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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Reynolds, Gomez still differ over vote fraud
prosecution of case handled by state AG

Responding to statements by 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds and investigator Freddy Contreras that appeared in Friday’s Pecos Enterprise, Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez noted a statement made by Reynolds to the Enterprise in October of 2004 on a voter fraud investigation indicated that he did not find any reason to prosecute one of two women involved in the case.

Reynolds, meanwhile, said that his statements 2 1/2 years ago on the charges against Anita Baeza were not inconsistent with the statement made by Contreras last week, on why the 143rd District Attorney’s office failed to bring charges in the case.

Gomez was one of three local officials to voice complaints about the lack of prosecutorial action by Reynolds on cases within the 143rd District, in the wake of the sex abuse scandal involving the West Texas State School in Pyote. Reynolds was accused by Texas Ranger Bryan Burzynski of not acting on the results of his investigation, after the problem was first reported to the district attorney’s office two years ago.

In an interview published last Wednesday by the Associated Press, Gomez said felony cases his 10 deputies pass off to Reynolds often seem to vanish.

"We take cases and then we never hear anything again," Gomez said.

He also cited the case involving voter fraud linked to the 2004 Democratic Primary, in which Gomez defeated Jeffrey Baeza in the race for sheriff. Baeza currently works as an investigator for Reynolds, and held the same position prior to the 2004 primary election. Voter fraud allegations were later made against Baeza’s mother, Anita, and another woman, Trini Villalobos. Both later received probated sentences, after Villalobos was found guilty and Baeza reached a plea deal with prosecutors from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, which handled the investigation.

On Thursday, Reynolds released a statement defending his work as district attorney, while Contreras released a statement directly related to the charges by Gomez.

“Sheriff Gomez states that our office declined to take an election fraud case previously. The case was prosecuted as a misdemeanor and our office generally does not have jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor cases,” Contreras said. “The case was prosecuted by the AG's office and, in light of the fact that the son of the accused had been an investigator assigned to our office prior to the election and again began working in our office shortly after the election, many people would agree that it best that our office not be involved in the investigation or prosecution of that case.”

On Friday, Gomez faxed a copy of an Oct. 26, 2004 story from the Enterprise, in which Reynolds said he had not found enough reason to warrant prosecution of Baeza.

“I have reviewed the Texas Election Code and believe that the Election Code authorizes persons to assist voters in reading, marking or mailing their ballots. The law further provides that a person may possess a voter’s ballot carrier envelope in order to deposit it in the mail,” said Reynolds.

He said he consulted with a staff attorney in the Elections Division of the Office of the Secretary of State who advised Reynolds that it is legal for a person to assist a voter in this manner. Reynolds noted that he has provided all of the information to the Texas Rangers for their review. He added that Texas Ranger Captain Barry Caver in Midland, completed his inquiry into the matter, and agreed with the conclusions of the Secretary of State’s office that the actions admitted to by Mrs. Baeza in her deposition are legal. Gomez later brought the case to the attention of Abbott’s office, which took the case. Grand jurors returned indictments against the two women in February of 2006.

Reynolds said on Monday his statements from 2 1/2 years ago and his remarks last week were not inconsistent.

“Even without looking at the merits of the case, I wouldn’t prosecute a misdemeanor, and it wouldn’t be proper to go ahead, due to the conflict of interest,” he said. “The sheriff asked me for an opinion, and I looked at it and didn’t think it legally rose to a violation. “I relied on the Rangers to look at and the Secretary of State’s office, and they didn’t think the action was criminal,” Reynolds added. “The sheriff took it to the attorney general, and they prosecuted it as a misdemeanor.”

“If anyone had said it rose to the level of a crime, I wouldn’t have handled it due to the conflict. I would have said ‘go someplace else,’ to the Secretary of State or the Rangers,” Reynolds said.

In the TYC case, Ray Brookins, former assistant superintendent at Pyote, and John Paul Hernandez, former principal, both resigned their jobs in 2005 in lieu of termination in the wake of the investigation that they had sexually abused juvenile inmates at the West Texas State School.

In a story in the Dallas Morning News last month detailing the allegations, Caver was quoted as criticizing Reynolds for failing to act on Burzynski’s investigation. The story said Reynolds had tried to turn the case over to federal prosecutors, who declined to handle it, and said that "a breakdown in communications" caused the nearly two-year delay in progress on the case that was turned over to his office.

The case was turned over to the attorney general’s office earlier this year, and a grand jury met last Wednesday in Monahans to hear evidence in the case, but no indictments were reported following their afternoon session.

Reynolds said grand jurors are scheduled to hold their next meeting at the Ward County Courthouse on April 10.

Sunday storms cause flooding, tornado scare

Strong storms caused by moisture from the Pacific coming in through Mexico resulted in tornado warnings being issued in Reeves County twice over the weekend, including one late Sunday afternoon for the city of Pecos.

Between two and three inches of rain was reported in the Pecos area from the storms, which began Friday night and continued at a lower level through early Monday afternoon. Rain was to continue in the forecast through Monday night, according to the National Weather Service, but conditions were expected to improve on Tuesday and clear or partly cloudy skies were forecast for the area through next weekend.

Friday’s storms began in the southern part of Reeves County and moved north, with a tornado warning issued for the northern area of the county about 7:30 p.m. No major damage was reported, from the storm or the nickel-sized hail that fell in some areas around Pecos, and the NWS station at Pecos Municipal Airport reported a total of 0.23 inch of rain.

Three storms passed through the Pecos area on Sunday, the second of which resulted in a tornado warning being issued for the area at 4:45 p.m., after a funnel cloud was reported eight miles west of the city. Tornado sirens were sounded, and Emergency Medical Service workers were called to stand by at the Pecos Ambulance Hall in case any injuries were reported from the storm.

Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera said that he had talked to the NWS’s Midland office and that they had stated that the same storm that went through Toyah was going to go through Pecos. “And once it went through Toyah it increased in intensity,” said Herrera. “It later lost its intensity, but Toyah experienced high winds and rains.”

He said that he was in Toyah in case of a flood along with several other emergency personnel.

“Right before it (the storm) came in to Pecos, about eight miles, it loss it’s intensity,” said Herrera.

He said that it was the weather service from Midland that had declared the tornado warning.

“The weather service called and said it would do a tornado warning, because of the intensity of the storm, from Toyah to Pecos and we also talked to some of our weather spotters, who said that they saw funnel clouds forming,” said Herrera. Herrera said that Reeves County was fortunate, because there was no actual flooding in the homes or buildings.

He said that the weather service in Midland is providing excellent coverage and provides up to the minute information on the weather.

“They actually called us and let us know exactly what was going on and that helped us to prepare,” said Herrera, who added he had issued a warning as well on Friday based on NWS forecasts before the first round of storms moved through the area.

Pea-sized hail from Sunday’s biggest storm caused little damage, but the 1.23 inches of rain that was reported over a 35-minute period at the NWS’ reporting station at the Pecos Municipal Airport caused flooding at a number of intersections inside the city, and Pecos Volunteer Fire Department crews were called out to rescue one motorist whose vehicle was stranded in high water at the intersection of 14th and Cedar streets.

Some additional flooding of intersections occurred from the third storm, which hit the area at 7:30 p.m. The three storms dropped a total of 2.22 inches of rain at the airport on Sunday, while another .03 inch of rain fell late Monday morning and early Tuesday afternoon.

“We had several weather spotters on duty, that underwent the weather spotting training,” said Herrera.

Herrera said that members of the weather-spotting group include officers with the Reeves County Sheriff’s Department, the Pecos Police Department and other community members.

“We created an EOC (emergency operations center), at the Pecos Police Department, with everyone there, including the elected officials, department heads and a conference call was put through to the weather service in Midland,” said Herrera.

“The sirens are just one method of informing the public of incoming bad weather,” he said.

Herrera said that some people in Reeves County are already using the newest method of keeping informed through the weather radio.

“It’s important because it gives you a direct line to get weather reports,” said Herrera. “At night you can have it on as an alarm and flip it to broadcast and gives you the weather there, it can actually wake you up at night,” he said.

Herrera said that obviously not everyone listens to the radio or television and that the weather radio is just one more way to be informed.

Further to the north, a line of storms that formed in northern Reeves and Culberson counties Friday afternoon spawned tornadoes that caused damage in Clovis and other areas of east-central New Mexico.

The Clovis twister touched down shortly before 8 p.m. Friday, forecasters said. On Saturday, city officials described a narrow path of destruction about three miles long. About 100 homes and businesses were either lost or damaged, and at least three schools were damaged, police said.

``We've got some significant damage. No question it's the most significant we've ever seen here,'' Clovis Mayor David Lansford said.

Hospitals in Clovis treated 35 victims, including two critically injured, state emergency management spokeswoman Carrie Moritomo said Saturday. One of the critically hurt was taken to a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, for treatment.

City eyes motel tax collection audit plan

Town of Pecos City Council members listened to a presentation from a company seeking a contract to conduct audits on occupancy tax collections from the city’s motels, but took no action during Thursday’s council meeting pending more information.

Brian Gordon with MuniServices LLC gave the council a presentation on conducting audits of the city’s motels to see if the proper amount of money from the hotel and motel occupancy tax is being returned to the city.

The council discussed the proposal after a check of collection rates over the past several quarters showed the city may not be receiving all of the money it should be getting from the occupancy tax.

“We’ve never gone back and looked at the hotel-motel (tax), because we haven’t had the expertise,” said city manager Joseph Torres. “But we want to make sure the city is getting the money it should.”

“We do a local tax analysis that goes back 48 months,” he said. “So you can see what’s been changing, and help us decide where our problem areas are.”

Gordon said MuniServices works with cities nationwide, including Los Angeles, to conduct audits on occupancy tax collections. He said the company has 35 client cities in Texas, mostly in the central and eastern parts of the state.

He said the company would conduct about 2-3 audits per year, which would allow it to audit all eight of the city’s motels over the life of the three-year contract. Motel owners would be given advance notice of the audits, and the company would also offer educational service for motel owners if needed on proper collection of the tax.

“We’ll work with them and make sure the motel owners know what the exceptions are and how to fill out the forms,” Gordon said.

The cost would be $500 per motel, which currently would come out to $4,000, including travel expenses, which Gordon told the council could be capped in the $1,500 range. He said result the audits “runs the gamut, but in almost all instances, we’ve run into underreporting.” Gordon added the average increase in receipts following the audits has been about 13 percent.

Council member Angelica Valenzuela asked about consulting fees in the contract. Gordon said that was for analysis of motel tax collections during special events or situations, such as during the West of the Pecos Rodeo.

“I’d like to put a hold on this until we have a chance to look at the expenditures and talk to other cities,” Valenzuela said. “I’d like to look at all things up-front and other fees.” In the end, the council opted to take no action on Thursday and come back and look at the proposal again during an April meeting.

In other action, Parks Department Director Adolfo Ruiz and Reeves County Extension Agent Tommy Dominguez updated the council on plans to remove prairie dogs from city parks and playing fields.

Dominguez said phostoxin placed in the ground would be the best way to kill off the animal causing holes in the parks and at the Maxey Park soccer field. “It can be used anywhere,” he said. “It can be used for agricultural purposes as well as in municipal parks.”

He said the toxic would require repeated applications to keep the prairie dogs out of the parks. “I don’t know if you can kill everything, but you can keep it under control after that.”

“We’re always worried about the kids at the park,” Torres said, but added the city had not taken action so they could make sure all rules are being followed, including any possible violations of the Endangered Species Act. Dominguez said none of the animals underneath the local parks were protected by the federal law.

The council also set rates for use of the new 30-ton roll-off trash trucks by commercial and residential customers. Rates for both will be the same, as will the rates for city customers and those within two miles of the city limits, unlike the regular trash collections rates, which council members earlier this year divided into city and out-of-town rates.

Edgardo Madrid and Martin Arreguy gave the council a presentation on calculating the rates, which resulted in a rate of $41.60 to drop off the truck at a specific site, and a rate of $89.93 to pick up a loaded truck and take it to the city’s Type IV landfill for disposal. Council members voted to round off those rates to $45 and $95, in case of any increases in fuel or other costs. A $20 surcharge for weekend drop-offs and pick-ups was also approved.

Also approved for purchase at a cost of $7,600 was a 1994 John Deere backhoe that had been impounded two years ago by the Texas Department of Public Safety and had been sitting unused at the city lot since then. Arreguy said he had the city’s heavy equipment mechanic, Rocky Blackstock, check out the backhoe before the purchase.

“He charged the batteries, started it up, drove it around the block and said ‘this thing is worth $22,000 as it sits’,” Arreguy told the council. “The more equipment we can get, the better situation we are in.”

Council Oks computer link for EMS staff

Pecos ambulance units will be equipped with global positioning systems and wireless computer notepads for the next six months, as part of a test program to see if the high-tech systems can improve response time while also increasing collections for the Emergency Medical Service.

Pecos City Council members approved the test program following a presentation by EMS Chief Dennis Thorp during Thursday’s council meeting at City Hall. The “Trip Tick” system will be operated through Intermedics, the company contracted by Pecos last year to help increase the bill collection rate for the local EMS.

Thorp used a laptop computer to show the location, travel direction and speed of one of the Pecos EMS ambulance units as it drove from Ward County to City Hall.

“What this enables me to do, I can get on any computer with Internet access and track my ambulances,” he said. Combined with the computer mapping program, he said it would allow units to be better directed towards remote call locations, while the longitude and latitude display will allow the EMS to direct Aerocare helicopters to their location for on-site transfers.

“I can see that this is a great tool for me, and dispatch needs to have access to log into that website,” Thorp said.

The notebook-sized computer pad are programmed with digital medical forms, which are signed by patients and EMS crews with a digital pen and then can be transmitted to other computers or fax machines, and also contain a look-up program for Social Security and driver’s license numbers.

“We can verify people’s addresses,” said Thorp, who told the council they have problems with bill collections from people who give false Social Security and driver’s license numbers that can’t be checked right away under current conditions.

“The faster you get it out there, the faster you get paid, especially with insurance companies,” he said.

The city is currently paying Intermedics 12 percent of its collections, which comes to about $31,000 per year. Thorp said the Trip Tick system will add an additional 4 1/2 percent to that total, which should come to an additional $5,900 over the next six months. That’s based on a 1 1/2 percent increase per ambulance, for the EMS’s three units.

“I think to get the full effect, I think going the full 4 1/2 percent for all three units is the best,” said Thorp, who said all three units have been in service at the same time on a couple of occasions in recent weeks.

Thorp told council members that Intermedics has boosted the collection rate to about 43 percent. “When you take off the in-district write-offs, that goes up to 60 percent,” he said. “Our bad debt is going to be in the $160,000 range, instead of the half-million range. It makes the books look a whole lot better.”

He said the improved rate is above expectations, and more than the difference the additional 4 1/2-percent charge would cost.

Approval of the system was not a listed item on Thursday’s agenda, but councilman Frank Sanchez said, “I’m sure we can just give Joseph (Torres, city manager) verbal approval right now, and put in on our next agenda.”

“They can fax over a contract, and we’ll be ready to roll,” said city attorney Scott Johnson. He and council members added that a decision on keeping the system can be made when the council draws up the budget for the 2008 fiscal year in September.

PHS band auction collects $9,600

Things went really well for the Pecos Eagle Band this weekend, after the boosters put on an auction to raise funds for the musical group.

“We did really well, at this time the count is about $9,600 that was raised,” said Pecos Eagle Head Band Director Bill Goff.

He said that the boosters had raised over $9,000, which is the amount raised last year. “We thought last year went really well, when we raised $9,000, but this year it was more.”

Goff said that the boosters are planning another auction or “something else,” because they still have items that need to be sold.

“We had some items left over and they are talking about either another auction or something else,” he said.

The auction was over at 10 p.m., which is when they decided to close it down for the evening.

“Last year it went past midnight and nobody wanted to do that this year,” said Goff. The barbecue plate sale was also a success. “She had about 145 plates and it went past that,” said Goff.

The bake sale didn’t garner as many “goodies” as they were expecting.

“Unfortunately, we didn’t have as many baked goods as we would have liked, but we want to thank those that brought something in, or that helped us in any way,” said Goff. “It was a great turnout and we thank the community,” he said.

Monahans plans rally to keep WTSS open

By the Monahans News

In the wake of a state audit report recommending the West Texas State School in Pyote be shut down, a rally in support of the juvenile detention facility and its workers has been scheduled for Tuesday afternoon in Monahans.

The rally for West Texas State School and its employees is scheduled for Tuesday at 5 p.m. on the steps of the Ward County Courthouse. In comes as a result of a March 16 report by State Auditor John Keel that said the facility should be shut down because it is too isolated to attract qualified workers or provide prompt medical care for its 250 male juvenile detainees.

The recommendation was part of an overall audit of Texas Youth Commission facilities, following last months reports of sexual abuse by administrators at the Pyote center .The incidents were first reported in 2005 but no action was taken until earlier this year, prompting a series of resignations and reassignments within the juvenile detention system.

According to Monahans Chamber of Commerce director Teresa Burnett, the rally is being held to let officials in Austin know the citizens of Ward County support the WTSS facility and want the institution to remain in the county.

Ward County Judge Greg Holly, Monahans Mayor David Cutbirth and MWP-ISD superintendent Keith Richardson will speak at the meeting. West Texas State School employs approximately 270 people living in Ward County and surrounding areas, including Pecos.

Burnett encourages everyone to attend the meeting, as it is crucial for the future of WTSS. A video of Tuesday’s meeting will be sent to officials in Austin, who plan to meet on Wednesday, March 28.

County accepting mail ballots for election

Applications for ballots by mail can already be requested for the May 12 county elections, at the Reeves County Clerk’s office.

The deadline to request an application is May 4.

The county will have one item on the ballot, involving a change to the way Texas schools are funded, which will result in the reduction of property taxes. The election is separate from the May 12 city and school board elections.

The ballot avengement reads: “The constitutional amendment authorizing the legislature to provide for a reduction of the limitation on the total amount of ad valorem taxes that may be imposed for public school purposes on the residence homesteads of the elderly or disabled to reflect any reduction in the rate of those taxes for the 2006 and 2007 tax years.

To request an application for a ballot by mail: write to Dianne Florez, county clerk, 100 E. 4th Street, or P.O. Box 867, Pecos, Texas 79772; or call the office at 432-445-5467.

Terry to participate in honors ceremony

Tiana Terry will participate in a special honors ceremony at Prairie View A&M University.

Students who have maintained a grade point average of 3.50 to 4.00 for the fall and spring semester of 2006 will be honored at this ceremony.

She has been a part of this ceremony for the past three years.

She is also a member of Kappa Delta Pi.

Terry is expected to graduate in the fall of 2007.

She is the daughter of David and Debra Terry.

WWW Pecos Enterprise

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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