County discusses outside gatherings policy

Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano

Brewster County Judge Eleazar Cano’s attempt to restrict social gatherings on county property generated some lively discussion at the Jan. 27 commissioners court meeting.

The issue surfaced after participants were asked to vacate the courthouse lawn and gazebo during a peaceful prayer vigil held on Jan. 6.

During public comments, Brewster County Republican Party Chair Monica McBride noted the courthouse lawn is public property supported by taxpayer dollars, and the outside grounds policy was vague and arbitrary. Since the decision is left to Cano’s discretion, it could be applied unfairly for political reasons.

“As a court, I hope you remember our right to assemble and our right to free speech,” said McBride. “You could get sued.”

County resident Janet Moeller agreed that the policy’s wording was vague and subjective.  

Moeller told Cano, “If you pass this item, I assume you will want to restrict free speech in Brewster County.”

Several other concerned residents voiced their opinions, saying the policy was ambiguous and vague, but it could be interpreted based on partisan political beliefs, and restricting gatherings would violate the U.S. Constitution.

Another resident referenced the Black Lives Matter protest held in Alpine in 2020, saying it was allowed, but not the peaceful prayer vigil on Jan. 6.

Cano replied it was simply a matter of scheduling, and BLM organizers had notified the City of Alpine in advance and obtained permission, while there was no notification of a prayer vigil to be held in January.

Cano stated he would determine what gatherings were acceptable based on his judgment and discretion.

“I do feel that the overlying intent is to protect the public, bystanders, county employees, and elected officials,” said Cano. “It is just part of doing our due diligence to keep order. I think because of the current climate across the country right now, a lot of them are being very hypersensitive to what has happened.”

Commissioner, Pct. 3, Ruben Ortega also supported prior approval and requiring a permit to hold outside gatherings for safety reasons.

Commissioner, Pct. 1, Jim Westermann said common sense should prevail, and asked whether approval and a permit would be necessary for residents simply playing an instrument or singing outside by the gazebo.

After a lenghty discussion, Cano suggested the issue be tabled for a future meeting, pending review by legal counsel, and commissioners approved.

Finally, Emergency Management Coordinator Stephanie Elmore requested a renewal of the countywide burn ban, and commissioners approved, effective for 45 days.

The next regularly scheduled commissioner’s court meeting is set for Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 9:30 a.m. via Facebook Live.

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