Yesterday, officials from Austin-based company C3 Presents met with county and city officials to discuss their plans for a festival of more than 5,000 on a ranch outside of Marfa’s city limits.
The meeting was closed to the press and public, stirring up tensions among locals who want more information about the project.
Marfa Public Radio’s Diana Nguyen sat down with Presidio County Emergency Services Coordinator Gary Mitschke and County Judge Cinderela Guevara to talk takeaways from the meeting. They also discussed why action to approve and adopt permitting procedures for major events and music festivals were included on this week’s Presidio County Commissioner’s agenda.
Below is a transcript of the conversation. Click play on the audio to hear the full interview.
NGUYEN: C3 Presents said they will postpone the festival for May 2020. Gary, in the meeting on Thursday, did they give you a timeline of when they’re hoping to have the festival — any specific dates?
MITSCHKE: Not until they get approvals, they meet all the criteria that we’re requiring them to meet, and they get approval from the general public. That was a big thing that they talked to us about yesterday — or mentioned to us yesterday — that they want everybody to be on board with their event. And so it could be a year it could be two years.
GUEVARA: The first thing that Charles Attal told us at the meeting is that he has been coming to Marfa for 20 years and that he was in charge of putting the Railroad Revival together and that that was a group of 2,500. Everything went well at that time. And then he just stressed that they would not force themselves on the people of Marfa if they were not wanted here and that they wanted to — like Gary said — meet all the criteria.
NGUYEN: What else did you all learn about the scope of the festival? How big did they say they were thinking the festival might be?
MITSCHKE: There’s going to be total — including support personnel from C3 — about 6,500. I think we all know it’s going to be on a ranch a few miles north of Marfa off 17. I did find out that it’s going to be held on about a 250-acre site that will be prepared for that event. We found out that it’s going to be and — I don’t know if this might have been common knowledge — a three-day event.
NGUYEN: Gary for you, were there any other health and safety things that you tried to stress and really wanted to hammer home with them?
MITSCHKE: Other than we don’t have any resources that we can provide to them. They what would have to come self-contained for law enforcement for the most part — fire and EMS to take care of things on their site. It’s a big task. And a question I really put forth to them to come back with an answer and a plan for us is, “What would you do with that many people?”
NGUYEN: From an emergency services standpoint, what do you do with this many people if something happens?
MITSCHKE: Yeah, right. They have to have a place to go. If if they need to evacuate the event site, where do they go? Where do you take them? We don’t have the the the emergency shelter capacity for 6,500 people — not in the whole county, probably not in the tri-county area.
NGUYEN: This week raised concerns for people who are invested in this issue. There are a couple of things that raised eyebrows. First, this initial meeting with C3 was a closed-door meeting. And on the day of, the meeting was moved from city hall to the courthouse to the fire station which made some people suspicious. Why was this necessary?
MITSCHKE: The move or the meeting itself being a closed meeting?
NGUYEN: Let’s start with the meeting itself.
MITSCHKE: Okay well, initially the closed meeting was for the key personnel in the county who may need to address this event as well as the first responders. We needed to be able to talk to them directly. We wanted their undivided attention to our questions and how — how [is C3] going to resolve all of the issues that we feel you’re going to have with this number of people.
NGUYEN: And then on the day of — the moving of the locations made people concerned as well. What was the decision making behind that?
MITSCHKE: I think it was more just a matter of convenience. You know, I wasn’t really sure how many individuals from C3 were gonna show up. And we just — it just kind of played out that way. It was unintentional really. And I think it was more of a convenience then than anything else it was not like we were trying to hide from people.
GUEVARA: I would like to say that there have been other times when 20 or more persons show up to my office. We do walk over to the fire station because there’s already 25 to 30 chairs set up there. The table is set up like a classroom. We’re able to square it off and have like a big roundtable discussion
NGUYEN: The way the news of this meeting trickled out was people started finding out about it word of mouth. And this language of you know, “This is a secret meeting that’s happening with C3,” which doesn’t seem to be the case. It doesn’t seem like it was ever meant to be secret. But did you think about making a public formal announcement about the meeting? Just the way the news spread around about the meeting made people very anxious about what might happen
GUEVARA: As elected officials, that is how we conduct business all the time. First, we gather our information and then we share it with the public. I would never keep anything from the public. It’s just how business is done. I’m sure other counties get together and have meetings with key personnel.
NGUYEN: But in this case, it seems like there’s so much scrutiny on this issue from the public and people are really paying attention to it. And I wonder if the anxiety that that people seem to be feeling would have been mitigated had they just known [about] the nature of this meeting from the beginning… And I understand that this is how counties do business — you have meetings and you don’t always tell the public about it. But in this case when there are so many people looking, [could] that [anxiety] have been undercut a little bit by just a formal announcement?
GUEVARA: I was invited to this meeting. I did not set up the meeting. I don’t know who set it up. I think Gary stated at commissioners court that he set it up.
MITSCHKE: C3 wanted a meeting to discuss and try to get our issues. What are our concerns? And so I suggested that we have a meeting with key personnel, with the first responders, with fire, law enforcement, EMS, and so that we can get everybody’s input to them. And so keeping it to the individuals that that are involved in that department of emergency response I thought was important so that we won’t get drowned out by other issues that are not related to that. That is the biggest concern for us. You know the safety of the citizens of Presidio County as well as any visitors
NGUYEN: Judge Guevara, at this last commissioners meeting you brought an item to discuss the approval and adoption of permitting procedures for mass gatherings and festivals in Presidio County. And this was really concerning to people because it seemed like there were outstanding questions from the last time this topic was discussed in early April. One of those outstanding things is that you had not yet formally met with the Citizens Advisory Committee that’s now tasked with looking at mass gatherings. Why did you put this on the agenda this week?
GUEVARA: I needed to name a health authority. And so really I put it on at the request of two commissioners.
NGUYEN: Can I ask which commissioners asked you to put this item on the agenda? Because in talking to Buddy Knight and talking to Commissioner Bentley it seems like they didn’t they were not aware of this agenda item.
GUEVARA: Yes. Buddy night had asked me to… had said that he had spoken to Dr. Schwartz and that he thought that he would make a good health authority–
NGUYEN: But specifically the approval of an adopting an application.
GUEVARA: Well anytime that we have anything on the agenda it’s not set in stone. I mean if I put something on the agenda it’s to take care of business. And it’s not necessarily that I’m going to rule and say “No we will pass this today” or “We will adopt this today.” No everything is… But we can’t meet. We can’t violate the open meetings act. So we can’t discuss it.
NGUYEN: But also the optics of this being on the agenda this week and the meeting with C3… it made people anxious. Why were these two things happening one day apart from each other?
GUEVARA: Well and one of the things that that I did tell Mr. Attal yesterday is that when he has set up any type of meeting or and who he reached out for to first regarding giving knowledge that he may set up this type of festival, it never came to me first.
NGUYEN: He was mostly communicating with the mayor.
GUEVARA: If it came to me first, I could have handled it to where maybe letting him know the public is very sensitive to this.
NGUYEN: Is there an immediate pressure for the county to get an application permit for mass gatherings and festivals passed? We’re talking about how the county should already have something in place, but what citizens are saying [is] let’s be really careful about this — make sure we have our ducks in a row whenever we decide to pass something. Is there anything other than C3 coming down the pike that is concrete that you know of?
GUEVARA: Not that I know of but it already has. And we know that. It already has. And also what we’re trying to pass, I’m not even sure that it has to go through Commissioners Court because anything that I’m trying to put in place right now is already state law. We just don’t have an application with a title on it that says Presidio County
MITSCHKE: In the past — with the big Railroad event — we didn’t know it was going to happen. Maybe [not until] a week before. So I think the application process would work good to notify emergency management in the county that this is coming up. I think it’s a good tool to monitor what’s happening in the county with events like that.
NGUYEN: I know you’ve said that it’s a long road there will be many many meetings about this to come. Is there anything on the books scheduled?
MITSCHKE: Nothing specific yet. The key person with C3 that’s in charge of fire, law, enforcement, EMS was unable to make the meeting yesterday so there will probably be a meeting in the near future with that person and with key first responders, law enforcement, fire and EMS. I don’t have a date on that yet.
What I guess what I would like to tell the public is, you know, it is our job to look out for the well-being of the citizens of Presidio County. We just ask their respect in allowing us to do our job and we can notify everybody of the meeting but if they’ll respect the closed meeting and take it for what it — why we’re doing it. That would be greatly appreciated. Yesterday’s meeting was not intended to be —
MITSCHKE: a cover up — a secret, right. For the same reason, some of these other meetings need to be focused meetings on trying to get questions answered and issues resolved. So we all have stressed to C3 — you need to talk to the public. You need to have a meeting and we’ll continue to push that.
NGUYEN: Were they receptive to the idea?
MITSCHKE: Oh yeah. Yes. Yes and no I think it’s not going to happen unless there’s a town hall meeting. They also admitted yesterday they wanted to get our concerns. They wanted to have answers when they do have a town hall meeting so that was a big reason for this meeting yesterday is so they could get some of our input. We don’t know any more than the rest of the public. And frankly, yesterday’s meeting was really good. We got to meet these people that we’ve emailed to and had a really good discussion. But there are lots of details that need to be ironed out — lots. And it is going to be a long road — in my opinion. It’s a long ways off from making me feel good about it. I can tell you that.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.