By Lou Ann Anderson, Texas Editor, Watchdog Wire.com/texas
As Bosque County continues openly defying a Texas Attorney General’s office order to release public information related to a May jail death, questions about the conduct and integrity of County Judge Cole Word and Sheriff Anthony Malott, the elected officials ultimately responsible for this action, grows. Also of concern is the culture taxpayers in Bosque and other counties are funding.
A Feb. 26 Clifton Record article on HB 958, a bill filed in the 83rd Legislature seeking to reduce the Texas County and District retirement system annual interest rate from seven to five percent, reported “Bosque County employees up in arms” and inadvertently provided an unanticipated but fitting and consistent illustration of the self-interested, protectionist attitude seeming to thrive in county government.
That county officials were balking at a bill potentially cutting into county employees’ personal taxpayer-funded retirement accounts – no surprise. That private sector employees deal with such issues regularly – inconsequential. That the models upon which public employee retirement plans are based need updating as they no longer work with today’s demographics or in this economic climate – officials don’t want to go there. That taxpayers feel tapped out and are tiring of government constantly coming after them for more and more – not an issue.
But that these two elected officials from within the district of the bill’s author, State Rep. Rob Orr, R-Burleson, were speaking to the local media purportedly having “uttered their disagreement in clear, strong terms” with regard to the bill – highly unlikely accident. That the San Antonio Express-News the next day reported Orr’s dropping the bill – the picture becomes more clear. And the SAEN article closing with a quote from the Texas Association of Counties’ (TAC) Lonnie Hunt saying “All the county officials I have heard from are very pleased with that decision.” – that’s Texas county political machinery protecting its own.
In its quest to withhold documents regarding the jail death of April Troyn, Bosque County also consulted with the Texas Association of Counties which reportedly referred officials to a Tyler attorney named Robert S. Davis for whose services Bosque County taxpayers will pay.
TAC bills itself as “the representative voice for all Texas counties and county officials and, through TAC, counties communicate the county perspective to state officials and the general public.” Note this organization is funded by resources from local counties though nothing is said about being a representative voice for the taxpaying public whose hard-earned dollars fill TAC and similar organizations’ coffers. Theoretically elected officials are responsible for that representative function, but sadly, that’s often not how it comes down.
For instance, one of the greatest betrayals during this last legislative session came at the hands of organizations like TAC, Texas Association of School Boards, Texas Association of School Administrators, Texas Municipal League, Texas Association of Counties and a host of other taxpayer-funded organizations that helped torpedo SB 14 and HB 14, bills that would have provided taxpayers with new transparency regarding local government spending and debt.
As with the bill that sought to reduce the Texas County and District retirement system annual interest rate, the measures called for within the transparency legislation would have impeded current “business as usual” county practices.
In response, organizations serving the interests of government officials – interests vastly different from those of taxpayers – took an unabashed stand brazenly financed by taxpayer dollars yet opposing legislation that would have offered those taxpayers increased accountability and openness with regard to actions taken by government officials in theoretical public service to constituents.
Bosque County taxpayers face a situation with the death of April Troyn, a situation about which government officials have defied the state’s senior legal counsel and instead continue actively working to suppress public information. These same officials are operating at taxpayer expense while taxpayers also remain liable for unknown future damages (i.e., potential lawsuits) that could be related to official county actions.
And as this happens, the law-skirting – often lawless – stonewalling and “circle the wagons” mentality embraced by county governments and their allies will stay a noteworthy, important civic lesson for engaged taxpayers.