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Commissioners hire lawyers for case hearing

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By LPR Staff

Editor/POST-REGISTER

 

At the urging of Assistant District Attorney Jordan Powell, the Caldwell County Commissioners voted 3-2 on Monday to retain the law firm of Allison, Bass and Magee to represent Caldwell County as a contested case hearing gets underway regarding the proposed development of the 130 Environmental Park in

north-central Caldwell County.

The recommendation came as the follow-up to more than an hour spent in executive session, purportedly discussing the Commissioners’ vote last week to seek status as an affected party in the Contested Case Hearing, a legal proceeding before administrative law judges to determine the status of Green Group Holdings’ requested permit for a landfill attached to the 130 Environmental Park project.

Although many supporters of the County’s becoming involved in the Contested Case Hearing suggested it was not necessary for the Commissioners to retain legal counsel at this point in the process, Powell advised the Court that they should have representation from the very beginning.

The Contested Case Hearing process begins on Thursday morning.

County Judge Kenneth Schawe remarked he was reluctant to enter the retainer agreement with the firm, because the County’s budget of $80,000 for contracted professional services for the year has already been substantially depleted, with only $12,000 remaining for the last six months of the fiscal year.

Schawe had earlier voted against his colleagues, finding himself on the short end of a 4-1 vote to seek affected party status in the proceeding.

Commissioner Alfredo Munoz questioned Powell about the possibility of retaining the firm later in the process, having heard several members of the public suggest that simply seeking party status would cost the County nothing, and that outside attorneys were not necessary at this stage in the process.

Along with Schawe, he voted against the retainer agreement, losing the vote 3-2.

According to Powell, the retainer agreement would be effective immediately upon the vote and the Judge’s signature on the contract. Requests for information regarding the hourly billing rates included in the Allison, Bass and Magee contract had not been answered at press time.

Though the majority of the 17 speakers that addressed the Court were clearly in favor of the actions taken Monday morning, there was also evidence of the rift in the community surrounding the project, with some speakers reminding their commissioners that the only way to fully represent their constituents in this matter is to remain neutral, as there are a number of citizens both in support of, and in opposition to, the project.

In other business, the Commissioners voted to further deplete the contracted professional services budget, entering two additional consulting agreements.

Transportation expert Mike Aulick has been working with the County for several months, focusing on being a liaison between Caldwell County, the Texas Department of Transportation and the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization on construction of several roadway projects within the county.

Munoz encouraged his colleagues to expand that agreement over the next six months, as four county road projects and a traffic assessment for an overpass in Luling get underway.

“We brought in … a consultant on the Judicial Center and he was able to help us by reviewing the bills and keeping us under budget,” Munoz said. “He will be able to do the same thing on these projects.”

Already, Aulick has protected the County by ensuring that the Transportation Plan passed by the County in 2013 was submitted to CAMPO, securing Caldwell County’s place at the table for consideration of the projects. Additionally, Aulick said, much of the service he will provide to Caldwell County will be reimbursable through TxDOT contracts.

Finally, the Court opted to enter a consultation agreement with current County Auditor Larry Roberson, who will be taking retirement effective April 2.

Schawe suggested the agreement to the table, noting that Roberson’s replacement may have to take several hours to find the answer to a question she could call and have him answer for her in 15 minutes.

Roberson called the agreement a “backup protection,” and said he was tying up loose ends in an effort to make Debra French’s transition into her position as County Auditor as smooth as possible.

The Caldwell County Commissioners Court routinely meets on the second, third and fourth Monday of each month at 9 a.m. in the second floor courtroom of the historic Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.

 

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