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Economic Development


Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, April 6, 2007

Contreras says RCDC has spots for Pyote staff

Over 270 workers at the West Texas State School face the loss of their jobs, if state officials follow through with a recommendation by the state auditor to close the juvenile detention facility, following reports of sexual abuse by two of the school’s administrators first reported two years ago.

However, Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras said up to a third of those workers could find employment at the Reeves County Detention Center, which is currently in search of guards and other personnel due to the area’s tight labor market.

State Auditor John Keel recommended shutting the 270-inmate school in Pyote, citing its location as making it too remote to attract qualified personnel or provide proper medical attention. The facility has over a 1-to-1 ratio of workers to male juvenile detainees, meaning a closure would leave 273 people without jobs locally.

High-paying jobs in the oil and natural gas drilling industry has siphoned away workers from other sectors, including the RCDC, which has had trouble for several years filling their positions, which come with a $31,170 salary for their entry-level positions.

“Obviously if it shuts down we have plenty of job openings at the facility, so we can offer them jobs,” Contreras said.

He said there are currently about 80 positions open, and that with the current expansion of the RCDC, the prison would add about 10 jobs in the near future. The facility is being expanded to handle over 3,760 minimum security inmates under contracts with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons

Most of the 273 employees live in Ward County, though a number do commute from Pecos, Kermit and other neighboring towns. Contreras said for most of those workers, the RCDC would still be a viable option in terms of its location, about 28 miles from the West Texas State School.

“It should be close enough for them to still commute,” Contreras said. He added that RCDC Warden Martin McDaniel has talked with WTSS Acting Superintendent Curtis Simmons about the available jobs, if the state does decide to shut the Pyote school. “He told them we have jobs here to offer,” Contreras said. “That’s a way we could help now if it does close.”

Contreras said Reeves County officials have had only limited contact with state officials on supporting efforts to keep WTSS from shutting down. “I called (State Sen. Carlos) Uresti’s office and talked to Jimmy (Galindo, former Reeves County Judge) when the Ward County Judge (Greg Holley) and Julian (Florez, Ward County Commissioner) were down there to testify, but apparently, their minds are made up.”

He said he hasn’t been in contact lately with officials in Monahans, who held a rally to support keeping the school open last week before the trip to Austin. But Contreras said, “If they need letters of support, we can do that as well.”

Town of Pecos City Mayor Dick Alligood said he has not had any recent contact either with Ward County officials on the Pyote situation.

“I made a call over there to the city to ask if there was anything we could do to assist them with trying to save it. They said they didn’t know at the time and would get back to me, but I haven’t heard back from them.

He said he also has exchanged e-mails with Pecos Economic Development Corp. President Mike Burkholder about trying to help keep the WTSS alive and keep its jobs in the area. “If there’s anything we can do about it, we’re willing to help, because we have some people working over there,” Alligood said.

Acker planning petition to oust Reynolds as DA

Monahans News
Staff Writer

Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker has announced plans to file a petition next week for a district court hearing to remove 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds from his office, over Reynolds failure to action of charges of sexual abuse of teen inmates at the West Texas State School in Pyote.

Acker first made his announcement public to the Austin American-Statesman on Tuesday, and repeated his plans in a Wednesday interview with KOSA-TV in Midland-Odessa. In an interview Thursday with The Monahans News, Acker said he is in the process of compiling a list and interviewing witnesses to determine if there is enough evidence to justify a petition for Reynolds removal from office.

Reynolds is accused of failing to act on the allegations that at least two administrators at the state school had sexually abused male inmates at the facility. The charges were first reported to Reynolds office in early 2005, but no action was taken by the DA’s office or other state or federal officials until details about the allegations surfaced in February in the Texas Observer and the Dallas Morning News.

“This case has always been ongoing,” Reynolds said in late February. “There are other cases that we have worked on, but this case has always been ongoing.”

Reynolds was not available for comment on Acker’s removal petition as of press time on Thursday.

Acker said he met with state officials in Austin last week, before announcing his plans to seek Reynolds’ removal from his office.

“I traveled to Austin with the Monahans group on Wednesday, March 29. Although I didn’t speak at the meeting, I was contacted by Senator Carlos Uresti’s office and Rob Kepple of the Texas County Attorney’s Association about the Reynolds situation,” said Acker.

“I also had an opportunity to speak with several other prosecutors at the Journalist Privilege Committee meeting, San Antonio District Attorney Susan Reed, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, Brian Newby, general council with Governor Rick Perry’s Office and with Senator John Whitmire’s office, concerning the lack of prosecution of the TYC cases,” said Acker. “They recommended I explore the possibilities of investigating Reynolds’ prosecution record to see whether there was enough evidence to file a petition to have him removed from office.

“In chapter 87, paragraph two and three of the local government code, it states what must be done to file a petition. After those requirements are met, it will take 10 days to two weeks before the petition is ready to be filed,” he said.

Acker expects to release a witness list as early as next week.

When asked if he would seek the office of District Attorney if Reynolds were removed, Acker said he is not interested in the position at this time.

“If Reynolds is removed from office, 143rd District Judge Bob Parks will appoint a district attorney pro-tem,” Acker said. “This person is usually a district attorney from an adjoining county. After that step is taken, the governor will appoint someone to fill the vacated position. That will be done through an application and appointment process. It is still too early to tell what the outcome of that will be.”

According to Acker, he plans to present his petition to Judge Bob Parks after the Ward County Grand Jury considers indictments against those accused in the sex abuse at the West Texas State School. “That is, if Reynolds hasn’t resigned by then,” said Acker. Grand jurors will meet on Tuesday at the Ward County Courthouse in Monahans.

Acker said he has 10 witnesses willing to testify in support of Reynolds’ removal from office, though locally only Ward County Mike Strickland voiced support for the action. “I think it’s a shame that we have to go this far. If things would have happened earlier, we wouldn’t be in this mess,” Strickland told KOSA TV.

None of the top law enforcement or elected officials in Pecos and Reeves County said they had been contacted by Acker about the petition, though Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez said he had talked with the Ward County attorney on Thursday, after learning about Acker’s plans.

“I just called him up,” said Gomez, who last month said he has had problems with delays in cases sent by his office to Reynolds. “I don’t know anything about it, just what I read.” Gomez said he got his information from an April 3 story in the Austin American-Statesman on Acker’s plans to file the petition. In that story, Acker said he had a nine-page witness list of people willing to testify for Reynolds’ removal.

"Right now we're just gathering it up, and we'll see where it goes from here," he told the American-Statesman.

Gomez said while he’s had problems with the district attorney, he did not plan to be involved in the effort to remove Reynolds from office. “I’m not going to get into the petition. I’m going to let the public decide that,” he said.

Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney, said he also had not heard from Acker prior to hearing about his plans Thursday morning.

“No one has contacted me about the petition,” said McKinney, who added his department has not had problems with Reynolds’ handling of cases.

Monahans Mayor David Cutbirth said Thursday morning that he will not sign a petition for Reynolds’ removal from office.

“I think we should wait and see how this situation plays out on April 10,” said Cutbirth. City Manager Joseph Torres said they also did not know of the move prior to Acker’s announcement , which also was made on KOSA-TV on Wednesday, and neither Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood nor Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras said they had been told about Acker’s plans in advance.

“I have not been contacted on that from anyone in the attorney general’s office, from any local law enforcement entity of other attorney,” Alligood said. “It’s just a shame the way it’s coming down on Randy.

“I honestly think the state has found a loophole to shut down the facility,” he added. “I kind of think that is their mindset, to shut down the facility and to find a scapegoat with the district attorney.”

Contreras said he also had not been contacted about the removal of Reynolds, who as 143rd District Attorney serves the area that includes Ward, Reeves and Loving counties.

Museum offers Danish cyclists look at Old West

A group of motorcyclists on a long-distance trip across the United States, after a long flight from Europe to the U.S., paid a visit to the West of the Pecos Museum on Wednesday, getting a look at both the Old West and the current one during their trip from Florida to California.

“We started out in Florida 10 days ago and are heading for Los Angeles,” said Hans Stenkopf, the guide for the group of Scandinavian travelers who rented motorcycles for the 4,000 mile trip.

“We have 26 Danish people in the group and 19 motorcycles,” said Stenkopf. “We do this on an annual basis. We do a lot of area cycle tours, and then have one coast-to-coast tour a year.”

He said the tour avoids the most direct route from Florida to California, along Interstate 10. “We use the highways and stay away from the Interstate as much as possible to see the sights like this,” he said. “We can down from the (Judge) Roy Bean Museum in Langtry.”

From Pecos, the motorcycle caravan was headed up to Carlsbad Caverns, and from there to Alamogordo, N.M.

Asger and Jane Ovesen were one of the couples making the trip for the first time. It’s also their first motorcycle trip in the United States.

“We plan to do it again, but not coast-to-coast. We’ll do a smaller area and stay there for a few days,” Asger said.

“America has the old-fashioned west here,” Stenkopf said. “It’s great that they made a museum out of this. You lose so much of the past, you should hold onto something like this.”

Denmark is one of the smaller nations in Western Europe, only about 10 times the size of Reeves County. “From us coming from such a very small country, you can never have as many changes as this,” Stenkopf said.

“It’s much different from Denmark,” said Jane Ovesen. “You can make a picture in your head, but it’s not the same until you get there.”

The cyclists arrived in West Texas after a stop in San Antonio, and also made a stop in New Orleans to view the after-effects from Hurricane Katrina. “We saw all the rebuilding after the devastation. We had a local tour guide and saw the great impact to the people and how much they suffered,” Stenkopf said.

Asger Ovesen added that “The Americans are very friendly. They all want to say hello and ask how you are doing. I think in general in Europe people are more closed.”

Along with the changes in scenery, Stenkopf said the group also was surprised by the change in weather conditions from Tuesday to Wednesday in West Texas.

“When we were in Odessa yesterday (Tuesday), the temperatures were in the 90s. Now it’s much colder,” said Stenkopf, who expected to see even cooler weather on the ride through the Sacramento Mountains and Cloudcroft, on the way from Carlsbad to Alamogordo.

Commissioners to study fixing jail’s leaky roof

The Reeves County Commissioners Court will discuss funding and a method of installing a new roof at the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department to meet state jail inspection standards, during their meeting scheduled for 10 a.m. on Monday.

Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras said that they are moving forward to comply with the Texas Jail Commission, by putting the item on the agenda for Monday, after the commission cited the county for failing to fix leaks in the 32-year-old building’s roof “We have met with the architect and on Monday we will choose which material we will use for the roof,” said Contreras.

Contreras said that by next Thursday, they would put it out for bids.

“In May, we will go back to the jail commission and give them an update,” said Contreras. “They took bids for a consultant and send a contractor to do the inspection,” added Reeves County Auditor Lynn Owens. “They said that they had three different methods of installing the roof.”

Owens said that the architect, Lorraine Dailey, with Dailey, Rabke and Gondeck, was in town Wednesday afternoon to look at the roof.

“They are supposed to fix the roof at the courthouse as well, but I’m sure the sheriff’s department will be first,” said Owens.

“The architect was on top of the roof today looking at it and we have put it on the agenda for Monday’s meeting,” Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez said on Wednesday. He said commissioners would discuss how much it would cost to replace the roof during their meeting on Monday.

“She said that there were three different methods,” said Gomez.

The jail failed inspection in February, by the Texas Jail Commission and other small infractions were found at that time.

“We have already taken care of the minor items that they pointed out and now we just have the roofing problem,” said Gomez. “But that will also be taken care of soon.”

Gomez said that at this time they didn’t know exactly how much it would cost, but that it might be around $60,000.

“The other deficiencies have been taken care and we are doing better than we ever have been,” said Gomez. “This is an old building, so it’s expected that it needs a new roof.” Contreras said that he had already talked to one of the inspectors and told them the plans Reeves County had.

“They already know we are taking care of it,” he said.

Contreras said that Dailey would talk to commissioners on Monday about the three different options and see which one would be best for the Reeves County facility.

“We will explore which one is best for our facility,” said Contreras. “Since I already talked to the jail commission they said that was sufficient at this time, until we go back in May,” he said.

Contreras said that they had received two bids, but that it would definitely be more than $50,000.

Plans for a new roof for the Reeves County Courthouse are also in the works.

“I’m trying to get a grant through the Texas Historical Commission for the roof for the courthouse,” said Contreras. “I just have to sign a document and get that going.”

He said the grant he is aiming for would allocate 90 percent from the commission and 10 percent from the county to repair the roof of the courthouse, which was built in 1935. “Obviously, that would be very beneficial to the county,” said Contreras.

He added the county is also working on finalizing construction on the long-delayed Balmorhea Community Center.

“We received bids for the Balmorhea Community Center and we should start construction on that soon,” said Contreras. He added that commissioners would evaluate the bids and start construction after that.

“It was approved back in December and we are anxious to begin that project,” he said.

TxDOT ready to begin repairs on Reeves County’s interstates

Drivers in western Reeves County are cautioned to slow down this summer, as employees with the Texas Department of Transportation will be busy fixing up Interstates 10 and 20 near Balmorhea and Toyah.

Glen Larum, TxDOT’s public information officer for this region of West Texas said the construction work will get underway next week, when drivers will encounter a brand new work zone on I-20 between Pecos and Toyah.

Texas Department of Transportation will resurface a 5.7-mile section of the highway from 1.8 miles west of Salt Draw toward Toyah, where a crop of potholes came up after snow and ice this past winter. Larum said traffic will continue to move on single eastbound and single westbound driving lanes while crews will work. But drivers are urged to obey all warning signs, slow down as they approach the orange signs before the work zone, and watch for workers and equipment on the roadway.

The construction work will also include flattening the side slopes of the highway between the main I-20 lanes and the service roads, a little-noticed, but vital safety feature that is designed to provide run-off-the-road drivers a safer escape route in an emergency.

When the I-20 job is well underway, Jones Bros. Dirt and Paving Contractors of Odessa will move some of its crew to west of Balmorhea in mid-May and start to rebuild another two miles of Interstate. The second project involved a work zone on I-10 starting at Abode Draw, four miles west of FM 2903.

The two projects will cost a combined $6.2 million. The work is expected to be completed on I-10 by July.

“We want drivers to enjoy the colors as they drive through West Texas,” said Larum. “But, we want them to slow down when they see ‘orange’, or the next colors they see may be the flashing blue-and-reds of a friendly black-and-white.”

Roberts, Starnes announce June wedding plans

Mr. and Mrs. Bill Roberts of Pecos are pleased to announce the engagement and approaching marriage of their son, Joey Roberts to Leslye Starnes, daughter of Mrs. and Mrs. Rick Starnes of Snyder.

The prospective groom holds both a bachelor's and master's degree from Abilene Christian University. He is the sports information director at Tarleton State University in Stephenville.

The bride-elect is a graduate of Snyder High School and Lubbock Christian University. She is a kindergarten teacher in Lubbock.

The couple will marry Saturday, June 23, at 37th Street Church of Christ in Snyder and will reside in Stephenville.

Cameron receives national honor

The National Society of High School Scholars (NSHSS) announced that Permian High School student Ray A. Cameron Jr. from Odessa, has been selected for membership.

The Society recognizes the top scholars in the nation and invites only those students who have achieved superior academic excellence. The announcement was made by NSHSS Founder and Chairman Claes Nobel, a senior member of the Swedish Nobel family.

“On behalf of NSHSS, I am honored to recognize the hard work, sacrifice and commitment that Ray has demonstrated to achieve this exceptional level of academic excellence,” said Mr. Nobel. “Ray is now a member of a unique community of scholars,” he said. Cameron is the son Ray Cameron Sr. and Micaela Cameron.

Grandparents are Forest and Earline Cameron.

Cameron has a grade point average of 3.8.

Barstow Easter Service on Sunday

An Easter Sunrise Service is planned for 7 a.m. on Sunday at Barstow on the Hill, located north of the city of Barstow on Farm to Market Road 516.

Everyone is invited to attend.

Credit exam sign-ups underway

Credit for acceleration for grades 1-5 and Credit for Examination for grades 6-8 are being held at the different Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD campuses, with registration scheduled now through Wednesday, April 11.

Students in grades 1-5 need to meet some requirements and score 90 percent or above on a criterion referenced test for the grade level to be skipped in each of the following areas: language arts, math, science, and social studies.

In grades 6-8 students must score 90 percent or above on a criterion referenced exam for acceleration for the applicable course.

Registration for the exams is now taking place at the different campuses and Wednesday is the deadline to register and students and/or parents can do so at the counselor’s office at the student’s designated school. Test dates are May 8-10.

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