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Marfa council re-establishes police department

June 1st, 2017 under Top Stories

By JOHN DANIEL GARCIA

johndaniel@bigbendnow.com

MARFA – The implementation of a Marfa Municipal Police Department is on track as city council members last week authorized a city ordinance establishing the force and a budget to fund the department.

In a historic preamble to the ordinance drafted by Marfa City Attorney Teresa Todd, it is learned that the first municipal police force was established in 1971 “upon the retirement of the longtime City Marshall.” That ordinance burned in the 1995 City Hall fire. In 2009, the council decided to “zero-fund the Marfa Police Department and enter into an agreement with the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.”

The law enforcement budget, the ordinance states, had increased by over 105 percent in seven years from $87,500 to $180,000.

The ordinance also mentions the inability of the city and the sheriff’s office to renegotiate a new agreement, stating, “[…] upon the recommendation of the Presidio County Sheriff, the Presidio County Commissioners Court did not approve the modified Interlocal Agreement as approved by the City of Marfa, but rather approved an Interlocal Agreement which did not include any of the city modifications, and also sent all City of Marfa tickets to Presidio rather than the Marfa Municipal Court […]”

The ordinance, as adopted, gives the city council the authority to hire and fire the municipal police department chief by vote, changing the previous policy, which gave the city administrator that authority.

The decision came with dissent from city council member Genevieve Bassham.

“I think the administrator should be responsible. It’s important because we can all be liable. We have to be sure we don’t do the wrong thing,” she said.

The city had already erred with the re-establishment of the police force, new council member Brit Webb added.

“We’ve already done the right thing,” he said. “I’m sure not happy with that development. The whole city is divided on that issue and we have to be dang careful who we put on [the police force].”

In the past, Todd admitted, mistakes were made in the vetting process, saying the new chief would be investigated thoroughly.

According to city administrator Jim Mustard, his past exposure working with a police chief hired by a previous administrator was an “awful” experience.

The police department ordinance also outlines a complaint process for citizens to safely submit complaints against officers under city employ, something the sheriff refused to consider in negotiations.

According to Todd, the complaints must be written, though the city will provide standardized complaint forms to assist in the process.

Should the citizen not feel completely satisfied with the outcome, Todd said, an appeal to the city administrator could be made within 30 days.

Any officer who would be punished in any way could also appeal to the city administrator, she added.

“I think everybody should be treated equal,” she said.

The written complaint process, Todd said, is essential to show the gravity of making such allegations of misconduct.

“Some people think that if they post something on Facebook, it should start an investigation,” she said.

The police chief will be responsible for hiring officers under the ordinance.

The ordinance was approved 3-1 with Bassham dissenting, Webb abstaining, and council members Manny Baeza, Mark Scott, and new council member Irma Salgado voting in the affirmative.

The city council also adopted a $221,000 budget for the first year of the municipal police department, which will result in the city saving around $49,000 from the previous budget for law enforcement services.

With the $180,000 contract with the Presidio County Sheriff’s Office, Mustard said, the total cost for services would run the city around $265,600, including dispatch fees and the city’s Animal Control services and the city’s Code Enforcement Officer.

In other city news, the council approved the appointment of council member Baeza as the new Mayor Pro Tem, which was left vacant after former council member and Mayor Pro Tem Josie Simpson wasn’t returned to office.

The council also voted to appoint council member Scott to represent the city in the Marfa Volunteer Fire Department Pension Fund board member, and Salgado to the Parks and Recreation Board.

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