County decisions continue to fall under fire

By Kathi Bliss

Editor/POST-REGISTER

Although Caldwell County’s fiscal year 2011-2012 budget, including salary increases for all employees and elected officials, the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court, and in particular Judge Tom Bonn, continues to take heavy fire for the decisions brought about by the budget.

Several times during the regular meeting of the Caldwell County Commissioners’ Court on Monday, Bonn, along with Commissioners John Cyrier and Fred Buccholtz, who voted in favor of the proposed budget on Sept. 26, were questioned about their decision-making, not only by citizens in the gallery, but by other members of the Court, as well.

In one particularly heated moment, Commissioner Neto Madrigal told Bonn he was “tired of” what he presented as Bonn’s making unilateral decisions without the backing of the Court.

Commissioner Joe Roland alleged that certain actions may not be legal, including Bonn’s recent decision to hire Ron Heggemeier, former assistant district attorney and the county’s former legal advisor, to fill the hotly-contested position of County Administrator.

Roland said he’d been in contact with the Office of the Attorney General regarding the appointment.

In addition to continuing to field complaints about the budget and the new positions, Bonn, Cyrier and Buchholtz were asked during public comments at the beginning of the meeting to resign their positions, after being accused of representing their own interests, rather than the interests of the citizens who voted them to office.

Clearly embattled, at one point Bonn asked the bailiffs to escort a member of the gallery out of the meeting, when she attempted to interrupt the progress of business by claiming a “point of order,” and refused to be seated when Bonn asked her to sit.

When the Court did resume normal business, they heard from local resident Pam Cantwell, who came forward with criticisms and suggestions about the way information was distributed during last month’s Delhi Fire.

The conversation, during which Cantwell asked the Court  to put procedures in place for a better system of information during times of emergency, quickly degenerated into a fiery discussion between Emergency Management Coordinator Jim Parker and Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel Law, both of whom were involved in the information distribution process, but who seem to disagree about the procedures which were followed at that time.

After hearing the concerns and responding with information about the County’s disaster management plan, Parker invited members of the gallery who were interested in volunteering to attend a public meeting on Tuesday afternoon to discuss the importance of volunteers. Several members of the gallery attended a meeting on Tuesday afternoon to “get the process started.”

The Court also heard from members of the community about two proposed developments in the Lytton Springs area, which have been drawing criticisms from neighbors for some time.

The developments, Tierra Verde and Highland Ranch, both came to the Court on Monday for approval on preliminary plats. Although the developers were on hand to address questions about the process, and to address accusations that other developments managed by the same group had become an eyesore for neighboring property owners, Roland reminded the public that as long as the developers follow the letter of the county’s development ordinance, the plans cannot be stopped.

The Court did, however, ask the developer to consider subdivision restrictions that will govern the structures allowed in the developments. Although such restrictions are expected, they have not yet been written or approved by the developers, and are not legally enforceable by the Commissioners’ Court.

In brief news:

At Madrigal’s request, the Commissioners discussed the recent decision to relocate the Caldwell County Treasurer’s Office from the third floor of the Caldwell County Courthouse to the Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office across the street.

Both Treasurer Lori Rangel-Pompa and Tax Assessor-Collector Mary Vicky Gonzales said that they were unhappy with the move, and Gonzales said it had not been discussed with her prior to the action being taken.

Rangel-Pompa and Madrigal both blasted Bonn, who made the decision after the budget was passed, in order to make the third-floor office space available to the new Human Resources Department, and said he was well within his rights and duties to do so.

Madrigal questioned the necessity of the move, and both Rangel-Pompa and Gonzales described complications that it might cause in the way their job duties are handled.

Roland asked the conversation to be brought back to the court at a later time for further discussion.

The Commissioners also voted approval on an authorization for Bonn to execute a Final Release and Settlement to Western Surety Company, marking the receipt of payment in the amount of $5,000 against the bond held by the former County Auditor.

The settlement, Bonn said, was part of the reimbursement for what he called “the embezzlement” that took place at the satellite office of the Caldwell County Tax Assessor-Collector’s Office last year. Both Madrigal and Roland abstained from the vote, saying they’d rather not vote on the issue, while Bonn and Buchholtz voted in favor of the authorization.

Cyrier had excused himself from the meeting for another engagement, and was not present to vote on the measure.

The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the L.W. Scott Annex, 1403 Blackjack St., in Lockhart. The meetings are open to the public, and concerned citizens are encouraged to attend.

kathibliss@post-register.com

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