Council cans Zimmer and Salas, City attorney resigns after rant

Erik Zimmer

Fireworks came early this year at Alpine’s May 18 city council meeting, and freshman council member Judy Stokes lit the fuse. By the end of the evening, City Manager Erik Zimmer and City Secretary Cynthia Salas had been terminated, and City Attorney Sandy Wilson had resigned.

The newly elected Stokes, Ward 1, made a motion to terminate Zimmer and Salas’ employment contracts, and plenty of discussion and heated debate followed.

During public comments, a significant number of Zimmer supporters pleaded their case to the council, hoping to sway support for a vote in his favor. Only one speaker favored Zimmer’s termination.

The concerned resident told the council Salas should not hold public office due to her prior felony conviction 30 years ago, and addressed the issue of the nepotism prevalent in the city. Some of Zimmer’s supporters said Stokes had a personal grievance and “vendetta” against him, and argued that Stokes couldn’t provide valid reasons for the termination.

City Tourism Director Chris Ruggia thoroughly praised Zimmer’s job performance, and said if the council terminated Zimmer, six months of his salary would be thrown away at the taxpayers’ expense.

Viva Big Bend organizer Stewart Ramser also spoke for Zimmer, and former council member Rick Stephens used Zimmer’s six-month severance as justification against the motion. He also said Salas was eligible to be city secretary per the Texas Secretary of State.

Zimmer then addressed the council and provided a timeline of his accomplishments since he came aboard as city manager in September 2019. He said he had never been questioned on a performance issue before.

City Attorney Sandy Wilson then provided a laundry list of issues against Brewster County Sheriff Ronny Dodson. She provided documentation that explained why Stokes, who worked with Dodson for nearly 20 years, was being used to further Dodson’s agenda with the Police Department, including Chief Robert Martin. 

Wilson said she represented her client, the City of Alpine, and began rehashing issues Dodson had with two prior Brewster County Sheriff’s deputies who were now working as city police officers.

Referring to Dodson, Wilson added, “Sheriff Dodson’s ultimate goal is to take control of the Alpine Police Department. Dodson is driving his agenda for his own self-serving needs, and not the safety of the citizens.”

Stokes again made the motion to terminate Zimmer and Salas’ employment contracts, effective immediately. In a 3-2 vote, the council voted in favor of the terminations. Stokes, Council, Ward 3, Sara Tandy, and Council, Ward 4, Martin Sandate opted to pull the plug, with Council, Ward 2, Chris Rodriguez and Council, Ward 5, Jerry Johnson voting nay.

Regarding Salas’ fate, the vote went 3-1, with Johnson voting against, and Rodriguez abstaining. As soon as the voting finished, the crowd began yelling at the council, voicing displeasure and dismay.

Stokes then made a motion to terminate Wilson’s employment as city attorney, but no other council member voted in favor. Nevertheless, Wilson promptly announced her resignation effective immediately. Wilson stated the city would be subject to millions of dollars worth of lawsuits due to rights being “severely violated.”

Mayor Andy Ramos later declined to comment, but did say an emergency executive session was scheduled for May 19, after press time, to announce an interim city manager, interim city secretary, and interim city attorney.

The next regularly scheduled city council meeting is set for Tuesday, June 1, at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom videoconference.

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