Ponton jumps over political hurdle
By ALBERTO TOMAS HALPERN
ALPINE – Rod Ponton is still the attorney for the City of Alpine.
Alpine city council members took no action after returning from a lengthy executive session in which an item under discussion was the “conduct of the City Attorney Rod Ponton regarding compliance of the Texas Ethics Commission, local newspaper articles and the City Personnel Policies and Guidelines,” according to the meeting’s agenda. Ward 3 council member Carlos Lujan had the item placed on the agenda.
Ponton, in addition to being the Alpine city attorney and in private law practice, is a candidate for 83rd district attorney on the Democratic Party ticket. He made local headlines recently when he failed to submit two campaign finance reports on time to the Texas Ethics Commission.
Ponton’s response was that he simply had too much on his plate and missed the two deadlines.
“It’s nothing sinister. I was late and I confess. What can I say, I was late,” Ponton said. He is challenging the penalties assessed by the Texas Ethics Commission, and has filed affidavits of dissent and waiver and that his challenge to assessed fines is under review and negotiation.
During the citizens comment portion of the meeting, Sandy Wilson of Marathon, a private attorney and 83rd assistant district attorney, addressed council members.
“I’m here on my behalf as a private person,” Wilson told Alpine council members, responding to the agenda item regarding Ponton’s conduct.
“Newspapers here show bias when it comes to local politics. They don’t give the complete truth,” she said. Staring sternly at council members, Wilson said that when looking into possible disciplinary actions, “Don’t look at your personal bias and hearsay based on rumor. You need to stick to city policy and you need to say does this infraction relate to a direct violation of policy.”
Also at issue is the circulation of Ponton’s alleged criminal history record that has been floating around the district.
“Criminal history records are not public, there is only very limited ways that’s going to be legal,” Wilson continued. “You can’t go get someone’s criminal history records. The newspaper articles I think are flawed.”
Brewster County Judge Val Beard would disagree. Last week, during a Brewster County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Beard informed the public that obtaining such criminal history records from the county, even for the purpose of propagating that information, is within the rule of law.
On Wednesday, a day after the city council meeting, a press conference invitation was sent to local media from Beard’s office.
“On account of the continuing misinformation which is being disseminated concerning public records and records of the judiciary, I have scheduled a tour of our Clerk’s office,” the invitation states. “Indexes, court files, etc. all public, will be viewed and we’ll talk about how they’re accessed,” the email invitation goes on. The invitation ends, perhaps in an attempt at humor, “And don’t worry. You can’t be arrested for viewing public records.”
During Monday’s council meeting, Wilson cautioned elected public council members from taking personnel action as a result of politics. “I think now that it’s coming up in light of mudslinging, I don’t think this is the time (for the city to look into Ponton’s alleged criminal history and campaign finance reports.) You’ve pretty well acquiesced,” she said, in that Ponton has been city attorney for several years, and the vetting process usually is conducted at the time of hiring.
She said that if a criminal history record is floating around, the person or persons making copies and distributing it could face criminal penalties.
Since an attorney must be present during executive session, and with Ponton not able to advise council members on an item in which he is the subject, council members invited Wilson to advise them on the item during executive session.
In a statement to The Big Bend Sentinel and Presidio Inernational, Ponton said Wednesday morning, “I grew up in Alpine and love this community. This is my eighth year as Alpine City Attorney. Partisan politics should not intrude into City of Alpine affairs.”
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