,900, with a $2,900 annual fee for 750 megabytes of archival storage. “It can go down if we take a lot of the bells and whistles off,” he said of the start-up cost.

Council member Danny Rodriguez questioned whether the city needed to spend money on a website. “There are still a lot of projects we need to finish in the city, instead of adding something else,” he said, while city manager Joseph Torres said other neighboring cities like Monahans and Fort Stockton have had web pages available for access by local residents and others for a number of years.

“We have not kept up with the technology,” he said, noting that businesses looking to move into a city often use the Internet to obtain preliminary information about a community. “This is something we need to do that would incrementally benefit Pecos.”

“I’m not saying this is the best, or this is the best cost, but I looked at this site, and it’s fantastic,” said Mayor Dick Alligood.

“I’d like to have someone here from CivicPlus for a demonstration,” said Councilman Michael Benavides, who was out of town on Wednesday for the Thanksgiving holiday. City officials later talked with a representative from the company about doing a demonstration at the council’s lone regular meeting next month, on Dec. 14.

In other action at the meeting, Torres said the city is still awaiting a response from the trustee with the U.S. Marshal’s Service on releasing funds owed to Pecos Criminal Justice Center jailers for the first year of operations at the 96-bed facility. The Marshal’s Service has agreed to compensate the city for a salary increase mandated by the U.S. Department of Labor for CJC guards that took effect after the city and the Marshal’s Service signed their original contract in 2001

During a review of the municipal court report, councilman Frank Sanchez asked if the city could enforce rules on tractor trailer rigs parking overnight on city streets. “We have an ordinance that they can park their trucks there, but the trailer exceeds the (allowed) length,” city attorney Scott Johnson said. “I’ll ask Julio (Quinones, Pecos PD compliance officer) if we can go over the ordinance.”

The council also approved an audit contract with Tracy Tartar, after hearing from him and his brother, Stacey. Both are Fort Worth CPAs who have handled audits for other area cities, including Fort Stockton. Tartar replaces El Paso CPA Dan Painter, who had handled the city’s audits for the previous 19 years.

The council also approved sale of the former Stafford Cleaners building in the 200 block of South Cypress Street to Lorena Archuleta, at a cost of $1,000. The sale was approved following a review, and council members were told the building will be used for an equipment rental business.

Pecos Fire Chief Freddy Contreras and training officer Noe Ybarra told the council they were seeking $4,200 in training grants from the Texas Forest Service. The money would cover training eight Pecos Fire Department members as vehicle driver/operators, along with training four people as Fire Officer 1 and four others in Methods of Teaching.

“They give up to three times to test. If you fail, you have to give it (the grant) back, but we haven’t had that happen yet,” Ybarra said.

Rivera noted that Pecos had been recognized as a Main Street community, and would soon be receiving a formal plaque noting the city’s selection.

Madla, family members die in Friday blaze

Associated Press Writer

SAN ANTONIO - A former Texas legislator died Friday when his house went up in flames after a holiday celebration that officials said included a large candle display.

Former Democratic state Sen. Frank Madla, 69, and his mother-in-law, Mary Cruz, died in the early morning blaze, family spokeswoman Toni Barcellona said. Madla’s only granddaughter, 5-year-old Aleena Jimenez, died on Saturday after she was declared brain dead by doctors at San Antonio’s University Hospital.

Madla served 20 years in the Texas House and another 13 in the Senate. He represented the state's largest Senate district, which stretches from El Paso to San Antonio and includes two-thirds of the Texas-Mexico border.

Assistant Fire Chief Randy Jenkins said the male victim, later identified as Madla, was burned beyond recognition while trying to get past an air conditioner in a second-floor bedroom window.

Firefighters pulled Cruz; Madla's wife, Helen; and the old granddaughter from the house and resuscitated them. Cruz died later at a hospital, a day prior to Aleena’s dearth. Helen Madla was in stable condition at an intensive care unit, hospital officials said.

The fire appears to have started accidentally, but investigators haven't determined if the candles or something else caused the fire, Jenkins said.

``They had a lot of candles - many, many, many, many candles,'' fire Capt. Art Villarreal told the San Antonio Express-News. They apparently were part of a holiday party display that took the family an hour to extinguish.

Madla, 69, resigned in May after losing to state Rep. Carlos Uresti in the March primary. Uresti and Madla had waged a bitter campaign in the primary election and Uresti expressed some regret, saying, "I wish some of the things that had gone on hadn't happened but that's the campaign world."

"We will miss Frank," Uresti told the San Antonio Express-News, noting the irony of the deaths coming the day after Thanksgiving.

"It's hard to make sense of any of this," he said. "I think all that we have been asking ourselves the last two days is 'Why?'"

A graduate of St. Mary's University, Madla was a junior high school teacher before he was elected to the Legislature. During last year's session, he was chairman of the intergovernmental relations committee and sat on the finance, natural resources and state affairs committees.

--- Associated Press writer Liz Austin Peterson in Austin contributed to this report.

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