By Sally Beauvais
Following heated discussion on Wednesday, county officials voted to adopt an area-wide policy granting bars in unincorporated parts of Presidio County — that is, outside of Marfa’s and Presidio’s city limits — permission to serve alcohol until 2 a.m.
“This is an ordinance that we should have had in place already — before we ever even issued late night permits,” County Judge Cinderela Guevara said at the meeting of the Commissioners Court.
Residents may be surprised to learn that such a policy did not previously exist, given that Cibolo Creek Ranch has served alcohol until 2 a.m. with the county’s blessing for over 15 years.
In place of an area-wide policy, Presidio County has been in the practice of approving or rejecting business owners’ requests on an individual basis. In recent years they denied late night serving rights to one business and extended them to another. The latter ruling raised eyebrows and sparked debate about whether the county’s decision-making process has been fair.
Dallas-based attorney Tim Griffith, who served as legal counsel for the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission for 8 years, told Marfa Public Radio earlier this year that the county should not be approving or rejecting requests on an address-by-address basis.
“It makes me worry that things could be done in an arbitrary manner, that certain persons would get certain privileges others wouldn’t,” Griffith said, arguing that cities and counties can only make rulings that allow late night serving at large, or not at all.
Current TABC staff have taken a more neutral stance on the issue, but acknowledge it’s “generally understood” that such ordinances apply to entire areas.
During a July meeting of county commissioners, County Attorney Rod Ponton suggested that adopting an area-wide order for late night hours would be a “best practice” that would bring the county into compliance with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Code, but recommended that the Commissioners Court still consider the merits of each application on an individual basis.
Guevara echoed that sentiment at Wednesday’s meeting prior to calling for a vote.
But Presidio County Justice of the Peace David Beebe — who attended the meeting as a resident, not in his official capacity — argued that’s not how the process is supposed to work.
“TABC decides whether to grant that permit; it’s not your decision,” Beebe argued. “You decide whether the county can have late night hours, but you don’t get to pick and choose the winners here…If I was El Cosmico [a business that the commission denied late night hours to in 2016] I’d be super pissed off and maybe ready to file a lawsuit. It’s ridiculous.”
“It’s not ridiculous,” Judge Guevara countered. “This ordinance, it was brought to our attention that it needs to be enacted in our county. So we’re only trying to do the right thing.”
“But you don’t understand what you are passing,” Beebe responded.
County Attorney Ponton, suddenly reversing course from his previous recommendation, then suggested that according to the TABC statute governing this issue, the ordinance would open up late night hours to the entire unincorporated county — implying that, in fact, business owners would no longer have to come in front of the County Commissioners to request them.
“So when somebody applies for a permit to sell alcohol or beer, where do they get an application from?” Judge Guevara asked.
“TABC,” several people responded.
“And then who signs that application?” she continued.
It’s the duty of the county clerk to verify on any given TABC application that a local business’s request is in compliance with county policies, as Beebe explained.
“Then why have people been coming to us to grant [late night hours]?” Guevara asked.
Without an area-wide policy in place, that has been understood to be the process in the county up until this point.
“I’m really, really getting exhausted of people accusing this Commissioners Court of not wanting to do the right thing and not wanting to be fair,” Guevara stated.
“It makes it hard, though, if [your commissioners] don’t have any materials to research, they can’t get the job done right. That’s on the Judge’s office,” Beebe argued, criticizing Judge Guevara for not distributing the ordinance materials to the group ahead of Wednesday’s meeting.
The commission ultimately voted 4 to 1 to adopt the order, with Commissioner Brenda Bentley dissenting. In the past, she has stated that she is opposed to the idea of late night serving hours in her community.
Bentley requested that Judge Guevara circulate materials several days in advance of commissioners’ meetings in the future.
The commissioners’ decision nullified the next item on the agenda, which was a request for late night serving hours by El Cosmico, the business that the county had denied them to in 2016.
Moving forward, any business that serves alcohol within unincorporated Presidio County may apply for an extended serving hours permit with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission.
Full disclosure: Reporter Sally Beauvais was working at El Cosmico in 2016 when the hotel first asked Presidio County for extended serving hours. In her role, she was not involved in the request. She left the job the same year.