Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Court moves to undermine newly elected Republican County Treasurer

By R.S. Gates

In a move reminiscent of the 2006 Moody Justice Court debacle, McLennan County Commissioners’ Court, by majority vote, took action to undermine the office of County treasurer on Tuesday. Commissioners Kelly Snell and Lester Gibson opposed the move.

The court voted to replace the elected Treasurer as chief investment officer and fill the position with the appointed budget officer, effectively stripping the authority and responsibility from the office.

Rather than pledge their support for the incoming official, Judge Jim Lewis laid the groundwork for undermining another elected official who failed to kow-tow to the judge.

Two problems with the action of the court came to light. On the vote to change the administrators of the banking software, the only people who were administrators were not in attendance and the only people who were beneficiaries of the change were. Both Adam Harry and Steve More contributed to the discussion and there was no mention, during discussion, of the current Treasurer or the Treasurer elect.

The second problem is under the new guidelines, an elected official who is charged under statutory authority with ministerial duties prescribed by the Texas Constitution is now at the mercy of two appointed officials should he differ with the way things are done and seek to change a procedure.

A few weeks ago, County Judge Jim Lewis and counsel for the county summoned the Treasurer-Elect to a meeting. I was not privy to the conversation, but think about this. Counsel for McLennan County is a private law firm because McLennan County does not have a County Attorney. Taxpayers get a bill for service when counsel attends Commissioners’ Court meetings or does work for the county. I reviewed the minutes of Commissioners’ Court and found no authorization or direction of the court for such a meeting. I asked Commissioner Gibson if the court had authorized the meeting in executive session and he said the county judge took it upon himself to have the meeting. I have not heard of meetings with other incumbents who are first time office holders, but it is possible. Commissioner Gibson has repeatedly questioned who authorized certain actions in recent weeks. If the commissioners’ did not authorize the meeting at which taxpayers funded the attendance of counsel, it appears the County Judge acted with authority not granted. It is here noted and was noted by commissioner Gibson that an elected official commonly makes calls to the attorney with questions related to his job responsibilities. There is nothing illegal about the conduct of the judge. I think there is a difference between seeking legal advice and securing counsel for a meeting not authorized by the court. I ask the reader to consider, what was the purpose of the meeting if it was not discussed among other members of the court.

Commissioner Mashek is quoted “I have to read about it in the paper.” He was talking about a economic development grant before the court. I believe his statement also sums up the biggest problem with the court, lack of transparency.

In a recent radio interview with Shane Warner on Newstalk 1230, Commissioner, Mr. Snell was asked why all of the deliberations on the duties of the County Treasurer were held in executive session. Mr. Snell voiced opposition to not having the discussions in open court, but cited no effort on his part to correct it.

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