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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 5, 2003

Commissioners face twin grillings over RCDC

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tues., Aug. 5, 2003 -- Reeves County Commissioners dealt with several issues and fielded several questions about the troubled Reeves County Detention Center III facility Monday evening, during a special emergency meeting of the Commissioners Court.

The meeting was held at 6 p.m., in the third floor courtroom, and coincided with a town hall meeting called last week to discuss the problem. That meeting was the Reeves County Civic Center, and only Precinct 3 Commissioner Herman Tarin attended.

Community members were on hand at the Reeves County Courthouse to ask the others questions about the future of the RCDC and the Federal Bureau of Prisons Intergovernmental agreement modification #7.

The county is seeking inmates to fill the 960-bed RCDC III. Payments for housing inmates were to be used to pay back bonds used to build the $40 million facility, which opened in March, only to see the BOP decline to add any inmates to the 2,000 currently held at RCDC I and II. The BOP also declined to agree to a 10 percent increase in the man-day rate at those units, from the $47.47 interim rate to $54.72, and instead wanted to cut its payment per prisoner by 5 percent.

County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo outlined the events leading up to the modification agreement, which called for a $47.33 man-day rate and one-time lump sum payment of $800,000. The county and BOP agreed to that deal following talks in Washington, D.C. on July 24.

Galindo also explained the reason why Correctional Officers at the facility would receive a $12,000 raise from $19,000 per year to $31,179 per year.

"You might ask why now, the raises," said Galindo. "Well, a few years ago I had asked if these officers did not fall under the Department of Labor Wages and at that time I was told that no they didn't," he said.

However, Galindo said that after much research from both BOP and the staff, they determined that the officers at the RCDC did fall under DOL wages.

"This community needs that shot in the arm," he said. "This was a decision made by the U.S. Department of Labor by using statistics and data that actually proved that the correctional officers should be getting paid $14.99," he said. For some of the officers, the wage rate represents a 60 percent pay increase.

Galindo said that he felt this was a step in the right direction.

"They also included a $800,000 lump payment and I recommend that we use that money to buy us additional time to put inmates into R-3 (Reeves County Detention Center III)," he said.

Galindo said that the agreement came with a number of provisions that the county would abide by and that it would be re-negotiated in 30 days.

The wages will go through a conformance process before they are implemented, according to Galindo.

"This community will see tremendous changes with these new salaries," said Galindo.

"We need to keep Pecos alive and quit pointing fingers and move forward," said commissioner Precinct 4 Gilberto "Hivi" Rayos.

Commissioner Precinct 1 Felipe Arredondo said that they had made R-1 and R-2 work and that they could get R-3 to work as well.

"Last year we didn't raise taxes and we have accomplished a lot," said Arredondo. "It's a great challenge to stay in Pecos, but that's what we all want and I know we can make R-3 work and bring more jobs in to the community," he said.

Commissioner Precinct 2 Norman Hill told the group that he was new at this. "But the staff out there did need to get raises to keep them here and not move somewhere else," said Hill, while adding that under the current RCDC's financial situation, "I'm not sure where it's going to come from, but it's a step in the right direction."

Galindo then told the audience that each individual would have five minutes to make their presentation or ask questions.

"Commissioner Rayos, you state that you want to put the past behind you," said audience member Nancy Ontiveros. "This meeting should have been held a week ago, to let everybody know."

Ontiveros said that all the misunderstandings could have been cleared if the commissioners had just addressed the community a week ago. "I think the issue that concerns everybody the most is not the raises, but what will happen with R-3," said Ontiveros. "I, along with other people, thought that that was the whole purpose of going to Washington."

"Well, one it was to complete negotiations on man-day rate, when a process has been going on for a year and a half, you just need closure," said Galindo. "The second issue was indirect cost, transfer from the RCDC to the General Fund and the third issue was whether Reeves County is entitled to a profit."

"The tension could have been alleviated if this presentation was made a week ago," said Ontiveros.

"Management, staff and myself had to meet with all the staff before it came out in the newspaper, next time we'll do our best to communicate it, but it took two days to meet with the 400 plus employees out there," said Galindo. "Of course, it had already been in the newspaper by then."

"I voted against it (building RCDC III), but now we have it and we have to make it work," said Rayos.

"I think we all want to see Pecos live," said audience member Angelica Valenzuela. "But we're tired of seeing things just being pushed aside and not being dealt with."

Valenzuela said that she thought it was time somebody took responsibility. "You say that you made R-1 and R-2 work, what are the plans for R-3?" she said.

Galindo said that the options would be outlined later on in the evening. "All these options were discussed at Monday's commissioners court meeting and were outlined in the newspaper," he said.

"Why raises now?" asked Valenzuela.

RCDC Associate Warden Tommy Duncan told the group that Galindo had approached him a few years about the wages. Duncan was employed by the Bureau of Prisons at the time and asked if the DOL Wages applied. "I was told at that time, that no, they did not," said Duncan.

Duncan said that while working at the facility and after much research they ran into some information that said that RCDC officers did fall under DOL wages. "We contacted Washington and yes, we are eligible and that's what we're fighting for now," he said.

Initially, they said 'no' because we're an intergovernmental agency. "I made sure that at least the second level would fall under those wages," said Galindo. "The first year they started off at $19,000, but the second year they would go to $24,000," he said.

Diana Tollett asked the commissioners why they entered into a contract for R-3 with BOP before going ahead and building it. "Why didn't you make R-1 and R-2 profitable before building R-3?" she asked.

Galindo told the group that when R-1 was built they were told there was no guarantee that BOP would be using it. When they built R-2 they didn't have a guarantee either. "But they said, if you build it and we need it we will use and they have been using both of them since they were built," he said. "Now, BOP is in a financial crisis, and overcrowding their own prisons."

Galindo said that that is why they are pursuing other avenues in which to fill R-3 and will continue to do so until the facility is full.

Tollett said that she understood about the raises, but felt that the county deputies who put their lives on the line every day needed raises as well. "I think its' a crying shame," she said.

"As elected officials it's your duty to do the best that you can and step up to the plate," she said.

"I take full responsibility for the decision I made in building R-3," said Galindo.

Reeves County Detention Center Warden Rudy Franco cleared up some issues that were published in an ad that appeared in Friday's Pecos Enterprise.

"They have been accusing me of several insidious things," said Franco. "One of them was an issue about trees."

Franco told the group that he grew trees at his home in Las Cruces. When he moved from Las Cruces to El Paso, he had grown 700 trees, some of which he placed around his three-acre home. "I had trees left over and gave Judge Galindo, 100 trees, gave some staff members trees and some others to friends," said Franco.

Franco said that he enjoyed growing trees, because they provided oxygen, shade and were good for the environment. "If I am guilty of anything it's trying to make the environment a better place to live," he said. "Casa Manana (Apartments, where many RCDC officials live) has some trees along with other staff members," he said.

Franco said that now his wife was being involved in rumors.

"I'll be accountable for anything, if you just take the time and ask me," said Franco. "As long, as it doesn't have anything confidential to do with my staff, you can ask me, call me at work or visit me and I'll be glad to answer any questions."

Franco said that he had a home in Pecos, was a taxpayer here and shopped here for groceries. "I also hear that some think my salary and some of my support group is excessive," said Franco. "And maybe for Pecos it is, but for an institution such as the Reeves County Detention Center, where you're in charge of 2,000 inmates it's not."

He said that the warden at other facilities such as the RCDC, wardens would make fare more money and have more support individuals. "They have more individuals working under them, that take care of all sorts of problems," said Franco. "Here, it's just me and my small staff."

Franco said that he heard all these complaints all the time, but that he never heard anyone say, "Well, he's not keeping the facility stable, he's not doing the job and getting paid for or he is not keeping the community safe from inmates escaping," said Franco.

Franco said that at the La Tuna Federal Prison in El Paso, where he served as warden, he made more money and had less responsibility. "But I like Pecos and I like the RCDC and I want to see it grow and make it work," he said.

"Other prisons have about 150-200 people that provide expert advice on everything and handle all the other details," said Franco. "In Pecos, I only have a small support staff and they do an excellent job."

Tarin defends moves on prison during town hall

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tues., Aug. 5, 2003 -- What is the status of Reeves County Detention Center III? What will happen to the Town of Pecos City if the county does not pay its water bill of $422,000? Why is the county building a Community Center in Balmorhea? What will happen and how will it affect the county if Reeves County defaults on its payment?

Those were some of the questions asked over two hours during Monday night's town hall meeting, which was held at the Reeves County Civic Center.

However, the big question everyone was asking was 'Where is Judge Jimmy Galindo?'

"I can not speak for him," Reeves County Commissioner Herman Tarin said in response to the question. "I know where you are coming from."

Tarin was the only member of the Reeves County Commissioners Court to attend the Civic Center meeting. Galindo and the other three commissioners were about a half-mile north on Cedar Street, attending a special meeting of the commissioners court, which was called for the same time as the town hall meeting and dealt with issues relating to the problem-plagued RCDC III project.

The 960-bed facility opened in March, but currently has only about 10 percent of its beds filled, after the U.S. Bureau of Prisons declined to put any inmates in the prison. The county needs the money generated by housing the inmates to make upcoming bond payments on the $40 million project.

Anger over the problems at the facility led to the calling of Monday's meeting, during which Tarin was asked to resign and encourage the other commissioners to do the same.

"I will not resign," Tarin said.

Before the question and answer segment began, Tarin addressed the public by stating that he acknowledged that there was a problem with RCDC III and that they should give him credit for the good things he has done and stop criticizing him for the bad.

The good things that Tarin focused on was how the tax rate has lowered by 18 cents in the past 11 years he has been in office and how they continue to negotiate with the Bureau of Prisons.

"We are now negotiating with BOP," Tarin said. "We have 30 days to start a new agreement."

He added that they are also considering moving prisoners from RCDC I to RCDC III to remedy the problem, although how moving the prisoners from one wing to the next would fix the prison's financial problems was not clear.

In reference to the Community Center in Balmorhea, Tarin stated that though they have secured the land and selected the architect and the contractor, he has put a halt on the construction till the problems with RCDC III are solved.

"Everything is in place," Tarin said. "I did not want to jeopardize any jobs."

Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce Director Linda Gholson also addressed the public. Gholson, who helped set up the meeting, apologized for being late and state that the town hall meeting was not for her, because she had no political agenda behind it, but was for the community to become informed.

In reference to her trip to Washington two weeks ago, Gholson told the public that she was asked to set up a meeting with Congressman Henry Bonilla.

"We had a meeting with Bonilla," Gholson said. "I am one of his fans but I also know that he is not perfect."

Gholson, Mayor Dot Stafford, Chamber President Alfredo Gomez, Jr. made the trip to Washington to meet with Bonilla. Their meeting was held the same day county officials held talks with Bonilla, but Gholson said, "The county did not pay for our trip. We paid for the trip ourselves, the taxpayers did not pay for it. That is beside the point but it is an important point."

She added that Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez and Town of Pecos City Manager Carlos Yerena met up with them and they all attended the meeting with Bonilla.

"It was a nice meeting," Gholson said. "Bonilla's office and entire staff have been working on this since January."

She later added that she felt confident that Bonilla would help them out.

In talking to the county's Washington, D.C. legal counsel Joe Summerhiel and with officials in Bonilla's office in Washington and San Antonio they all said that the meeting should create a positive message with everyone sticking together, Gholson said.

Stafford was asked by Pecos Police Lt. Paul Deishler what would happen if the county did not pay their water bill at the end of this month.

"I don't know what the answer would be," Stafford said. "We would probably have to do some cutting in our departments. The last thing we would want to do is increase taxes but I am not promising anything."

When asked what would happen if the county defaulted on its payment, Tarin said that the prison's three units would be taken over by the facility's bond holders. However jobs would still be in the county and asked that the public give them some time to work on it. He was also asked who all gave their approval of the construction of RCDC III.

Tarin stated that he had approved the construction of the new building because it would was to create more jobs for Pecos.

"I am for creating jobs in Pecos," Tarin said about why he had voted for the construction. "Those also voting for the construction were David Castillo, Felipe Arredondo, County Judge and myself."

Tarin also told the audience they had not received a response to a letter sent by the county to President Bush seeking help with the BOP, and said he felt Bonilla would continue to try and help the county, though it was possible Reeves County could be cut out of his area under proposed congressional redistricting.

Currently, the disputed redistricting plan in the Texas Legislature would keep Reeves County in Bonilla's 23rd District.

Tarin was also targeted with the question about Galindo's quote to the Pecos Enterprise about hiring competent lawyers in Waco and one in Washington.

"Is Bill Weinacht not competent," Sam Lujan asked. "Why are we then paying him $50,000."

Lujan also asked where are Warden Rudy Franco's close ties within the BOP and why is it that he does not own property in Pecos?

"The law firm in Waco was never hired," Tarin said. "We disregarded them."

In regards to Franco's ties with BOP, Tarin said that Franco knows the ins and outs of BOP and that he is a great man to have.

"I think he now owns a house," Tarin said.

Gholson came before the public once again to answer some of the questions Tarin was unable to answer.

"From Bill Weinacht's mouth, when you are offered some thing less then you definetly do not want to go into negotiations," Gholson said, repeating Weinacht's explanation on why he walked out of the meeting with BOP in Washington.

She also said County Attorney Luis Carrasco is elected to provide commissioners with legal assistance, which he did during last Wednesday's Commissioners Court meeting. But that talk was conducted over the phone.

"The County Attorney is also elected to do county business," Gholson said. "Yet I am told that he is not invited to Commissioners Court."

Rodeo Hall group meeting tonight

PECOS, Tues., Aug. 5, 2003 -- The Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame committee will be holding an idea meeting tonight at 6:30 p.m., at the Reeves County Civic Center.

Texas Tech Architect students will be on hand to hear any comments residents may have.

The Texas Rodeo Hall of Fame is scheduled to be located across the West of the Pecos Museum at the old train station.


PECOS, Tues., Aug. 5, 2003 -- High Monday 110. Low this morning 75. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy with isolated evening thunderstorms. Lows in the lower 70s. Southeast winds 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday: Partly cloudy with isolated afternoon thunderstorms. Highs near 100. East winds 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy with isolated evening thunderstorms. Lows near 70. Thursday: Partly cloudy. Highs near 100. Friday: Mostly clear. Lows near 70. Highs near 100.


Manuel Avila, Marguerite Dubbs and Norma Tudor

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