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March 7th, 2013 under West Texas Talk

Dear Marfa,

John Klusek is a human being just like you, just like me. I implore you, please do not vent your rage on this individual. I am aware that this horrible discovery was made at the most tragic time in this man’s life. His companion of many years has sadly passed away after battling cancer. Our hearts go out to him. It is true that these animals were being kept in deplorable conditions and many of them suffered a terrible death as a result. This does not, however, negate the fact that John lost his friend and his beloved pets all in the same day. In taking these dogs in he did not act out of malice, but out of love for these helpless creatures that he could not bear to see euthanized. At its core, animal hoarding is a disease whose first symptom is usually good intentions. John simply did not have the means to properly care for the animals he loved so much. What could we, as a community, have done to help him? This is a question I have asked myself time and time again. I do know that there are many neighbors who have helped him purchase food. Others helped provide medical care for some of the dogs. These actions should be applauded. This is how we should treat our neighbors. No one could have imagined the conditions inside the house. As far as I am aware, my husband has been one of the only people allowed in the property.

On that note, I will now speak to the actions taken on our part. Let me begin by saying that we too did not act out of malice or with the intention of getting anyone “in trouble”. The conditions inside that trailer could not stand. We understand that legalities can take time. We understand that the authorities needed to take specific actions to ensure that the letter of the law was followed, which it was. For that I commend the Presidio County Sheriff’s Department, the city of Marfa, Dan Dunlap, the county and district attorneys, Grand Companions, and ROMP. The conditions on that property were deteriorating daily. Dogs were killing each other in competition for resources and space. If you did not see the conditions in which these dogs were living I can only tell you that they were beyond imagining. Every night that they were there we struggled, we cried, and we tried to make a plan. We reported the situation through all the proper channels. We know that our county has limited resources at best, especially in dealing with animal control. The decision to contact the media did not come lightly. We thought that if the people could see for themselves what was going on we might be able to get some much-needed assistance from the West Texas community at large in addition to state and national organizations. To that end we were successful. Grand Companions has received donations from all across the country as a direct result of the news stories that were aired. We had no intention of embarrassing our town or officials. That is a side effect that Tyler and I deeply, deeply regret. We apologize for this from the bottom of our hearts, sincerely. We love our town and all the people and animals in it. We are a family, plain and simple.

Now, what can we do to prevent a tragedy like this from repeating itself? This is a question I have asked myself time and time again. Well, undo have some ideas. First and foremost we need to start having some real conversations about responsible pet ownership. We need to work closely with the city and county to come up with a plan that fits our resources and budgetary restrictions. On the ground level we need to talk to our friends and neighbors about spaying and neutering their pets. This is the first and simplest step we can take in eradicating the stray animal problem that plagues this community. I imagine a time when unwanted litters of puppies and kittens simply do not exist. This makes my heart happy.

In closing, I want to inform everyone that 24 dogs have been safely relocated to Grand Companions. They are receiving food, shelter, medical care, and rehabilitation. Soon they will go to loving forever-homes. Among the dogs that were rescued was one days-old puppy that survived against all odds. That makes this effort worth it to me. If John is charged legally I would beg the justice system to provide him with mental healthcare instead of jail time or fines. Please open your hearts and minds. Try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Treat others the way you want to be treated. The old clichés and the golden rule still apply in 2013.

All the best,

Lena Hill and Tyler Spurgin


* * *

Shame, shame, shame, the Alpine City Council has it all over Chicago and Illinois politics.

The Alpine City Council does not serve their constituents, but serves only their own egos and needs.

Beth Collins


* * *

In the midst of overheated words being played out in our city’s papers, I would like to make some brief observations.

The special meeting on February 19 was called by Carlos Lujan, Diana Asgeirsson, and Mike Davidson, with the full knowledge of the aforementioned council members that City Manager Chuy Garcia was not available to attend due to prior commitments.  Furthermore, it was called on the pretext of ‘evidence’ in an alleged “Preliminary Report” of an audit currently being conducted by Shaw Skinner.

Very early on into the meeting a motion was put forward to adjourn, it was seconded, and the meeting was duly adjourned.  It was adjourned for one of the most basic of our society’s principles: Due Process, or rather, a blatant absence of due process at the meeting.

Carlos Lujan and his friends were determined to publicly eviscerate and fire the City Manager at that meeting.  The City Manager was not present to defend himself against any accusations.

Think about your own life for a moment.  If your job was going to be terminated, would you not have the right to see the evidence upon which any decisions were going to be made and exercise your right to defend yourself against said information?

That’s a basic right we are all guaranteed: to face our accuser.  Whether or not Chuy and/or other city employees deserve to be fired is a question that can only be addressed once the auditor’s Official City Audit is completed and turned into the city.  And that’s the crux of the matter.

Mr. Skinner has stated that not only is he nowhere near completing his audit of the city, but he has not written any ‘preliminary reports’ on anything.  There is NO preliminary report.

The premise upon which the whole ‘special meeting’ was called for was based upon nothing, as illusionary and baseless as McCarthy’s Red List.

Which brings me to Mr. Lujan.  How can a City Council member, elected to act in the best interests of his constituents and, by extent, the interests of the entire city, behave so irresponsibly, calling for a meeting without any evidence whatsoever, against an employee who wasn’t there to answer for himself?

I read that Mr. Lujan was involved in unions back in California.  I wonder what kind he was a part of?

And this odd action is just another in what is developing to be a series of actions that run roughshod over the rights of our fellow citizens.  Soon after Mr. Lujan was elected, one of the first things he did was lead a campaign to strip our fellow citizens of a basic right and accepted community practice of allowing those who desire and, more importantly, follow the regulations and requirements of the city, to have horses on their property within the city limits.  This is an established practice that has gone back, in many cases, for generations in Alpine – and really, isn’t this apart of that ‘authentic Western, rural living’ everyone’s clamoring for these days?  His actions ridiculed and demonized those citizens who lawfully were exercising their native rights.

A union man who apparently has regard for neither our due process rights nor for the rights and community accepted practices of our city, is not a crusader for reform but merely continuing his rough shod contempt for our city, for us, and our legal rights.

As the mayor has said repeatedly, if a crime has been committed by any city employee, he will support council actions to terminate and legally prosecute them to the fullest extent allowed by law, as well as any and all actions necessary to make the city financially whole.

But, there is a right way and there is a wrong way to do things.  Our basic principles must be upheld, first and foremost, so that when judgment is finally rendered, the taxpayers of Alpine will be safeguarded from any costly legal expenses and the citizens of Alpine will know that those in the wrong are rightfully punished.

Mr. Lujan’s way of casting aspersions without evidence or disregarding individual legal rights is not only the height of personal irresponsibility but, detrimental to all the citizens of Alpine.


Amit Rangra


* * *

I would first like to thank Lonn Taylor for his delightful article last week about Ballroom’s Drive-In and the history of drive-in’s in West Texas. I appreciate Taylor’s, “Field of Dreams” metaphor, as this is a sentiment many of the project team shares.

Expanding on his article, I would like to take the opportunity to comment on the expenses related to the project and give further detail, as the Drive-In is hardly just a screen, but rather an umbrella term for a public outdoor amphitheater for music, film and performance and a multi-stage park improvement plan for Vizcaino Park. The project includes a new handicap accessible restroom facility with 12 stalls, to be shared by the entire park, and a new playground with new play equipment, soft surfaces and shade. We will build additional picnic areas with three RV hook-ups for food trailers, adjacent to both the baseball field and the theater space. All parking will be re-organized and roadways will be re-surfaced to eliminate the extreme amount of dust created by vehicles during events. All walkways will meet Texas state handicap accessible standards. There will be a new landscape and irrigation plan for the entire park with only Chihuahuan desert native planting, grasses and trees. The irrigation system will cover all areas of the park, including the baseball field. Lighting will meet Dark-Sky standards in compliance with McDonald Observatory. All park signage will be in both English and Spanish.

The Drive-In project also includes a master plan for Vizcaino Park, which has come out of discussions with Presidio County and community members. The master plan looks at the entire park and identifies needed improvements for existing park structures, such as the baseball field bleachers and locates new recreational spaces such as a soccer field and possibly a skate park. Other organizations such as Big Bend Soccer Association and El Cosmico have expressed interest in participating in the development of these new spaces.

When you look at the entire scope of the project on a 21-acre site, the preliminary budgeted amount of $4.5 million, which includes both design, development and construction costs, adds up fast. Discovery Green in Houston, a 12-acre park, cost $125 million! Ballroom Marfa will directly raise the funding required for the project.

The Drive-In theater space is for all community organizations to use and program. While Ballroom Marfa will have programming that includes film screenings, concerts and operas, the facility will be available for local organizations to host movie screenings, high school graduations, music concerts, plays, etc.  Vizcaino Park is in a breathtaking setting and was built by an incredible generation of community members. It is essential we continue to show this type of initiative and leadership and maintain the park as an active and beautiful place to visit.

Ballroom Marfa’s dream is that the Drive-In project will reinvigorate Vizcaino Park and bring the community together at a scale Marfa has not seen before. I invite everyone to visit the Drive-In project space and see the design drawings, models and in-process master plan for Vizcaino Park. The space is located next door to Marfa Studio Arts at 106 San Antonio St.  You can email me questions or comments at If you are interested in participating in planning meetings, please send me an email or call me at 432-729-3600.


Melissa McDonnell

Director of External Affairs & Drive-In Project Manager

Ballroom Marfa

Story filed under: West Texas Talk

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