By Kathi Bliss
After nearly three decades of service to Caldwell County, longtime Tax Assessor-Collector Mary Vicky Gonzales tendered her resignation on Friday, leaving a wake of chaos in her office as early voting begins for the Nov. 8, 2011, election.
In a letter of resignation addressed to Caldwell County Judge Tom Bonn and released to the media by his office on Tuesday afternoon, Gonzales wrote that she was unable to acquire a surety bond, an action required by state statute.
The Caldwell County Commissioners Court voted earlier this month to settle a claim against Gonzales’s existing bond to recoup losses to the county as the result of embezzlement that took place in the Luling branch of the Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office. The former employee involved in that situation pled guilty to charges of theft in July. Both Commissioners Neto Madrigal and Joe Roland abstained from that vote, while Commissioners John Cyrier and Fred Buchholtz, along with Bonn, voted in favor of that settlement.
Gonzales, who was never implicated in that scandal, claimed innocence in that scandal, but said it had prevented her from acquiring a new bond.
“I have nothing to hide or feel guilty for and I leave this office with a clear conscience and a clear heart,” she wrote. “There are people who for reasons known only to themselves have done things that are not in the best interest of this county and this office.”
Gonzales wrote that she believed that the citizens should have faith and trust in their elected officials and to be confident that those officials are working in the best interest of the citizens, not of the officials themselves.
In a written statement also released on Tuesday, Bonn said that the Commissioners’ Court would be responsible for filling the position, and would be accepting letters of interest for the appointment.
In other County business, after an extended executive session on Monday, the Court vote on a 3-2 split to confirm the appointment of Ron Heggemeier to the position of County Administrator.
The position, which has brought a barrage of criticism both from the public and from some members of the Court, was created in the controversial 2011-2012 Fiscal Year budget, which Heggemeier helped Bonn to prepare.
Admittedly, Heggemeier also drafted the job posting for the position, but Bonn was responsible for spelling out the job description and duties that Heggemeier will perform.
Both Madrigal and Roland made statements during public discussion which suggest they are concerned that the appointment of a County Administrator will undercut their ability to carry out their duties to their constituents. Buchholtz, who voted in favor of ratifying the decision, said as he often does that the item of business should be “finished up,” and that the Court could change the job description and duties in the future, if they find a need to do so.
Betty Voights from the Capital Area Council of Governments (CAPCOG) gave a presentation to the Court regarding the Emergency Notification (Reverse 9-1-1) system provided by her organization. The discussion was spurred by public concern that the notification system was ineffective during the Labor Day fires.
Voights, who answered criticisms of the system raised last week by a former Lockhart mayor, said that improvements have been made that make the system effective, but also noted the system was never triggered for Caldwell County during the disaster.
The item will come back for discussion on Nov. 15, after the Commissioners have had the opportunity to review the policies and procedures and determine where and how communication broke down in September.
They also heard a flurry of criticisms from the public regarding proposed changes to the Court’s code of conduct, which could limit the times at which members of the public are allowed to make comments addressing the Commissioners “on the record.”
Buchholtz said he was “working on” those policies and procedures, but did not yet have anything concrete to offer his colleagues for discussion. The issue will be revisited at a later date.
In brief news:
The Commissioners approved the certified tax roll as presented by Chief Appraiser Carlton Pape.
They heard a report regarding the purchase and distribution of the 800 mHz radios recently approved through the county’s newly-established emergency fund. Those radios, according to members of volunteer fire departments who came to address the Court, have been distributed and are already helping the departments to remain in contact, both with dispatch and with one another.
The Court paid bills in the amount of $143,220.
The Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the Conference and Training Room of the LW Scott Annex at 1403 Blackjack Street in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public.