By Kathi Bliss
Amid questions of timing and intention, the Caldwell County Commissioners voted unanimously to create the position of Elections Administrator on Monday, during a lengthy meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners Court.
Citing the longtime status of the Elections Division as a “step-child” of the Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector’s office, County Judge Tom Bonn brought forth the proposal in an effort to not only streamline operations, but to remove the appearance of bias from elections.
A dedicated Elections Administrator, he said, makes the position an appointed post chosen via committee, rather than the clerk of an elected official. In the past, the elections division has been overseen by the Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector, with the bulk of the daily responsibilities falling to a clerk within that office.
Introducing an Elections Administrator, a position that was approved for funding in this fiscal year’s budget, will allow a committee comprised of the leaders of the county’s Democrat and Republican Parties, the County Clerk and County Tax Assessor-Collector, and the County Judge, to choose the appointee to the position.
To alleviate the appearance of a political bias, however, the Elections Administrator cannot be a candidate for office, a requirement which proved to be a sticking point for some Commissioners.
Currently, the elections division is handled by Joy Pardo, who has filed to run for Tax Assessor-Collector in the upcoming Primary Election. As a result, to maintain the duties she is currently performing, Pardo would have to drop out of the race. In the alternative, she will see a material change in her job duties.
“I’m in agreement with the position, but I’m concerned about the timing of it,” Commissioner John Cyrier said. “I don’t know how it’s going to affect people, and we need to be conscious of that.”
Commssioner Fred Buchholtz questioned the benefit of waiting on making a decision, and Bonn suggested the more quickly the decision was made, the better it would Members of the gallery cited errors in the voter registration rolls and potential problems with vote counts as reasons for the court to press forward with the decision.
While Commissioners Joe Roland and Neto Madrigal were largely silent for the course of the discussion, Madrigal noted concerns about the timing of the decision, as well, and Roland nodded his agreement.
In the end, though the Court voted to approve the position, with the statement from County Administrator Ron Heggemeier that Pardo will still be employed by the County, and would be beneficial in helping to train the Elections Administrator, when and if that position is filled.
Bonn, as the chair of the Caldwell County Elections Committee, called a meeting of the committee to be held at 2 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 17, in Room 100 (Old Commissioner’s Courtroom) of the Caldwell County Courthouse.
In other business, the Commissioners held a public hearing regarding plat approval of the Highland Ranch Subdivision on FM 1854 near Seminole Trail.
The project developer was on hand to address public concerns that the development would become an eyesore and a detriment to the surrounding property owners. He assured them, however, that he has taken steps, including requiring stick-built homes on the outer portions of the development, and enacting deed restrictions that will help make the development an asset to the community.
Although they did not make a decision on Monday, the Commissioners convened in Executive Session for more than an hour to discuss the possibility of hiring a County Road Engineer and reassessing the duties of the Unit Road Supervisor.
The notion of hiring a County Road Engineer was suggested during the Court’s last meeting, but was met with resistance because it was unclear how assigning a Road Engineer would impact the position and responsibilities of current Unit Road Administrator Dwight Jeffery.
The Court is expected to revisit the discussion during their next regular meeting, slated for 9 a.m.Tuesday, Jan. 17.
In brief news, a proposal to change the time and date of the court’s meetings fell short, after members of the local media, among others, presented strong resistance to the change. During the discussion, Luling Newsboy Editor Karen McCrary expressed frustration with Buchholtz, who she noticed whispering to Bonn during another member of the gallery’s comments.
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