Ponton out as city attorney

The City of Alpine held its regularly scheduled city council meeting on Nov. 17, and new council members Chris Rodriguez in Ward 2 and Martin Sandate in Ward 4 were sworn in.

The council also voted to terminate City Attorney Rod Ponton’s employment contract. Prior to voting on his termination, the council discussed Ponton’s job performance. Before the vote, Ponton addressed the issue of dismissal of municipal court cases, along with cases from the Alpine Police Department, brought to his office.

In addition, Ponton said many Police Department cases from arrestees presented to the Brewster County Attorney’s Office had several issues, including “inadequate investigations, unlawful arrests, and insufficient evidence.”

Council, Ward 5, Rick Stephens cited problems with communication between Brewster County Attorney Steve Houston and Ponton, as Houston had refused to meet with City Manager Erik Zimmer or Police Chief Robert Martin about the issues. Rodriguez also questioned Ponton about the issue of probable cause and Houston’s lack of communication.

Council, Ward 1, Maria Curry, then brought the motion to terminate Ponton’s contract as city attorney, effective immediately. Curry cited conflicts of interest and lack of trust by city employees, and indicated that Ponton wrote letters to the Texas Attorney General requesting a formal investigation into the Alpine Police Department for putting “the city at risk and liable for lawsuits.”

The council then voted 4-1 to terminate Ponton, with only Sandate voting nay.

Ponton later told the Avalanche, “I was proud of my work for the City of Alpine, but Councilor Stephens and I did not get along.”

In other business, newly elected council members Rodriguez and Sandate, were sworn in by State District Judge for the 394th Judicial District, Roy Ferguson.

However, before that, Mayor Andy Ramos argued that Rodriguez was not eligible to run for office because she was employed by the city while she was a candidate. Ramos cited a violation of state election law and the city charter. Nevertheless, in a 4-0 vote, the council voted to allow the canvassing of the votes for the general election.

Finally, Martin asked the council to consider having a 20-mph speed limit on all city streets, indicating that Alpine was frequented by tourists and pedestrians. He said it would not affect TxDOT streets and highways. No action was taken.

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

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