Council eyes more text bans
By LPR Staff
After a recently-passed state law prohibited the use of cellular phones within school zones, some city council members sought to take the measure one step further, a move which some feared would encroach on the civil rights of the citizens.
During a brief but sometimes contentious meeting on Tuesday evening, the Lockhar
t City Council discussed several issues of note, including a proposed ordinance making it illegal for drivers to text while driving.
The measure was brought up last month by District Four Councilmember Richard Banks, who expressed concern that texting while driving is often more dangerous than drunken driving, a statement Lockhart Police Chief Mike Lummus was able to back up with statewide and national figures, but without the benefit of numbers pulled from Lockhart traffic stops.
“Texting while driving is an epidemic,” Banks said. “And I think this is a matter that needs to be addressed, that no one else is addressing. I think it’s irresponsible for us not to address it.”
Lockhart Mayor James “Jimmy” Bertram said he would not support a measure banning texting while driving, suggesting it might be an encroachment of the civil liberties of Lockhart residents and visitors.
“Where does it stop?” Bertram said. “If we do this because texting while driving could be dangerous, then do we ban car radios? Do we go into their houses and write them a ticket for forgetting to turn off their stove?”
Bertram said he recognized that in some instances, fatal incidents have been caused by drivers texting while driving, but said he would prefer to allow the State Legislature to take the lead on the issue.
On another side of the issue, District One Councilmember Kenny Roland suggested a ban on texting could be a misused by police officers to establish probable cause for stops.
“We don’t know, when we see someone with a phone in their hand if they are answering, if they are dialing, or if they are texting,” Roland said. “And I’m just worried that a measure like this would give our police, who are already overextended, one more thing to have to do, and could give the wrong person another tool to manipulate.”
Councilmembers Dick Weiland and Lew White supported asking city staff to continue watching the issue and bring back an ordinance for the council to consider. However, Councilmember Paul Gomez and Mayor Pro Tem Frank Estrada said they would prefer to see the issue dropped for the time being, until the State Legislature could take the lead, both also citing concerns about the rights of the citizens.
“But if you want to continue along that path, that we’re encroaching on citizens’ rights, isn’t that the business we’re in,” Banks said after the rest of the panel had the opportunity to speak. “When we see something that’s being done that’s dangerous and we’re not doing anything to stop it, I don’t think we’re doing what we should to protect our citizens.”
Although the issue was not up for a vote, Bertram did ask for a consensus from the council as to whether they would like to proceed with drawing up an ordinance. The majority decided they did not want to move forward at this time.
Another issue of some concern was the council’s approval of the city’s investment policy for the coming year.
According to finance director Jeff Hinson, the policy must be presented annually to the council for their approval, and the finance department must also make quarterly investment reports, allowing the council to be aware of the state of the city’s finances.
Certain language contained within the policy gave Banks and Weiland pause.
The councilmembers expressed concern that the policy gives the Finance Director a certain amount of latitude in moving and reinvesting city funds without coming to council to approval first.
In addition, Banks was concerned about the policy’s language that allows the investment officer to invest up to 50 percent of the city’s funds in certain governmental entities.
Hinson explained that if the council would like him to add language asking for council approval, he would gladly do it, but that because financial markets are volatile and fast-moving, he was concerned that having to wait for up to two weeks for approval on a move might be costly for the city.
In the end, the council approved the policy as Hinson had suggested.
In brief news:
The Council discussed, but did not approve an agreement with GEO to provide emergency medical care within the Secure Work Program Facility. Although Lockhart / Caldwell County EMS has been responding to the facility for some time, the council expressed concern about signing an agreement that could potentially send city employees into harms way. The council will gather more information about the agreement and make a decision in October.
They held a brief joint meeting with the Lockhart Economic Development Corporation to discuss that organization’s budget. Because the LEDC is part of the City of Lockhart, the council must have joint approval of that budget.
They heard a request from a property owner on Lover’s Lane asking the city to annex 14 acres of property.
They held a brief public hearing about the city’s fiscal year 2009-2010 budget, which will come to council for final approval on Tuesday, Sept. 29, 2009, at 6:30 p.m.