Court continues to stall Host Agreement
By LPR Staff
Despite asking their attorneys to begin a review of the controversial document nearly a month ago, the Caldwell County Commissioners Court is no closer to deciding whether they will negotiate a Host Agreement with Green Group Holdings with respect to the proposed landfill project on SH130 at FM 1185.
In late August, the Court voted to begin the process of reviewing and discussing the agreement, but according to information presented by outside counsel Eric Magee, the Court’s instructions were not clear, as to their intentions.
“There hasn’t been any negotiation,” Magee said during a brief workshop that was scheduled to discuss the host agreement. “There have been notes and comments floating around for well over a year, but what we don’t know at this point is what you want us to do with it [now that a legal review has been completed.]”
Referencing an earlier presentation from Marisa Perales, and Austin attorney that represents groups in opposition to the landfill project, most notably Environmental Protection in the Interest of Caldwell County, Magee noted the Commissioners have been told over and over where public opinion believes the agreement falls short, but reminded them they should look to their own counsel, both in-house and outside, for legal advice on the document itself, and that those conversations could, and should, be subject to attorney-client privilege.
“What is this workshop for?” Magee questioned.
During the “public comments” portion of the Court’s regular meeting, it was clear that many in the gallery thought negotiations had already begun, and a line of protesters came forward to ask the Commissioners to reject the Host Agreement altogether. During her presentation, Perales suggested the Court could, in fact, ask for concessions not through a host agreement, but through provisions of the Contested Case Hearing currently before the State Office of Administrative Hearings.
“What you should do is evaluate the options on the table,” Magee advised. “We have had some discussion on the legal issues, but we need some information from you on how to proceed.”
Ultimately, the Commissioners voted unanimously to table the discussion once again, and to hold both a private meeting with their attorneys, and a public workshop regarding the agreement next week.
In other business, the Commissioners entered into extensive discussion before ultimately passing the budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year.
Chief among those discussions was the fact that while most County employees are not receiving a pay raise, County Auditor Debra French had been promised a salary increase by the District Judges when they accepted her appointment. That pay increase, which had to be authorized through Legislative action last session, was approved by the Commissioners originally, but some seemed to balk at the prospect now.
“She was hired [at her current salary] because that was as high as we could go,” said District Judge Todd Blomerth, one of the three judges responsible for French’s appointment. “You voted 5-0 to go to the Legislature so that we could get the increase, and you all understood that. This is not a pay increase, this is the salary that you knew we had offered.”
Blomerth challenged the Court to find another licensed Certified Public Accountant who would be willing to work full-time for the salary French is currently being offered, but his concerns seemed to fall on deaf ears.
On a roll call vote, the Commissioners voted 4-1 not to offer her increase she was originally promised. County Judge Kenneth Schawe called the move “a big mistake.”
They also discussed, and ultimately approved, adding a position to the Department of Emergency Management, which will be funded through a grant from the Emergency Management Personnel Grant, reimbursable to the County for salaries at the end of the fiscal year.
Emergency Management Coordinator Martin Ritchey said the addition of the position will not cause him to slow down, but in fact, will assist his office in processing more quickly.
“We have had three Federal disasters in the last four years,” he said. “That’s unprecedented.”
Upon approving the budget, the Commissioners unanimously approved a tax rate of 0.7175 cents per $100 of valuation for the upcoming fiscal year.
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 Caldwell County Courthouse. The meetings are open to the public and are webcast at www.co.caldwell.tx.us.