Editor’s note: This story is the second installment of a four-part series looking back at the year that was — 2022.
As a new year draws closer, the San Marcos Daily Record takes a look back at top stories from 2022 — April-June saw several notable moments from the approval of economic incentives to bring a film studio to San Marcos to protests taking place over the film studio’s location over the Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone and protests regarding the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade.
•San Marcos’ Les Stephens was named Fire Chief of the Year by the Texas Fire Chiefs Association.
Stephens, who was named San Marcos Fire Chief in 2009, received the honor at the fire chiefs association annual conference in Waco on April 13. He was honored for his outstanding performance within the Texas Fire Service after the association reviewed nearly two dozen letters of support submitted by city staff, elected officials and community members.
“Chief Stephens has revolutionized our fire protective services,” Director of Public Safety Chase Stapp said in a statement. “From the moment that he arrived in San Marcos, Chief Stephens set a higher standard for service, training, community involvement, transparency, and professionalism not only within the fire department, but throughout the City of San Marcos.”
•The City of San Marcos entered Stage 2 drought restrictions on April 17. Stage 2 is implemented when the 10-day average Edwards Aquifer index well level falls below 650 feet above mean sea level (msl).
Stage 2 drought rules place limits on the use of soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and using decorative water features.
Stage 2 drought restrictions have remained in place since they were enacted in April. The full text of the city’s Stage 2 rules can be found on the City of San Marcos website at www.sanmarcostx.gov/drought.
•Kelly R. Damphousse, Ph.D., was confirmed as the 10th president of Texas State University on April 21. The Texas State University System Board of Regents made the decision during a special called meeting.
•Legal representation for the San Marcos Police Department and former Sgt. Ryan Hartman spent two days in April arbitrating whether Hartman would remain indefinitely suspended or return to the department.
Hartman, who was indefinitely suspended on Jan. 18, 2022, sought his job back with back pay and benefits under Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code, which gives police officers and firefighters the ability to appeal their suspensions.
Documents discussed during the hearing on April 26-27 at the San Marcos Activity Center, as well as testimony from several members of the police department, including Chief of Police Stan Standridge and commanders Tiffany Williams and Lee Leonard, showed that Hartman failed to file paperwork in a timely manner.
“It’s epidemic with how he treats the role of a professional police sergeant,” said Standridge, later adding, “[Hartman’s] conduct was in fact a pattern … of insubordination, failing to do the job, failing to do the expectation even after being told.”
Hartman’s lawyer, Alyssa Urban, however, claimed he was the “Pariah of the San Marcos Police Department.” Urban, a staff attorney with Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said Hartman was fired for negative publicity caused by an off-duty collision where he ran through a stop sign in his personal truck, hitting a Honda Accord on June 10, 2020 in Lockhart, which killed Jennifer Miller and severely injured Pamela Watts.
A decision by arbitrator Bill Detwiler whether Hartman should remain indefinitely suspended was expected to be returned no later than July 10.
•Brian K. Shanks was elected to the San Marcos Consolidated ISD Board of Trustees during the May 7 election.
Shanks received 784 votes (50.48%) to Gabrielle Moore’s 769 votes (49.52%).
•The City of San Marcos celebrated the official opening of Rio Vista Falls and its San Marcos River Shared Use Pathway with a ribbon cutting ceremony on May 19.
The new bicycle and pedestrian trail, known as the San Marcos River Shared Use Pathway Project, stretches 1.7-mile, connecting the City of San Marcos’ Visitor’s Center, several parks, downtown and Texas State University. The trail ties into an existing trail east of the Hopkins Street bridge and ends approximately 205 feet west of the southbound Interstate 35 access road. The trail includes safety measures such as lights around its path, below-grade crossing at Cheatham Street and the railroad right-of-way at Rio Vista Park.
The Rio Vista Falls Maintenance Project addressed instream structures and bank improvements. Underwater voids and undercuts formed in the bank and instream structures throughout the Rio Vista Falls area and required maintenance, according to the City of San Marcos. The Rio Vista Falls area was reconfigured from a single dam into three sets of rapids, outline pool area and decorative boulders in 2006. Prior to the project, maintenance hadn’t been done to the area since its original construction, according to the city.
Additionally, the city said strong currents and three major flooding events impacted the structures since their installation. The work done consisted of repairing voids, undercutting and deepening the foundation toe of the bank and instream structures. An additional protective layer of rock armoring was installed around the foundation. Construction began in October 2021 and finished in early May.
•The Hays County Commissioners Court took another step toward a public defenders office during its meeting on May 24. Following much discussion and consideration, the commissioners approved Neighborhood Defender Service (NDS), Inc. as the selected vendor in moving forward with the creation of a PDO.
•San Marcos Consolidated ISD’s campuses were on “high alert” following the Uvalde school shooting on May 23.
“We are devastated and saddened to hear the news about the incident that took place today in Uvalde CISD. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Uvalde community during these very difficult times,” SMCISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Cardona said.
•Mano Amiga, alongside Ground Game Texas and organizers, turned in the signatures to the San Marcos City Clerk’s office on June 1, marking another step toward the marijuana decriminalization initiative appearing on the ballot.
The San Marcos City Charter required 4,182 unique signatures — one tenth of the amount of registered voters in the city — to be recorded to place the initiative on the ballot. Mano Amiga, a local grassroots immigration and legal reform nonprofit, said organizers have verified more than 4,600 valid signatures
According to the ordinance language, citations and arrests for misdemeanor possession of marijuana of up to 4 ounces would end if the voters approved the proposition. San Marcos police, however, could cite an individual or make an arrest for Class A or Class B misdemeanor possession of marijuana if it’s a part of an investigation involving a felony-level narcotics case or the investigation of a violent felony.
•The San Marcos City Council approved a Chapter 380 Economic Development Incentive Agreement with Hill Country Group, LLC, for the location of a studio facility for film and video production within the La Cima Development on June 7.
The agreement entails providing incentives in the form of refunds of a percentage of real and personal property taxes over five years for the construction of a minimum 820,000 square feet of space for the studio facility.
“San Marcos was the clear-cut choice of where we wanted to be doing business,” said Zach Price, co-founder and COO of Hill Country Studios. “The natural beauty of the Hill Country, as well as the local workforce and close proximity to the talent pools of Austin and San Antonio, made perfect sense for us to locate our film production studio in the Texas Innovation Corridor.”
The studio facility would have 22 full-time employees at $100k average salary and up to 1,400 contract workers with an average of 1,200 on production projects at $80k average salary, according to a city presentation.
•San Marcos police and Hays County Sheriff’s deputies were present at local daycares on June 8 after an online threat was made against a daycare in San Marcos.
The San Marcos Police Department and Hays County Sheriff’s Office said they were both notified by Crime Stoppers about a tip that an unknown person was going to invoke violence at a daycare in San Marcos. The location of the threat, however, was not specific and police in San Marcos, Calif. and San Marco, Fla. were also notified as a precaution. Police added that the threat was made toward a “daycare in San Marco” on a video game chat feature.
SMPD said its digital forensics detective identified a suspect and they were arrested in Jacksonville, Fla.
•Former San Marcos Police Department Sgt. Ryan Hartman was permanently terminated.
The City of San Marcos received notification on June 23 that hearing examiner Bill Detwiler ruled to uphold Hartman’s indefinite suspension for misconduct related to dereliction of duty and insubordination after the former sergeant appealed for his job back under chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code.
“There is evidence that [Hartman’s] discipline was progressive and the result of long-standing time management deficiencies,” Detwiler’s hearing examiner award letter states. “He was afforded due process throughout the Loudermill and Predetermination and Discipline hearings. The investigation by Commander [Lee] Leonard was reasonably thorough and fair. There is no compelling evidence that [Chief Stan Standridge] was arbitrary or capricious. Whether he could not or would not, appellant did not deliver on the full range of sergeant prescribed duties. There is no evidence of disparate treatment … The indefinite suspension is sustained. Appellant is permanently dismissed from the San Marcos Police Department.”
Detwiler found that Hartman violated Texas Local Government Code Chapter 143 and Civil Service Rule 10, including neglect of duty, conduct prejudicial to good order, shirking of duty, and violation of an applicable police department rule or special order
•Protesters gathered on June 26 at the Hays County Historic Courthouse lawn after the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. Hundreds of abortion rights supporters voiced their opposition to the court’s decision. The court’s ruling put into effect Texas’ “trigger law” which bans all abortions in the state with the exception only to save the life of a pregnant patient or if the patient risks “substantial impairment” of a bodily function.
Abortion rights advocates gathered at the Hays County Historic Courthouse lawn on June 25, following the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade. In Texas, abortions will soon be illegal after the court’s decision. Daily Record photo by Nick Castillo
•Approximately 200 San Marcos residents turned out at San Marcos City Hall on June 28 for a protest organized by Protect Our River — a grassroots movement aimed at protecting the San Marcos River and Edwards Aquifer Recharge Zone. The protest came after the San Marcos City Council approved a Chapter 380 Economic Development Incentive Agreement with Hill Country Group, LLC., for the location of a studio facility for film and video production within the La Cima Development.
•One of Hays County’s most popular tourist attractions and arguably its best swimming hole is off limits for the foreseeable future. On June 30, Jacob’s Well near Wimberley was closed by Hays County who issued a notice on its website and on social media that conditions were unsafe due to high bacteria levels.