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Weekly Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Galindo denies misconduct claims in court petition

Staff Writers

A petition filed last week in 143rd District Court seeking the removal of Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo and two commissioners from office on grounds of misconduct is currently under review by the District Attorney’s office.

Meanwhile, Galindo said they are working on getting a law firm out of Austin to represent the county, and disputes the allegations made in the petition.

“I received a copy of the petition on Friday and it is under review,” said 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds of the document filed by local resident Robert L. Hanks against Galindo, the court’s two senior commissioners, along with the State of Texas and several other Reeves County employees.

The petition was filed with the court on July 29. Reynolds said he hasn’t had a chance to fully look at the petition and check its validity due to other work within the 143rd District Court at the start of this week.

Under state law, the district attorney can follow up on claims made in a petition to the court, if the information within the petition is considered credible.

Galindo said that he had just received a copy of the lawsuit filed by Hanks this week. “I just got it Monday, because I had been in Austin,” he said.

Hanks’ petition alleges both incompetence and misconduct in connection with construction of the 960-bed Reeves County Detention Center III project. He also claims several other violations against Galindo, including refusal to make county financial information available under the Texas Open Records Act, violation of county government nepotism laws, and a conflict of interest between Galindo and a company hired by the county to make deliveries to the RCDC. He also cites the recent transfers of several county employees to RCDC III as having violated state law.

The petition was filed at the same time Hanks bought a full-page ad in the July 29 edition of the Pecos Enterprise announcing his plans to seek the removal of the three elected office holders. Of those, Precinct 3 Commissioner Herman Tarin, opted not to seek a new term this year, while the other, Precinct 1 Commissioner Felipe Arredondo, was defeated in his bid for a new four-year term in the March Democratic primary election. Both will leave office in December. Galindo has served as Reeves County Judge since 1995 and is in the middle of his third term in office.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Norman Hill and Precinct 4 Commissioner Hivi Rayos are not directly named in the complaint. Rayos began serving on the commissioners’ court in 1999 and Hill in 2003. Tarin had been a commissioner since 1992 and Arredondo was first elected in 1984, then returned to office after an eight-year absence in 1996. Hanks’ petition alleges several violations of office by the county judge and the commissioners court under the Texas Statutes Local Government Code, Chapter 87. The claims center around the construction of the Reeves County Detention Center III unit, a 960-bed facility that opened last year.

He claims the prison was built without any assurance of inmates to fill the facility, leading to the county’s current financial problems, including the depletion of $4 million from the county’s prison fund and the downgrading of the county’s rating to junk bond status.

The $40 million addition to the 2,000-bed detention center was built just after completion of RCDC II, with the idea of housing U.S. Bureau of Prisons inmates in the same manner as the prison’s first two units. However, after opening at the end of March, the county was unable to get the BOP to commit to sending new inmates to the facility, and by June of 2003 Reeves County was facing severe budget shortfalls due to the lack of income and payments that were required in connection with the prison project.

With bond payments of over $420,000 a month looming in the fall, Reeves County entered into a contract with Wackenhut (now Control Group, Inc.) to manage the three units at the prison, and help the county find inmates for the facility. In February of this year, the county entered into a deal to house up to 864 inmates from the state of Arizona on a temporary basis at RCDC III. The agreement was extended to June of 2005, but officials with the Arizona Department of Corrections have told legislators in that state they expect to have enough prison beds by next summer to bring back the inmates from RCDC III and another prison in Oklahoma.

Hanks claims in his filing that commissioners voted to build RCDC III despite receiving a letter from Tracey Billingsley of the BOP on June 15, 2001 that said the federal agency would not place any prisoners in the new prison upon completion. It’s an allegation Galindo disputed.

“Hanks claims in his filing that I received a letter from Tracey, I never received a letter from this lady,” said Galindo.

Hanks also says the county knew the workforce for the prison would not be available, and cites the prison’s completion 1 to 1 1/2 years after the closing of Anchor Foods.

“Defendants should have known that unemployment payments to these individuals would not last and these individuals would be required to move and seek employment somewhere else in order to feed their families,” his statement says.

Anchor Foods was bought out by Canadian-based McCain Foods in September of 2001, and announced two months later it would shut the Pecos plant, leaving 700 workers without jobs. The final shutdown by McCain took place at the end of May in 2002. As far as gross incompetence Galindo said, “In 1995, the RCDC had received about $6 million and employed about 120 people - at this point, the revenue at the prison is about $50 million and the operation employs over 500 people.”

“The RCDC is the largest employer in this community,” said Galindo. “A business of this magnitude doesn’t reach this level if the pilot is asleep at the wheel or are grossly incompetent.”

Hanks also claims Galindo and his secretary, Sylvia Garcia, refused to release information on county finances under the Open Records Act. It involves Billingsley’s letter to Galindo, a copy of the contract between the county and the RCDC III construction company, and records of the commissioners court meeting when the RCDC III project was approved.

Hanks said he received no response from an Oct. 21, 2003 letter sent to Galindo, and that on Dec. 5 of last year Galindo refused to be served with the letter by Reeves County Precinct 2 Constable Jerry Matta. Hanks said another letter was sent to Galindo on May 17 this year, and his filing with the court includes a letter from Matta to 143rd District Attorney Investigator Freddy Contreras about the Dec. 5 incident.

Reynolds said Contreras did not remember receiving the letter , dated March 18, 2004, from Matta, but he would check his records to see if the letter was received by the DA’s office.

Galindo said Wednesday that Hanks would receive the requested records by the end of this week.

“Mr. Hanks has requested three specific records, minutes or pages which recorded the decision to build R-III, contractors for the building of R-III and a copy of a letter from Tracey Billingsley, dated June 15, 2001,” said Galindo. Those records will be forwarded to him no later than Thursday, he added.

“Based on the conversation I had with the Attorney General’s Office on Monday, the county has 10 days to provide those records and based on that conversation, which I held this past Monday, those will be forwarded to him tomorrow,” said Galindo. “I just received those requests on Monday.”

On the letter that Matta delivered to Galindo, the judge said the incident occurred at Maxey Park, during the annual Christmas Lighting event.

“On Dec. 5, as the Christmas Lighting that we had, I had my little boy with me, he is autistic and cannot speak and I cannot leave him alone for a minute,” said Galindo. “Jerry Matta comes up to me and literally shoves an envelope into my chest.”

Galindo said that at the time he had his hands full with his young child and could not take the envelope. “I can’t let my little boy go and my political opponent’s brother shoves this envelope, so while I’m struggling to hold my little boy and took the envelope and told him to go to my office and I gave it back to him,” he said.

Galindo added that that is how most business is conducted, in an office atmosphere, not a social gathering.

“That’s not the way to serve people,” he said.

The nepotism charge involves the hiring of Galindo’s mother, Juanita B. Galindo, on April 24 of this year. Records provided by the RCDC to Hanks and submitted to the court show Juanita Galindo was hired on that date for a clerk’s position at an annual salary of $24,523.

Jimmy Galindo replied to that allegation by saying, “In regard to the prison, I have never had the authority to hire anyone at the Reeves County Jail or the prison (Reeves County Detention Center). When I first came in to office I didn’t have the authority and now 10 years later I still don’t,” he said.

Hanks also says in his filing that Galindo and his cousin, RCDC employee Randy Baeza were operating a service providing deliveries to the prison, which is a violation of Texas conflict of interest laws. Hanks said he sought information on Beaver Express LLC of Woodward, Okla., and was told by company employee Brian Stone that he did not believe the two were involved in a conflict of interest, though Hanks alleges Stone declined to send any information on the earned income or commission paid to Galindo and Baeza.

Hanks said other information requests to County Auditor Lynn Owens determined the billing records for shipping to the RCDC were housed at a warehouse at the prison, but that request for the records have not received any response.

The petition goes on to allege that Galindo and Baeza coerced companies shipping to RCDC to use Beaver Express, in violation of both Texas Conflict of Interest laws and federal laws pertaining to shipments across state lines for profit by coercion of government officials.

Galindo said that the commissioners court has to authorize payments to anyone, vendors and payroll.

“Nor does the commissioners court have the authority to hire in any department,” said Galindo. “The commissioners court doesn’t do the hiring for any of those departments.” He added Owens stated in a letter to Hanks submitted with the petition that some of the billing records being sought on shipments to the RCDC did not exist.

The final part of the complaint dates from April 12 of this year, and involves a vote by commissioners to relocate several county employees to RCDC III. Hanks says in his filing that 17 county employees had their rights violated under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution when they were moved from their original jobs to work at the prison. Commissioners made the move at the time in order to shift the workers’ salaries off the strapped county General Fund and onto the RCDC III payroll, which is being funded under the contact to house inmates with the State of Arizona.

Galindo defended the county’s actions in connection with the prison expansion over the past decade, saying that there is no business in the country that is guaranteed to bring in revenue or to flourish.

“It all depends on the quality of your service and price,” said Galindo. “RCDC has provide a quality of service that is equal to or better than anybody in the market place and the price is the best in the marketplace across the country,” he said.

At this point the RCDC is averaging over 2,100 inmates in the RCDC I and II from January through July of this year and RCDC III is at it’s capacity of 864 beds, according to Galindo.

The State of Arizona began ramping up RCDC III operations in mid-March and fully ramped them up before the end of May 2004.

Galindo said that 180 people had been hired at R-III, 31 of which had been transferred from the two older units. “Of the 31, the majority have been transferred back and are making the $31,000 as correctional officers,” said Galindo. “But there are still over 180 individuals that are new that were hired at R-III.

“We gave all the ones that were transferred an opportunity to resume their position at R-I and R-II,” he said.

Galindo said that there is absolutely no question that Reeves County and the City of Pecos needs good-paying job jobs in order for our community to survive.

“When I came into office, the unemployment rate was over 13 percent, today the rate is at about seven percent in Reeves County, and the state unemployment rate is at six percent,” said Galindo. “We are very fortunate to have the opportunity to provide corrections services for our customers and to provide jobs for the residents of this community,” he said. Buckner, Briggs start partnership,
buy Enterprise from former firm

The Pecos Enterprise gained a new owner this week.

Buckner News Alliance announced Friday that a partnership consisting of Phil Buckner and current publisher Smokey Briggs was purchasing the paper from the corporation. The sale was final on August 1.

Buckner is the founder of Buckner News Alliance that purchased the Pecos Enterprise in 1967, taking it to daily publication in 1970, and back to weekly publication this past May.

Briggs was hired as publisher in January 1999. Last year he purchased The Monahans News from the company.

“This is a great opportunity for Laura (his wife) and I,” Briggs said. “Phil is one of the finest people I have ever worked for and becoming his partner here in Pecos is exciting.” Buckner said that the ownership change should not bring any noticeable changes in the paper.

“I’m looking forward to putting out the best paper we know how to produce in Pecos for years to come,” Buckner said.

“Smokey and I get along great. I am delighted to be his partner and it is nice to have a younger partner so we can look way ahead,” he said.

Local stores gearing up for tax-free weekend

Staff Writer

Several Pecos stores will be participating in tax-free weekend sales coming up this Friday through Sunday, in time for Back-To-School shopping by local parents.

The tax-free weekend was approved by the Texas Legislature both to boost stores’ sales and help parents save money when buying new clothing and other items for their children.

“We participate in it every year and welcome everyone to shop here,” said Peggy Walker, owner of Needleworks.

Walker said that she would have several sales going on and that she has some new designs in purple and gold shirts.

“This is also a great time for individuals to purchase the cheerleading outfits while it’s tax-free,” said Walker.

Beall’s Department Store will be having several promotional events and giveaways throughout this weekend, along with the tax-free incentive.

Anyone who purchases $50 or more will receive a free cuff watch, according to Beall’s Department Store Manager Delma Arreguy.

A district-wide contest by the chain is going to be held. Students are asked to design their own back-to-school outfit and the drawing will be entered in the contest.

The winner of the contest will receive a $250 shopping spree. “Our store had the winner last year,” said Arreguy.

In the shoe department, anyone who purchases a pair of shoes, can get a second pair, of equal or less value, for half price.

“We’re marking down all the clearance items 40 percent off and some spring fashions are already 50 percent off,” said Arreguy.

Free skullcaps will be given to individuals who purchase a pair of Lee Jeans and truck style hats with any purchase of Plugg Jeans or Cargo Pant.

Hours throughout this weekend will be 9 a.m. until 9 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 11 a.m. until 8 p.m., on Sunday.

“Come shop Pecos first,” said Arreguy.

School supplies continue to be subject to tax this weekend, even though clothes and shoes will be tax-free. Wal-Mart will have a list of items that will be exempt posted for the customers.

“We’ll have a list posted so everyone can see exactly what will be exempt,” said Richard Franco, support team member at Wal-Mart.

Franco said that the store had participated last year and a big crowd was on hand. “We hope that we’ll have a big crowd again this year,” he said.

All the school clothes will be tax-free and Franco said that he welcomed everyone to shop at the local Wal-Mart.

Other local stores who will be participating include Gibson’s, Nannette’s Style Shop, Desiree’s and Hollywood Boulevard.

School maintains tax rate, plans for rollback election

Staff Writer

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board members approved the calculation of a tax rate for the 2004-05 school year, maintaining the current $1.50 level, which would mean a rollback tax election for the school district.

The board voted during their July 29 meeting, and interim superintendent Wayne Mitchell agreed that the rollback election would be the best solution to the problem, which was caused by a $75 million increase in property valuations over the past year. The increase, due to higher oil and gas valuations, may force other entities as well to hold a rollback election.

“Lydia (Prieto, tax assessor-collector) and I worked through these figures endlessly,” said finance director Cookie Canon, who provided the group several scenarios and a worksheet on the calculation of rollback tax rate.

Canon also said that there was a defined “window” in which they could hold the rollback election. Appropriate dates to have it would be between Sept. 27 and Nov. 25. “That is the available election date range,” said Canon.

“We had talked about having the first weekend in October, but that’s when the fall fair is and I talked to the elections coordinator and she said that a lot of he workers had booths at the fair or volunteered there,” said Canon.

“She said she would recommend having it either Oct. 9 or Oct. 16,” said Canon.

This will be the second time in four years the district has faced a rollback election. Canon provided a sample ballot from the last time the school held a rollback election, which was Sept. 22, 2001.

The estimated cost to hold the election will be $11,000-$12,000.

The Pecos Community Center and the Saragosa voting place have been tentatively reserved and Barstow and Toyah voting places are still being contacted.

“The ballots will be paper ballots and will be counted by hand,” said Canon. Canon said that there would have to be a lot of educating the general public. Canon said that two other entities are considering a rollback election.

“Taxes on residences fro 2003-2004, the real estate went up, due to some of the homes on the west side, but the vast majority of them won’t see a tax increase, the only people who will pay are the minerals,” said Canon.

“I feel that the rollback is what you need to do, or you will be in dire straits later on,” said Mitchell, who turned over the superintendent’s job to Ray Matthews on Monday. Matthews was in meetings the first two days of this week, and was unavailable for comment.

“We’ve been saving for a rainy day and it’s here,” said Canon.

Based on the current valuations, maintaining the tax rate at $1.50 would bring the school district an extra $1.125 million for the 2004-05 school year. However, former P-B-T superintendent Don Love said prior to the 2001 rollback vote that under current state funding rules, school districts lose an equal amount in state aid for the year following a major rise in valuations.

Love said that meant even if valuations drop back down the following year, the district would still lose state aid.

A rollback vote, if approved, would cut the tax rate down to the level it would take to raise the same amount of tax revenues as this past year. With the $75 million increase, the tax rate would have to be cut to $1.325 per $100 in valuations.

Canon said that she had been at the school district for 15 years and that this was only the second time she had seen a rollback election.

Mitchell said that maintaining the current rate by rejecting a rollback vote would help the school district stay financially stable.

“I think we’ll need to educate the employees as well,” said board member Steve Valenzuela.

In conjunction with the tax rate vote, board members approved to amend the tax rate adoption planning calendar.

“We just needed to amend that calendar to included tonight,” said Mitchell. “So that we can talk about tax collection and rate and adopt it for another year,” he said.

Cebridge rep to visit council about cable problems

An official from Cebridge Connections is scheduled to be in Pecos on Thursday to meet with Town of Pecos City Council members on problems with the local cable service. The meeting is part of the council’s first regular meeting for August, and will begin at 7 a.m. at City Hall. The meeting is being held a week ahead of the council’s regular meeting date, due to conflicts with other events on Aug. 12.

An official with the cable company was scheduled to attend the council’s last meeting, on July 22, but was unable to be in Pecos at that time. Several community members, including former Pecos Mayor William R. “Bob” Bickley spoke to council members at the start of the meeting about problems with service provided by Cebridge, with the focus being on viewing problems with the area’s network channels.

KMID, the ABC affiliate in Midland-Odessa, was singled out for complaints. Officials with Cebridge and KIMD said later in interviews that the loss of a microwave relay station between Pecos and the transmission tower north of Midland International Airport was to blame for the drop in picture quality over the last few years.

Signals for both KMID, and KPEJ, the Fox Network affiliate which also transmits from a location north of the Midland airport, were out for Pecos cable subscribers early this week.

Aside from the discussion of cable service, the council will also conduct a six-month evaluation of Town of Pecos City manager Joseph Torres, who was hired in February. That evaluation will take place in executive session.

The only other new items on Thursday’s agenda are approval of accounts payable, and submission of items for the council’s second August meeting.

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

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