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Commissioners grapple with election questions

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By LPR Staff
Editor/POST-REGISTER

As the March 2, 2010, primary elections loom on the horizon, some Luling residents feel they don’t have an ample opportunity to vote early.

During a lengthy, but ultimately fruitless conversation during Monday morning’s regular meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, election official Mary Vicky Gonza

les reported she had received a petition asking for early voting hours in Luling to be extended in an effort to better accommodate Luling commuters.

Gonzales, however, said she opted not to schedule early voting in accordance with the petition’s request for a number of reasons, not the least of which being a question about the availability of the Church of the Annunciation during the times requested.

“They use the church for other things, and I didn’t get the chance to talk to my election judges – some of them are new – to see if they would even be available [during extended hours],” she said. “So I just left the schedule as it has been, with the extended hours available in Lockhart, along with the Saturday and Sunday early voting.”

A candidate on a primary ballot in the Luling area said he had submitted the petition based upon requests he has heard during his door-to-door campaigning. Currently, early voting is available in Luling only from 8:30 a.m. – 5 p.m., Monday – Friday, during the two-week early voting period leading up to the primary election. Luling area polls will be open from 7 a.m. – 7 p.m. on Election Day.

Under state statute, which Gonzales had on hand, the election official must honor such a time extension request, when submitted in the form of a petition, but only at the county’s “main” early voting location. That location, she said, is the Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office in Lockhart, where Gonzales said the extended voting hours are already available.

The Commissioners, along with the public in attendance at the meeting, raised questions not only about the need to move the polling location in Luling based upon the petition’s request, but also about the cost of the extension, as the election judges will have to be paid more than they Court initially budgeted.

Gonzales did not have an alternative location, nor the cost of the extension, available during the meeting.

Because of a substantial error on the published agenda, which said the discussion and action would be about polling places for the May 11, 2010, special election regarding the Maxwell-area emergency service district, the Commissioners were unable to act on the initiative. Since early voting opens on Tuesday, the Court will have to hold a special meeting, scheduled for Thursday afternoon, to discuss entering an order on early voting locations and times for the primary election.

In other business, Chuck Cutshall, from the McMahan Volunteer Fire Department, and Donald LeClerc, from the Maxwell Volunteer Fire Department, approached the court to request an appropriation in the amount of $4,550 to purchase “burn ban” signs, which they intend to install, with the permission of the Texas Department of Transportation, on a number of road signs in Caldwell County.

The plan, they said, was discussed and requested by the association of chiefs of the nine Caldwell County volunteer fire departments. Their intent, according to Cutshall, is to give the VFDs a wider ability to distribute information about whether the county is under a burn ban.

“We have been working together, and with TxDOT, to determine the locations where we will install the signs throughout the county,” Cutshall said. “They will be the fold-up informational signs, a lot like “ice on bridge” signs, that will just give us another way to notify the citizens when a burn ban is in effect.”

Cutshall and LeClerc agreed the VFDs would be responsible for monitoring the signs after installation, and would replace stolen or damaged signs in their areas. However, they asked the Court to help them with the initial purchase.

County Auditor Sonny Rougeou reminded the Court that the purchase was not included in the county’s 2009-2010 fiscal year budget. To make the purchase, he said, the Court would have to either amend figures to approve a deficit budget, which they are generally against, or determine an alternative budget item from which to deduct the funds.

Commissioner John Cyrier, who expressed concern about the cost of the signs and the possibility that TxDOT would not approve the 135 locations the chiefs’ association suggested, asked the item to be tabled until the chiefs could confirm approval of the installation, thereby making a stronger determination as to how many signs are truly needed.

The other Commissioners agreed with tabling the item, but Commissioner Neto Madrigal noted the Court should not wait too long before taking action. Cutshall and LeClerc said they hoped to act soon with the purchase and installation of the signs, so they would be in place before spring and summer, when the danger of grass fires is the highest.

Commissioner Joe Roland, who is acting as the county’s Judge Pro Tem in the prolonged absence of County Judge HT Wright, reported he spoke to the Judge last week.

Wright, who has been suffering from health complications since the holidays, “sounded strong,” according to Roland, and his condition seemed to be improving.

Although Wright and his family gave no indication as to when he might be returning to his post, Roland said his relatives said the phone call, in which Roland told Wright the county was “doing well. You left us in a good position,” raised his spirits and did him good.

In brief news:

The Commissioners approved surety bonds and education hours for several county employees.

They approved the tax resale of more than a dozen properties, as requested by Steve Bird, a partner with the law firm charged with collection of delinquent taxes for Caldwell County. The properties, several of which sold for higher than the taxes due, will be returned to the tax rolls when the sales are complete.

The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in Room 100 of the Caldwell County Courthouse. Because of the Presidents’ Day holiday, the next meeting will be on Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2010.

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