The City of Alpine held its regularly scheduled city council meeting on Sept. 15, and heated exchanges and flaring tempers dominated the evening.
Sandy Wilson, 83rd District Attorney, addressed the council about issues between the Brewster County Sheriff’s Office and Alpine Police Department, citing refusal from the Sheriff’s Office to allow police officers to jail arrested individuals prior to magistration. Wilson said the standard of practice for all law enforcement agencies was to admit all individuals into jail prior to magistration and get the officers back on patrol.
Wilson said the problem started in November 2019 with then-new Alpine Police Chief Robert Martin, a former Brewster County deputy and bailiff for the District Court. Wilson said police officers had communication issues with sheriffs’ deputies when they requested assistance. Then in March, the Sheriff’s Office began refusing admission of those arrested into county jail unless they were magistrated.
Wilson called it a significant safety issue for citizens and a liability for the city if someone was injured or hurt by someone who was released.
According to Wilson, the city and Martin had reached to Sheriff Ronny Dodson to resolve the issue but had received no response. She also thought City Attorney Rod Ponton was not adequately addressing the issue, but Ponton questioned Wilson whether he had the authority. “My office will not tolerate bullying and illegal and deceptive acts by one law enforcement agency against another,” exclaimed Wilson.
In response, Alpine attorney Liz Rogers, who is representing Dodson, later told the Avalanche, “I personally went twice to the police department to see Chief Martin at the Sheriff’s request to arrange a meeting between them, and the chief has so far not replied to me.”
Ponton affirmed that it was a magistrate issue between the Sheriff’s Office and police department, noting the magistrates don’t want to come out in the middle of the night, mainly between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
Ponton said he spoke to Dodson, and Dodson was reluctant to accept individuals going to jail before magistration because of civil liability if the person was arrested before probable cause. City Manager Erik Zimmer noted the city had no holding cells.
Mayor Andy Ramos said he was willing to act as mediator as a private citizen between Dodson and the police department, but Council, Ward 5, Rick Stephens dismissed that, saying mediation would not solve the problem.
Lucy Escovedo, Ward 4, asked who was above Dodson, and Wilson replied, “The voters are his bosses. If he is committing an illegal act, then that would become a criminal investigation, and I believe he has committed some illegal acts here.”
In other business, tensions flared between Stephens and City Attorney Rod Ponton regarding the issue of whether to hold executive session about an Alpine Police Department internal investigation related to a recent case in the media, along with a discussion about Ponton, who also serves as the city prosecutor.
During public comments, Rogers praised Ponton, saying, “In his dealings with me and before the court on all city matters since I’ve been in private practice, he has been nothing but professional. He knows the law, and he has been a very good advocate for the city.”
Just as Ramos announced the meeting would go into closed session, Ponton pointed out that in consultation with legal counsel from the Texas Attorney General’s office about the Texas Open Meetings Act, the city attorney must also be present during executive session, and that would include him. Ponton also requested that the second agenda item regarding his dual role as city prosecutor and city attorney that were to be discussed in closed session should be held in open session instead. Stephens expressed contempt at having Ponton present during the executive session, and asked specifically that Ponton be excluded.
A heated discussion ensued, and Stephens said the council would consult with Wilson instead.
Ponton remarked, “I have an attorney-client privilege with you all. That is the reason you go into executive session!”
But Stephens insisted he should be excluded, despite Ponton clearly explaining the law. Stephens immediately canceled the executive session, and proposed that council call a special meeting later.
In other business, the council approved a resolution to adopt the Alpine Avalanche as the city’s official newspaper for fiscal year 2020-2021.
Finally, council unanimously approved the 2020-2021 proposed tax rate for the city at 0.553753 per $100 valuation, with maintenance and operations at $0.512833 and interest and sinking at $0.04092.
The next regularly scheduled city council meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 6 at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom videoconference.