By Kathi Bliss
The proposed position of Caldwell County Purchasing Agent hit another wall on Tuesday when two out of three jurisdictional District Judges refused to overrule the Caldwell County Commissioners and create the position.
During a brief meeting between District Judges Todd Blomerth, Bruce Boyer and Jack Robison and Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn on Tuesday morning, information was presented in support of the judges creating the position, a move which is allowed under Texas Local Government Code Section 262.
Blomerth said the measure was brought forward to the judges, despite having been shot down by the Caldwell County Commissioners in March, because the need is so great fora purchasing agent in the county.
County Auditor Larry Roberson spoke in favor of the position, reminding the panel that the County does not currently have a purchasing policy or a centralized point of contact for purchasing, and therefore there are several people within several departments who have the authority to enter contracts and make purchases on behalf of the County.
In the past, some purchasing functions have been carried out by the Auditor’s Office, but Roberson said such activity could be seen as a conflict.
In addition, he said, he and his staff do not have the time or resources to engage in full time purchasing functions.
Blomerth offered clear support for the measure, suggesting the judges should put the purchasing position in place to ensure accountability and purchasing power for the taxpayers. He reminded his colleagues that the position is a two-year appointment, and said they could rescind the decision at a later date if it proved to be ineffective.
Boyer, formerly the mayor of New Braunfels, who was elected to the bench last November, said he would be willing to support the position, but only if Blomerth and Roberson presented factual numbers to show how and where the County taxpayers would benefit.
Robison was the first to bring up the fact that the Commissioners had previously voted down the position.
“I think this smacks of judicial activism,” he said. “I find that troubling. This statute is not mandatory.”
Robison continued to say that just because the statute allows the panel of District Judges, along with the County Judge, to appoint a purchasing agent, he was not certain that they should do so, after a majority of the Commissioners Court declined to fund the position.
Boyer agreed, asserting that the lack of tangible figures as to how the position would benefit the taxpayers made him uncomfortable with overriding the Commissioners’ vote.
Commissioner Joe Roland, who along with Commissioners Neto Madrigal and Fred Buchholtz was present for the meeting, asked if he could address the panel with regard to the March 25 vote on the position, but he was denied the opportunity to speak.
Bonn, who was silent for much of the meeting, also defended the position, saying that a line item for a purchasing department had been included in the last two budgets, and saying that a purchasing agent would foster transparency.
“We owe it to the taxpayers to see where the purchases are made,” he said. “The people who pay the taxes want accountability, and what better way to give it to them?”
He also reminded the judges and the public that the Commissioners had voted to “take away the County Administrator,” and left the responsibilities of that office on the shoulders of the County Judge and the County Auditor.
Boyer responded that, because the elected body responsible for the budget had declined the position, he was hesitant to create it. He suggested the data proving the worth of the position should be compiled and then re-presented to the Commissioners to allow them to reconsider the decision.
Blomerth said it would be difficult to compile the numbers without the position in place, and reminded the others that the Purchasing Department from Bastrop County had presented information to the Commissioners suggesting the position, once created in Bastrop County, paid for itself in relatively short order.
In the end, when Blomerth called for a vote, the panel split 2-2, with Blomerth and Bonn supporting the creation of the position, and Boyer and Robison standing against it. The split vote brought the meeting and the discussion to a close.