Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Friday, August 25, 2006
Gomez lawsuit for new election gets underway
A visiting judge began hearing testimony Thursday morning in a lawsuit brought by Reeves County Judge candidate Al Gomez, in his effort to overturn the results of April’s Democratic primary runoff election.
Gomez, who lost the runoff by 15 votes to Sam Contreras, is seeking a new election be held due to voting irregularities in the April 11 runoff election. The suit cited both problems with counting of Election Day ballots and questions about assistance some voters had with their mail-in ballots.
The eventual winner will face Republican Bobby Hanks in the general election, which for now is still scheduled for Nov. 7.
Thursday’s hearing focused on voters who had assistance in filling out their mail-in ballots for the runoff election.
Gomez, the former Pecos Chamber of Commerce president, finished first and Contreras second, in the original March 7 Democratic primary. But he failed to get 50 percent of the vote in the five-person field, forcing the April 7 runoff. In that race, Contreras, the Town of Pecos City finance director, originally was reported to have won the election by 71 votes, but it was discovered the following day that votes in Box 4 had not been counted.
That reduced Contreras’ margin to 65 votes. It was then discovered that the number of votes counted did not equal the number of votes cast.
An investigation found uncounted ballots in the box for Precinct 7.
When the uncounted votes were added to the mix only 15 votes separated the two candidates with Contreras garnering 1,213 votes to Gomez’ 1,198.
Gomez filed the lawsuit challenging the results of the election and on April 19, 143rd District Judge Bob Parks ordered the precinct boxes sealed to preserve evidence.
Judge Parks recused himself from hearing the case, and in June, Judge Connally granted Gomez his motion to examine and photocopy records and ballots sealed in precinct boxes used in the runoff election he lost by eight votes.
Those boxes were returned to the courtroom Thursday morning after being kept at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Office all this time.
Several elderly individuals were subpoenaed and appeared Thursday. Most of these individuals were people who voted by ballot by mail and had someone help them with their ballot at that time of the elections.
Judge Connally made an announcement, which was translated in to Spanish, by interpreter Linda Foster, to all those present in the courtroom.
“If you received a notice in the mail, it means that you have been subpoenaed in a lawsuit involving the county judge’s race, Gomez versus Contreras,” said Judge Connally. “You’re testimony is necessary, but if you are sick you can wait at home until you are needed, but if you’re not, we want you to wait until you are asked to testify,” he said.
All those individuals who were sick were excused this morning, but were being asked to provide a phone number at which they could be reached.
The first witness that took the stand this morning was Anita Baeza, who was indicted in February for illegal assistance while helping voters cast ballots in the 2004 Reeves County Democratic Primary. The case was cited in Gomez’s July petition to the court. A trial in that case is still pending.
Baeza was asked by Gomez’ attorney Hal Upchurch about her involvement in the voting process and in helping individuals vote through the ballot by mail method.
She was questioned about how many people she helped, did she vote for these individuals and how exactly she helped the elderly vote.
Upchurch also talked about Baeza’s involvement with the elderly while she worked for the Reeves County Judge’s Office.
“So you know a lot of these individuals from your work at the judge’s office as well?” said Upchurch.
“Some of them, yes,” said Baeza.
She said she worked at the judge’s office helping individuals fill out paperwork mostly with their social security, food stamps information and other federal funding.
Baeza said that she continues to help these individuals in whatever they need, not just in voting.
“Were you the one who decided if they received the funding they needed?” asked Upchurch.
Baeza said that they needed to follow guidelines and that if funding was approved it had to be by the auditor.
Buck Wood, Contreras’ attorney, later asked Baeza, “you helped these individuals out, but they had to be approved by someone else.”
“Yes, it had to be approved by the auditor,” she said.
During her testimony, Baeza said that many of these individuals still come to her with their problems.
“They know they can come to me and I will assist them in whatever they need,” said Baeza.
“When you helped these individuals to vote, did you do it in a fashion towards the law? You did it attempting to do everything legally and truthfully?” asked Wood.
Baeza said that she did and that her first step was to go to the county clerk’s office and at times had the opportunity to talk to the Secretary of State.
“You do not talk them into voting for whoever you want them to, do you? Asked Wood.
“No, I don’t tell them who I want them to vote for and sometimes I don’t even know who they voted for, it doesn’t matter, I’m just there to help them,” said Baeza.
The group took a lunch break and were to return to the courtroom at 1:30 p.m.
More witnesses were to be called by Judge Connally. Gomez said earlier this week he and his attorneys were expecting the case to run at least through Monday.
New pipeline through area bought by Flying J
From Staff and Wire Reports
Pecos’ biggest retailer of fuel is now the owner of one of the state’s major gasoline pipelines, built eight years ago to carry fuel from the Texas Gulf Coast to El Paso.
Flying J Inc. has purchased Houston-based pipeline operator Longhorn Holdings LLC, giving the company a 700-mile pipeline that stretches across Texas.
The sale of the pipeline was announced on Aug. 17. Terms of the deal were not disclosed.
In 1998, Longhorn Pipeline converted what was originally a pipeline to transfer oil from the area near Crane to Houston into a pipeline flowing in the opposite direction. The project included construction of 250 miles of new pipeline from Crane to the Mountain View section of northeast El Paso, including a segment running just to the north of Pecos and Barstow.
Transfer stations were to be built in El Paso and in the area near Crane for the new pipeline. The line runs about five miles north of the company’s Pecos truck stop on Interstate 20, but a spokesperson for Flying J in Ogden, Utah said she did not know they were considering adding a transfer station in Pecos to serve the local truck stop.
The purchase is Flying J's first venture into pipeline operations. The privately owned company is involved in oil exploration, production, refining, distribution and retailing.
The Longhorn pipeline transports gasoline and other refined products to markets in West Texas and southwestern states at a capacity of more than 70,000 barrels per day. It could increase to as much as 225,000 barrels per day with additional pumping stations.
"We are very excited about the long-term potential of Longhorn," said J. Phillip Adams, Flying J president and chief executive.
The pipeline originally was built by Enco (now Exxon) to move crude oil from the Permian Basin to the company’s Baytown refinery. When the decision was made to change the pipeline to bring gasoline to the El Paso area, Longhorn Pipeline, a limited partnership between Exxon,
Amoco, and Williams pipeline companies and Beacon Energy
Investment Fund, was created.
Flying J began operations in the Pecos area in 1989. Since then, the company has added many more locations across the nation and in Texas, including two truck stops on either side of El Paso. The line also connects in El Paso will a longer series of line, one moving north to Albuquerque and another to Tucson and Phoenix, all of which also have or are near Flying J locations.
PEDC board awaits decision on salary
A vote on the pay level for the president of the Pecos Economic Development Corp. was put off by the corporation’s board members on Monday, pending a legal opinion from the Town of Pecos City’s attorney on whether or not they could discuss the issue in a closed meeting.
The board opted to put off any discussion until next Monday, in order to get a ruling from city attorney Scott Johnson on whether they could go behind closed doors to discuss the issue, or if they would have to hold their discussion in public, at the request of current president Mike Burkholder.
“I have asked that it be held in open session,” he told the board. “If I approve in allowing you to hold it in executive session, I can’t ask for it to be open again.”
A new executive session is on the PEDC agenda for this coming Monday at 5:30 p.m. in the second floor meeting room of the TransPecos Bank building. In addition, a new item that would relocated the PEDC office from the second floor of that building to City Hall was also placed on Monday’s agenda.
Members of the board were apparently split back in March when they decided in closed session to cut Burkholder’s salary by 33 percent, from $60,000 to $40,000. However, the board vote’s on the issue was done in closed session, a violation of the state’s Open Meetings Act, and without Burkholder present during the vote. He was then not informed of the decision, and on Monday said he did not learn of the salary reduction until recently, when he prepared a new 2006-07 budget for the PEDC that kept his pay at the $60,000 level.
Joe Keese, chairman of the PEDC board, took responsibility for not informing Burkholder of the board’s March decision until the new budget was drawn up, and members were surprised to see Burkholder’s salary had not been reduced.
“That’s not Mike’s fault. That’s my fault,” he said. But Keese added that any action by the board has to be fully explained to the public.
“It comes down to two points we need to decide,” he said. “Is the compensation reduction due to the evaluation (of Burkholder) or the devaluation of the position.”
Burkholder replaced Gari Ward as president of the PEDC two years ago, after serving as president of the board for the corporation, which was created eight years ago to attract new businesses to Pecos.
Burkholder’s compensation package was changed slightly by the board following his selection as PEDC president from the one Ward had received. The executive session vote by the board in March would have turned the position into a part-time job.
“I just want to finish the discussion we had in executive session,” said board member Al Gomez. “I was surprised that it (the salary reduction) wasn’t implemented at all.”
“You can’t have an executive session if I request it be in open session,” Burkholder replied. “I would like to discuss some of the points in the evaluation. I would like to go over it point by point.”
“I’m at a loss to understand why you decided at this time to cut the salary package,” he added.
Board member Jimmy Dutchover said he believed the members had approved a reduction in both Burkholder’s salary and working hours to part-time status during their March meeting.
He said the plan “is cutting it to a 20 hour work week and hiring an assistant to answer the phone.”
“I don’t think you change the contract is mid-stream, especially cutting the salary in half,” Keese said. “I think that by demoting this position to that degree, if Mike decides to leave, I don’t think we can get somebody of quality to fill that position, and this town needs help.”
Burkholder last week had told Pecos City Council members that the PEDC would come in under budget for the current fiscal year, while revenues from its share of the city’s 1 1/2 cent sales tax were above projections. On Monday, he told the board those revenue increases were not included in his 2006-07 budget.
“I think we can discuss this later,” said board member Leo Hung. “If other members don’t feel comfortable about this, we can table it.”
“Time has elapsed since the first vote,” Dutchover said. “If there’s a different view, we can look at it.”
Both Dutchover and Burkholder read portions of the state’s Open Meetings Act pertaining to discussions on salary during the debate on whether discussions could be held in closed session. City manager Joseph Torres, who also attended the meeting along with Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood, attempted to contact Johnson for an opinion on the matter during the meeting, but was unsuccessful, and the board then voted to table any action until the next meeting.
One unrelated item on this Monday’s agenda is for the board to discuss/consider an offer from John Armstrong for the Robertson/Burkholder property, located on the north side of Pecos.
County’s jobless rate drops .2 percent in July
Reeves County’s unemployment dropped two-tenths of a percent from June to July, according to figures released last week by the Texas Workforce Commission.
The number is also down six-tenths of a percent from the same period a year ago. However, the TWC figures indicate that despite the current oil industry boom in the Permian Basin, the number of jobs in Reeves County is down from July of 2005.
Last month’s jobless rate in the county was 7.8 percent. The TWC said there were 4,365 people in the local labor force, with 4,026 with jobs. Both those numbers are up from June, when the county had 4,340 people in the labor force and 3,992 with jobs. The start of the 2005 cantaloupe harvest season played a part in the rise in the labor force, which normally increases in Reeves County during the month of July.
But the TWC also said that in July of 2005, the county had 4,450 workers and 4,077 employed, both higher numbers than this year’s totals. Joblessness in Reeves County was at 8.4 percent last July, according to the state agency’s figures.
The labor force numbers continue to be at odds with other economic numbers in Reeves County this year, though some of the workers in the county are not credited towards the overall job figures. Sales tax receipts for cities in the county and the Reeves County Hospital District remain up by 10 percent for 2006, while receipts from hotel and motel taxes in Pecos for the first half of 2006 are about 50 percent above projections, due to workers being housed in area hotels and motels.
Across the area, jobless numbers were down slightly overall from June.
Midland County’s unemployment rate was down a tenth of a percent, to 4 percent in July, as the city added 1,100 jobs and 1,063 people to its workforce. Ector County’s unemployment rate fell from 4.8 to 4.7 percent, with an increase of 432 jobs and 380 workers.
Andrews County’s rate fell from 4.8 to 4.6 percent in July, as the number of workers was down by 46 while the county lost 30 jobs. Brewster County’s rate fell from 3.9 to 3.8 percent, as the county added 62 workers and 65 jobs. Crane County’s rate dropped from 6.3 to 5.7 percent, the same rate as in May. The county added 43 workers and 36 jobs. Culberson County’s rate was down from 4.3 to 4.1 percent, with an increase of four workers and nine jobs from June.
Howard County’s unemployment rate fell from 6.4 to 6.3 percent last month. The county saw a drop of 76 workers and 68 jobs from June. Pecos County’s rate was down from 5.9 to 5.8 percent, as the county added eight jobs while its labor force increased by one. In Ward County, unemployment was up from 6.2 to 6.3 percent, with the number of jobs falling by 24 while the workforce dropped by 22 from June. Winkler County’s unemployment rate fell from 5.5 percent in June to 5.3 percent in July, with the county’s workforce up by 14 people while the number of jobs rose by 21.
Presidio County’s jobless rate remained the highest in the area, increasing from 13.1 to 13.4 percent last month. The county’s workforce was unchanged, according to the TWC, but there were 11 fewer jobs in July than there were in June. Loving County saw rate fall from 11.1 percent to 10.8. The county had 36 workers and 32 jobs, both numbers down one from June.
Rodriguez to play volleyball for Notre Dame
Midland College’s Leslie Rodriguez recently signed an NAIA Letter of Intent for Notre Dame College to play volleyball beginning with the 2006-07 academic year.
Rodriguez played two seasons of junior college volleyball for the Lady Chaps as an outside hitter and defensive specialist. The team earned the 2005 Region V West Championship, as well as the WJCAC Championship.
She is a 2004 graduate of Pecos High School where she was a three-year varsity player. She earned First-Team All-West Texas, Team Most Valuable Player and Hitter of the Year.
“Notre Dame College is known to be a prestigious Catholic school and one I want to be a part of,” said Rodriguez.
She plans to major in early childhood education. She joins Midland teammate Holli Reyna who signed earlier in the month.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
Associated Press text, photo, graphic, audio and/or video material shall not be published, broadcast, rewritten for broadcast or publication or redistributed directly or indirectly in any medium.
Copyright 2003-04 by Pecos Enterprise