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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Auditor says Pyote school “too remote” to stay open

Over 270 employees face the loss of their current jobs at the West Texas State School in Pyote, after a report said the Ward County site is “too remote” to adequately attract enough qualified workers or provide adequate outside services for the juvenile detention facility.

State Auditor John Keel was asked to conduct the audit after reports surfaced that employees had covered up allegations that two officials at the West Texas State School in Pyote had molested male inmates. The employees resigned, but have never been charged with any crimes, despite efforts by Texas Ranger Brian Burzynski, who investigated the allegations in 2005. Keel said investigations by Burzynski and others have shown the school "did not provide a safe environment for the youths in its care," and should be considered for closure. His report went onto say the Pyote site, located 25 miles east of Pecos and 15 miles west of Monahans, is too remote to attract staff needed.

"The facility's location is in an isolated geographic area, and it has limited access to a job applicant pool and social and medical services," his report stated. It went on to say the 250 male inmates in Pyote "could be transferred to other facilities over the next 12 to 24 months, in the event that a decision is made to close the school."

The Pyote facility was changed from a co-ed to an all-male detention center 20 years ago, following a scandal involving female inmates who reportedly were photographed topless by workers at the state school. Security at the facility was tightened in the early 1990s, including the addition of perimeter fencing, after three male juveniles escaped from Pyote, abducted and sexually assaulted a clerk from an Allsup’s store in Wickett before being caught after high-speed chase in the victim’s car through Midland and Odessa.

According to the TYC’s web site, the center has 273 employees. The audit did not say if the staff would be fired or would be allowed to apply for similar jobs at other TYC facilities. Keel’s audit report was one of two released on Friday, the same day the board of directors for the TYC resigned, turning authority over to acting executive director Ed Owens and state auditor John Keel cited scores of problems at the Texas Youth Commission, where allegations of sexual and physical abuse have ballooned almost daily in the past month.

Owens' report focused on failures at the agency's headquarters, saying executives exerted minimal supervision over local facilities and let each develop their own policies for hiring staff, investigating complaints and imposing sanctions on inmates. Dwight Harris, the agency's former executive director, resigned last month.

Among his 24 recommendations were improving staff-to-student ratios and redrafting complaint policies so top agency staff review all allegations of abuse, neglect or exploitation. The six-member board met briefly by conference call on Friday morning to hand over its power to Owens. At the governor's request, all have submitted resignation letters that take effect late Friday afternoon, Perry spokesman Ted Royer said.

The resignations and reports came a day after the U.S. Department of Justice released a report saying the high rate of inmate-on-inmate assaults at a juvenile prison in Edinburg created a "chaotic and dangerous" atmosphere that violated the residents' constitutional rights.

Early this month, the state Senate asked Perry to fire the board and appoint a conservator to overhaul the troubled agency.

Instead, he demoted the board's chairman, asked the remaining members to hire Owens and appointed special master Jay Kimbrough to oversee a sweeping investigation of the agency. He also directed Owens to create the rehabilitation plan with Keel's help.

However Perry had been reluctant to force out the board until this week, when the Senate again called for the panel's ouster. On Wednesday, he proposed dissolving the board in favor of a single powerful commissioner whom he said would be more accountable to his office and the Legislature.

He asked for the board members' resignation as a first step toward that goal, Royer said. The changes Perry proposed would have to be approved by lawmakers, several of whom have already rejected the idea. Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa said he believes a single commissioner would be even less accountable to lawmakers than the board was.

Royer said Perry will wait for the Legislature to act on his proposal before deciding whether to appoint another board.

Keel's report included more details about safety problems at the youth prisons, where he found as many as two dozen inmates of various ages and criminal backgrounds were assigned to sleep in the same room. He also found staff-to-inmate ratios ranged from 1-to-8 to 1-to-25 at one facility depending on the time of day.

He offered about 50 recommendations, including separating inmates by age and offense level and replacing some solid doors with glass ones to make it easier to monitor them. Additionally, he suggested establishing and enforcing staffing ratios.

The state auditor's office also surveyed 3,279 inmates and found most did not trust their juvenile corrections office and did not believe the commission takes immediate action to address their safety and welfare concerns. Inmates' comments on the surveys prompted investigators to open 205 more investigation of possible abuse, Keel said in the report.

Commissioners give Spencer RCDC engineering contract

Reeves County Commissioners listened to five companies this Monday morning present proposals for work at the Reeves County Detention Center, before awarding an engineering and architectural contract during a special meeting held in the third floor courtroom at the Reeves County Courthouse.

Commissioners met to discuss and take action on professional services for engineer/architect services to oversee construction and renovation at RCDC units I and II under the CAR 6 contract with the U.S. Bureau of Prisons. The county and the BOP reached a deal earlier this year to house over 2,400 inmates at the prison, as part of an agreement that could last up to 10 years.

Five different companies were on hand to make their presentations Monday morning before commissioners agreed to hire Frank Spencer and Associates to do the work at the prison. Spencer’s company has been involved in previous construction projects at the county-owned prison.

The other four companies making presentations were GSWW of Odessa; Raul Rodriguez of Balmorhea; Engineering Inc. of Carlsbad and Criteriam of El Paso.

Commissioners approved awarding contracts totaling $17 million overall for improvements at RCDC I and II during a special meeting earlier this month.

The contracts for the two units, along with a separate deal at RCDC III, will have as many as 3,763 inmates housed at the facility. The deal agreed to in January for units I and II could be worth more than $600 million to the county over the next decade.

Commissioners voted the $17 million in improvements so that construction could start as soon as possible to meet the requirements of the new contract, County Judge Sam Contreras said. The contract calls for the housing of up to 2,407 inmates, mostly illegal aliens, at RCDC I and II, and the work will involve improvements to the medical unit for the two facilities, along with expansion of the segregation units.

At Monday’s meeting, Steve Dennis and Ramon Carrasco, with GSWW, told the group that they are currently working on other projects in the area, including in Wink, Pyote and Ft. Davis.

“We’ll be in the area, so we will be available to Reeves County as well,” said Dennis. “The main thing is our time, we have several other projects in the area, that will make us available to you all and we can be here at least twice a week,” said Dennis.

“Do you think it will be completed by October?” asked Contreras.

“We were thinking it would take all year, but October sounds better,” said Dennis.

Contreras told the two that they seemed to think that this was a more complex project than what they had previously worked on. “What makes you think it’s more complex?” he asked. “It involves a lot of little things, detailed plumbing,” said Dennis.

He said that this was a team effort and that they would work closely with everyone involved. Raul Rodriguez told commissioners that he had experience working at a prison.

“We did a juvenile center,” said Rodriguez. “Since I’m from Balmorhea I can easily be reached and can be here daily,” he said.

Rodriguez said that he has 13 years experience and has just formed his own company.

“The BOP requires a background check and credit report, do you feel you and your employees will pass both?” asked Contreras.

“I don’t think there will be a problem for either me or my employees, we can pass both,” said Rodriguez.

Another company, Engineers Inc., of Carlsbad, also had good references and stated that they too, have plenty of experience.

Spring concert held amid summer temperatures

Participants at Saturday’s Spring Break Youth Concert had near summer-like conditions to deal with at Maxey Park for most of the day. But the warmer-than-expected weather didn’t pose a problem for the park events or for the paintball tournament sponsored by the Pecos Police Department.

Temperatures hovered at the 90-degree mark at the nearby Pecos Municipal Airport for most of the afternoon, as a variety of bands performed ay the park’s gazebo, while food and game booths were set-up nearby.

“Everything went good,” said city parks department director Adolfo Ruiz. “I talked to the vendors, and they’re willing to come back if their future schedules allow it,” he said, referring to the Memorial Day weekend concert the city has held at the park in recent years.

Ruiz said the bands were also happy with Saturday’s event. “One of the bands, Catrina Carrasco from the Abundant Life Church, were real nice to us. They turned around and signed their check back to us for use on city projects,” Ruiz said.

Pecos Police Capt. Kelly Davis, who helped organize the paintball tournament at the site of the former Pecos Rifle and Pistol Club range, said about 80 people participated in that event.

“There were 26 teams, and we had a junior league and a senior league,” Davis said. “We had eight out-of-town teams, from Midland, Odessa, Monahans and Fort Stockton show up, and the Pecos SWAT team won the law enforcement division.”

Davis said “Just for Fun” out of Odessa took first in the senior division, while “Fantastic Three” were the winners in the junior division.

“It was hot out there, I was looking for some clouds,” he said. “We didn’t get through with all the teams until 7:30.”

The city has put on the youth concert at spring break for Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD students for the past two years. Ruiz, who just took over earlier this month as city parks director said, “As far as I heard, we had a better turnout than last year.”

City hoping to end dispute with county over venue tax

Nearly two years after Town of Pecos City voters approved a 2 percent venue tax to go towards improvements at the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena and Reeves County Civic Center, the tax has yet to be implemented and a venue tax board has yet to be formed, due to an ongoing dispute between the city and Reeves County.

However, Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood said he’s hopeful that talks with county officials will allow the project to move forward in the near future, though there currently is no timetable on when the board will be created and taxes to fund repairs for the two facilities can be collected. “I’ve talked with Sam (Contreras) and he’s in agreement on the need to move forward on it,” Alligood said on Monday. However, he added that action on the proposal is one of several issues between the city and county.

“We’ve got five or six items on the table for talks with the city and county, and we’re trying to get all of those lumped together, but the county judge is in agreement on trying to get the board up and going,” Alligood said.

City voters in May of 2005 approved a 2 percent tax on hotel and motel fees within the city, after city and county have made emergency repairs to the arena’s south stands prior to the last 2004 West of the Pecos Rodeo due to severe termite damage to the stands wooden support beams. The current facility was built in the late 1930s, and the funds would help replace and modernize areas of the arena, which is only partially within the city limits.

Other funds would go towards improvements to the Civic Center, which was expanded to its current size in the mid-1980s, and to improving electrical connections and facilities both there and within the rodeo arena.

The mayor said he hoped the recent court ruling in Austin on Reeves County’s legal action against the Town of Pecos City over a 2005 water rate increase, will help move resolution of the problem along faster.

The county sued the city in 2006 over the rate hike, which sharply water costs for the county at the Reeves County Detention Center. Then-County Judge Jimmy Galindo said the city has been misdirecting its water revenues towards filling budget gaps in the General Fund on that issue. However, 345th District Court Judge Darlene Byrne ruled in favor of the city on Feb. 9, dismissing the county’s charges of breach of contract by the city.

“The city council wants to move forward on this. We’ve waited another year where we could have had work done on the Civic Center and Rodeo Grounds in time for the Fourth of July (rodeo) this year,” Alligood said.

Aside from the lawsuit, there were other issued raised last year about the venue tax plan by Galindo, who was replaced in January as county judge by Contreras, who formerly was the city’s finance director. He said that the city wants to do the project without agreeing to a 50-50 split in the expenses.

“We’re spending $40,000 to $50,000 a year maintaining the rodeo arena and Civic Center,” Galindo said last March. “They want to use this venue tax for the improvement of the rodeo arena and related infrastructure, but they don’t consider the Civic Center as related infrastructure.”

City officials replied that because only half of the rodeo arena and no parts of the Civic Center are within the city limits, the county has handled primary maintenance responsibilities.

Concerns were also voiced by Galindo about debt liability for the county, should the money brought in by the hotel-motel tax fall below projections.

City officials estimated when the item was put up for vote in 2005 that the venue tax would bring in about $42,000 annually, but increased activity in oil and gas drilling in the Pecos area has resulted in most of the local motels operating at near-capacity over the past 18 months, roughly a third above previous levels.

“Hotels and motels are practically full, and the revenue would have gone a long way towards getting the Rodeo Grounds and Civic Center improvements done,” said Alligood, who replaced Dot Stafford as mayor last May.

Council members were concerned a year ago that the 2005 vote would become void if no action was taken on using the venue tax funds within a year of the election. However, it was later determined that the state law on acting to first collect and spend the funds within a one-year period dealt with the actual appointment of the venue tax board, rather than the vote to create the board.

Alligood said there have been no recent talks on who would serve on the board, pending a final agreement between the city and county. “At that time we will form a committee and get a board appointed,” he said.

Americanism program held by local club

The Modern Study Club met on Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 3:30 p.m., in the home of Donald and Joyce Morton, for an Americanism Department Program entitled, “Our Spiritual Heritage,” planned and presented by Margie Williamson, Chairman of the Americanism Department. The thought-quote for the meeting was - “It can not be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians, not by religions, but on the Christians, not by religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.” - Patrick Henry. President Juracy Ray presided during the meeting and introduced the speaker.

Mrs. Williamson stated, “that she enjoys heritage study and has been fascinated by our forefathers and their desiring religious freedom, the lengths they went to acquire that freedom and to keep it.” She quoted several scriptures from the Bible in support of her presentation. One such quote was from during the Constitutional Convention of 1787 when Benjamin Franklin, one of the less spirited of our well-known founding fathers, alluded to Psalms 127:1: “God governs in the affairs of man. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured in the Sacred Writings that except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.”

Also, she continued, “On May 12, 1779 George Washington said, “What students would learn in American schools above all is the religion of Jesus Christ.” He also stated, “It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible.” And he continued, “The future of our country depends upon the Christian training of our youth.”

Mrs. Williamson told that President Abraham Lincoln, in speaking of the Bible said, “In regard to this great book, I have but to say, I believe the Bible is the best gift God has given man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through His Book, but for this Book we could not know right from wrong.

Mrs. Williamson also quoted President James Madison; Jedediah Morse, the Father of American Geography; Noah Webster, author of the American Dictionary of the English language written in 1828; Daniel Webster; Horace Greeley; William Holmes Guffey, publisher of the McGuffey’s Reader; Justice Joseph Story; John Jay, First Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; in support of morals, what the Bible teaches and Christianity.

During opening ceremonies the Club Collect was led by Catherine Travland, and Joyce Morton led the Pledges of Allegiances to the United States of America and Texas flags.

The minutes of the previous meeting, Jan. 14, were read by secretary Catherine Travland and treasurer Betty Lee presented a statement of club finances.

A letter from the Reddick Family was received thanking the club for the Alma Van Sickle Scholarship for 2006-07. The Modern Study Club - Pecos High School Senior Scholarship for 2006-07 was also discussed.

Western District Arts and Crafts Chairman, Joyce Morton, passed out the guidelines concerning accepted entries in the arts and crafts show and writing competition to be held in conjunction with the Annual Spring Convention of the Western District of the Texas Federation of Women’s Club stated in McCamey on March 31. She encouraged entries. Federation chairman, Paula Fuller, called to the attention of club members that February is - Black History Month; American Heart Month; National Child Passenger Safety Awareness Week; National Girls and Women in Sports and Eating Disorder Awareness Week.

She also said that March is - Youth Art Month; National Women’s History Month; International Woman’s Day; Read Across America Day and Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month.

Club reports chairman, Joyce Morton told that 17 reports on club programs, project or activities had been sent for judging at the district level.

Roll call was answered by eight members stating their response to the question - “Why do you think God should bless America?”

The bi-monthly projects for this meeting were to contribute to the National Museum of Women of the Arts and to donate to Operation Smile five cents of every room in your home.

Hostess Juracy Ray served delicious refreshments to those in attendance.

McKinnon crowned Miss Dublin

Kelsey McKinnon, daughter of Mac and Lea McKinnon, formerly of Pecos, was crowned Miss Dublin (Texas) Saturday night as part of festivities for St. Patrick's Day celebration in the Irish Capital of Texas. She is an honor student, editor of the school's Shamrock yearbook, reporter for the senior class and captain of the Dandi-Lion drill team.

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