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Sheriff attempts to change contract committee, shut out city attorney

April 13th, 2017 under Top Stories

By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA

johndaniel@bigbendnow.com

MARFA – Presidio County Sheriff Danny Dominguez addressed Marfa City Council members Tuesday evening to discuss negotiations between the two entities for the stalled law enforcement contract.

The contract is about six months behind, with both sides having changed conditions in the 7-year-old agreement, pitting the city and the sheriff at odds with each other.

At a recent city meeting, council members voted to commit two members – Mark Scott and Genevieve Bassham – along with city attorney Teresa Todd to field negotiations with the county’s negotiation team, which included Commissioners Brenda Silva Bentley and Loretto Vasquez and County Attorney Rod Ponton.

The sheriff, however, told the city that has “a preference with who to meet with” during negotiations. Dominguez told the council he would only negotiate with Mayor Dan Dunlap, two council members, and city administrator Jim Mustard. He added that he wouldn’t negotiate with Todd as she “has no beef in this.”

The request, however, would lead to a violation of the open meetings act, as a quorum would be established with the mayor and two council members.

“Those are my conditions,” the sheriff said.

Council member Manny Baeza, however, argued that Todd would have to be at the meeting for legal advice and guidance through negotiations, as she is the city’s appointed attorney.

A motion by council member Josie Simpson to change the team died in a vote with Bassham voting for the measure and Scott, Baeza, and Peter Stanley dissenting.

“If she’s gonna be there, she has to just sit and do nothing,” the sheriff replied, stating several times that Todd should not speak during negotiations should she attend.

“As city attorney, I will do my job for the City of Marfa,” Todd shot back.

The sheriff also insisted on being the sole representative of the county for negotiations, though Todd pointed to a negotiating committee being formed by the county, which the sheriff called a “false statement,” despite the fact that the county had formed the committee in a February meeting.

The two entities set a meeting for Wednesday at 8am.

When asked if any other county representatives would show, the sheriff informed the city that he was “not inviting them” to the table.

“The contract is between the city and sheriff’s office,” said the sheriff. “They have no beef in negotiations in the contract.”

Todd advised the sheriff that she would inform the commissioners “out of respect” for the committee.

Negotiations, Todd said, were held Wednesday and proved to be productive.

“We worked out some issues, but we still have a few that were left unresolved,” she told the Marfa Big Bend Sentinel. “The next step is to report them to the city and discuss what the council wants to do about law enforcement in the city.”

As for Dominguez’s statements and behavior at the meeting, Todd said she was taken aback.

“I’d never seen anything like that before. I thought he was very disrespectful to the city council and disrespectful to me,” she said.

Bentley, who told the Sentinel the negotiation committee was “unofficial,” said she had attempted to put together a meeting, but was stopped by Ponton.

“When I attempted to put a meeting together, Mr. Ponton said to stay out of it,” she said, adding that she feels commissioners should have a say in the matter. “I saw a consensus to just let the sheriff negotiate. I did what I could to try to facilitate a talk. I do feel that we should have some input.”

Though she does find parts of the city’s contract at odds with county interests, Bentley does support some of the caveats.

“It’s not the best deal to commit the sheriff to,” she said. “How are we going to make him abide by it? I’m in favor of some parts of the contract, especially where it shows how tax dollars are used. I’m not completely opposed to what the city proposed. I think we can find a medium that makes both sides happy. That’s the talk I tried to facilitate. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen.”

The contract was a topic at a county meeting held Tuesday morning prior to the city meeting, and those present heard that there may be a budget shortfall of $192,000 if the city chooses not to renew the contract.

The report from County Auditor Patty Roach outlined that the law enforcement contract was worth $180,000 and ended in September 2016. The county has not received any money for law enforcement from the city for the past six months.

The remaining sum comes from a dispatch contract, which the auditor said equated to about $12,000. The last payment received from the city for dispatching was January 1.

Commissioner Lorenzo Hernandez raised issue with this, asking, “without the dispatch services, how would they be able to communicate, especially with the ambulance?”

Roach told the court that in December, the sheriff agreed to provide dispatch services free of charge to the city. For the court the difficulty arises from the fact this revenue has been budgeted for.

“You’ve got some budgetary impacts that you may have to address very, very quickly, depending on whatever happens Tuesday,” Roach added.

Hernandez said he was concerned that deputies will not get compensated for the work they are doing if the money is not collected from the city.

County Judge Cinderela Guevara told the court that Commissioner Bentley was delegated to be on the negotiating committee but that at the time no negotiations had taken place.

Guevara said a special meeting would need to take place once a decision by the Marfa City Council had been made.

Big Bend Sentinel reporter Nick Winchester contributed to this article.

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