By Kathi Bliss
Tensions that have smoldering amongst the Commissioner Court for months boiled over on Monday after Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn requested the Commissioner overturn a legal vote taken in his absence on Sept. 24.
During their last regular meeting, presided over by Commissioner John Cyrier due to Bonn’s absence, the Court was instructed by their legal counsel, Assistant District Attorney Mack Harrison, that a vote must be taken that day to set the regular term of the Commissioners Court for the following fiscal year. Though Cyrier had originally suggested tabling the motion to allow Bonn to participate in the discussion, Harrison advised the decision had to be made prior to the first day of the fiscal year, Oct. 1, 2012.
The Sept. 24 meeting was the last scheduled meeting before the deadline set forth by the Texas Local Government Code, Harrison said; the decision had to be made that day.
Bonn brought the discussion back to the table during Monday’s regular meeting, suggesting he wanted to revisit the decision and ask for an Attorney General’s opinion to determine whether the vote was legal.
During the discussion, Bonn said he believed the vote to leave the meetings as they are, on Monday mornings at 9 a.m., would have been different if he had been present. Harrison added that thoug3 the statute was clear about when the decision had to be made, it also offered no clear-cut penalty for taking a vote after that deadline.
Commissioners Joe Roland and Neto Madrigal were infuriated by Bonn’s attempt to re-evaluate the vote, even going so far as to suggest that, if Bonn insisted on bringing issues back to the table after meetings he had missed, than the Court should simply consider not meeting, in the event Bonn was to be absent.
When that suggestion was dismissed out of hand, Roland continued, “[addressing Bonn]… if you’re going to be absent from a meeting, I’m not coming, either.”
After being told he’d made a “bold statement,” Roland responded, “Yes, it was bold. And I mean it.”
Madrigal pressed Bonn as to his reasons for wanting to change the meetings to Tuesday.
Bonn explained that he, as well as Commissioner Fred Buchholtz, believed it would be easier on county staff to meet on Tuesdays, and said it would cut down on the need for Commissioners to contact department heads and staff over weekends if they had the Monday business day to do their research.
In general, Commissioners agendas are posted on Thursdays, with informational packets released later.
Madrigal continued to press the point, alluding to the fact that Bonn has recently begun hearing civil cases as a presiding judge – duties which he schedules on Monday afternoons. He said no member of the Court should be attempting to change a legal vote for personal reasons, a notion to which Bonn said he took offense.
Though Cyrier had originally been in support of moving meetings to Tuesdays, he opted during the Sept. 24 meeting to vote in favor of leaving the meetings as they are. When Bonn said he’d assumed the vote would have been different if he’d been present, Cryier corrected him, suggesting he (Cyrier) had heard the discussion at the Sept. 24 meetings and changed his mind about Tuesdays.
Still, Cyrier said, he thought the decision, if it was going to be pushed past the State-mandated deadline anyway, should be made after the election, when the new Commissioners Court is in place.
In the end, the Court voted 3-2 to table the initiative while Harrison seeks an opinion from the Attorney General’s Office determining whether the scheduling decision can be made after the beginning of the fiscal year, in violation of the statute. The decision will be reconsidered at that time, if the Attorney General deems it legal to do so.
After the vote, Madrigal attempted to leave the room, muttering about the decision to rescind an already legal vote. He was chastised by Bonn and instructed to return to his seat, and “take his attitude outside.”
In less explosive news, the Court heard information from County Administrator Ron Heggemeier and County Auditor Larry Roberson regarding the state of the County’s unrestricted reserve funds.
For years, the County has been accruing money in the general fund reserve, well in excess of the current policy, which calls for 3.5 months.
After reviewing the financial situation, including the County’s income, Heggemeier and Roberson suggested that the policy be changed to reflect a requirement of two months’ operating capital in reserves. The change, they said, would still ensure the County has ample funds to operate, and improve their auditing position, but would also allow more flexibility in spending.
After extensive discussion on the issue, Buchholtz broke rank and voted along with Roland and Madrigal to leave the policy as it stands. Bonn and Cyrier voted to enact the approved change.
In brief news:
Heggemeier asked the Court to consider options for securing the WalMart building prior to the beginning of construction. The County closed on the purchase and took possession of the building last week, and has already had reports of trespassers and vandalism to the property. The County will likely install temporary barricades to block access to the parking lot, pending the beginning of construction, when the site will be fenced.
The Commissioners approved a restricted reserve fund in the amount of $740,000 to make up shortfalls in the employee retirement account.
They approved the purchase of security cameras and equipment for the current Judicial Center, at the cost of $99,800.
The Court also approved bids for repairs of flooring in the Scott Annex and the Market Street Annex.
They approved a resolution voicing their support for the City of Lockhart’s recent decision to enter a management agreement and an 1115 Waiver agreement with the Seton Family of Hospitals.
The Court discussed at length the suggestion of Human Resources Director to allow County employees to donate sick time to a specific individual.
They heard information about potentially asking the State Legislature to enact a park district to improve access, health and safety on the San Marcos River.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room at the Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public and interested stakeholders are encouraged to attend.
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