County discusses law enforcement contract, sheriff recommends rejection at all cost
March 16th, 2017 under Top Stories
By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA
MARFA – Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez recommended the county reject the City of Marfa’s proposed contract for law enforcement services at last week’s commissioners court meeting, stating he would rather get rid of three deputies than accept the city’s revised contract.
The contract was re-written by Marfa city attorney Teresa Todd and accepted by Marfa City Council members at the city’s February 23 meeting; with new clauses Todd said were written to provide the city with more oversight over the law enforcement services, to re-insert a section removed by the county’s proposed contract which would send Class C misdemeanor tickets written within city limits and the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction to the municipal court, and allow for more transparency from the sheriff’s office.
The county, Presidio County Judge Cinderela Guevara urged, should begin negotiations with the city and come to an agreement, as the county stands to lose $180,000 that has already been budgeted for the current fiscal year.
As of this date, she said, the city has not paid the county any money for the services.
The city, she also said, would benefit from the re-insertion of the Class C misdemeanor clause, which was extracted from the county’s proposed contract.
“[The county] is looking at $180,000 that the city is providing the county to have more deputies. Trying to run a municipal court has costs. They have to have the municipal court. They cannot abolish the municipal,” said Guevara, adding that state statute does not allow for the city to abandon a municipal court once established. “They have personnel and expenses. It takes money to run every office.”
The contract as written by the county, Dominguez said, is mutually beneficial, as the cost to the city on the contract would be far less than the amount of money would be necessary for the city to run its own municipal police force.
“$180,000 is noting,” he told the court, saying it would take around $700,000 per year to reinstate the Marfa Police Department. “They’re not paying for vehicles, they’re not paying for maintenance, and they’re not paying for gas. I don’t know what they’re disputing here. I have no idea.”
The city of Presidio, county attorney Rod Ponton said, currently spends $600,000 for their police department, which has at least one officer on duty at all time.
One cost-saving option for the city, Guervara added, would be to hire a single marshal to police the city.
Dominguez also downplayed the amount of revenue brought in through Class C misdemeanor tickets that would go to municipal court.
“A few municipal tickets will add up to $3-4000. I don’t know what they’re disputing,” he said.
For Dominguez, the contract as written by the city has complicated the agreement, which has stood for seven years.
“[I have a problem] with all of it. My contract [follows] the KISS method. You know what the KISS method is? Keep it simple, stupid,” he told the court.
When pressed by the judge on whether he’d be willing to dismiss three deputies, Dominguez responded by saying, “They knew that when they’re hired. They know that.”
Though Ponton offered to begin negotiations with the city, Dominguez said the contract would “put a burden” on his office, which prompted commissioner Brenda Silva Bentley to ask if the county would put a bigger burden on the city should they not accept a contract.
“It’ll be a burden on all sides,” he replied to Silva Bentley.
Though it’s the county’s ultimate decision, the sheriff said he is unwilling to change any part of his contract, even reinstating the practice of sending tickets to the municipal court.
“My contract stands as it is. It’s plain and simple, guys. There’s nothing wrong with it. You start putting attorney language in there, and it’s a different story. This is what I suggest for the best interest of the sheriff’s office but it’s your call,” he said. “I’m not going take any contract that tells me where I can write tickets.”
The department, he said, when asked by Guevara if it was unreasonable to want tickets to be written to the municipal court, could outright refuse to write tickets within the city.
“We’ve given too much, and no one appreciates it,” Dominguez said.
The county, Judge Guevara said, has given the sheriff’s office funds to help them get out of “debt prison” and pay for comp time for the sheriff’s deputies.
“Please rethink the contract and think about what’s good for the people in the county,” she told the sheriff, who responded by asking her which county department brings in the most revenue, to which she replied, “the tax office.”
“I don’t want to feel like we are holding our citizens hostage,” said Silva Bentley of the contract gridlock.
The county, Ponton said, should negotiate with the city, while decrying their decision to change the contract without contacting the county.
The county, however, did not contact the city with its changes to the contract in regard to getting rid of the Class C misdemeanor ticket clause.
The county postponed the vote pending negotiations.
The city also briefly tackled the contract at their Tuesday meeting, voting to appoint Todd to a negotiating committee, though another representative will be appointed at a later date, as two council members – Mark Scott and Manny Baeza – were absent from the meeting due to work obligations.