The City of Alpine held its regularly scheduled city council meeting on Oct. 6 with an announcement that the popular Artwalk festival will take place after all.
During public comment, event organizer Kerri Blackman addressed the council, saying Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth streets would be closed off, and social distancing guidelines would be followed, “We just really support everyone in town that has given the council or the city manager or anybody else the support of Artwalk and all outside events this fall,” said Blackman.
Jim Street, president of Alpine Downtown Association, spoke on behalf of the association, expressing full support of Artwalk, noting its major impact on the success of the business community.
Jan Moeller, a representative of Big Bend Arts Council and director of Catchlight Art Gallery, admitted, “Alpine businesses have suffered, and we all need an opportunity to cover some of the losses that we have incurred during this period of opening restrictions.”
Council, Ward 5, Rick Stephens then asked Mayor Andy Ramos if he had been in favor of canceling Artwalk because of coronavirus and flu concerns, and Ramos admitted he did not previously have information about the COVID health and safety measures from the Arts Council.
Ramos then gave Artwalk the green light, saying, “I just listened to reps from the art council, and they said they will adhere to those safety measures.”
In a lengthy discussion, City Attorney Rod Ponton talked about admission of Alpine Police Department arrestees into the Brewster County Jail, an issue that has caused antagonism between the Police Department and Sheriff Ronny Dodson for several months.
Ponton said Dodson wanted arrestees magistrated before being placed in jail so Dodson would not be held liable for false imprisonment claims.
Said Ponton, “This was a surprise and a problem for the Alpine Police Department because we didn’t have a night magistrate like we have in bigger cities.”
According to Ponton, Dodson’s liability concerns were that if the jail held someone arrested without probable cause, the jail or jailer could be held liable. Dodson had pointed to certain arrests that lacked probable cause when instituting the magistration requirement.
Ponton noted Dodson had the right to change the procedure in the absence of a written agreement among Dodson, Brewster County, the city, and the Police Department.
Council, Ward 5, Rick Stephens said Dodson had refused to meet with City Manager Erik Zimmer or Police Chief Robert Martin to resolve the issue. Ponton, however, told Stephens Dodson was willing to work out an agreement, but it would not be with the city or the county, but rather with the Sheriff’s Office.
Council, Ward 4, Lucy Escovedo said she met with Dodson, and he had tried to contact Martin and Stephens several times. Stephens said he tried to meet with Dodson, but instead Dodson met with Ramos and Ponton.
Zimmer said once he knew communication had stopped, he asked Martin to reach out in writing, and he had sent documentation to the county. He said there was an oral agreement when the jail was constructed in 1995 between the city and the county that the jail would accept all arrestees “without faulter.”
Zimmer added that he wanted to have a good working relationship with both the Police Department and Sheriff’s Office, and reiterated the importance of meeting with Dodson.
Ramos agreed, saying the issue had gone on far too long.
Council, Ward 2, Ramon Olivas, asked Zimmer who could magistrate, and Zimmer replied it would be Justice of the Peace, Pct. 1, Bob Steele, and county Judge Eleazar Cano, as municipal court Judge Sandy Stewart had recently resigned.
Stephens then asked the council to reaffirm the prior agreement made with the county, and get it in writing. He also proposed that the city approve a resolution that would “force” resolution of the issues created by the Sheriff’s Office. At Olivas’ suggestion, the resolution was amended to read “resolve” instead of “force.”
After much discussion, Stephens proposed that the council reconvene on Oct. 7, after press time, to discuss and act on the Ponton agenda item, along with executive session on two other issues, and the council approved.
Finally, council approved resolutions supporting fall events and a Halloween treat giveaway. Zimmer proposed a parade on Halloween, with bags of candy given to children, along with a drive-up option, and the council approved. The event will be held at either Alpine Middle School or Kokernot Park. City secretary Cynthia Salas noted that Porter’s grocery would be donating pumpkins to each child.
The next regularly scheduled city council meeting is set for Tuesday, Oct. 20, at 5:30 p.m. via Zoom videoconference.