Who Should Write the Checks?

The recent attempt to move payroll function from the elected County Treasurer to an appointed Human Resources Department has caused some people to question whether this is something the Commissioner’s Court can do.

A Caldwell County citizen has done a lot of research on this and uncovered some information that leads me to believe that payroll cannot be taken from the County Treasurer.

The County Treasurers’ Association of Texas (CTAT) provided a document prepared in 2001 entitled “CTAT JustLetMeDoMyJob.” A quick summary of what is in this document concerning payroll is below:

P.8 “The auditor (or whomever appointed) may prepare the payroll and accounts payable checks subject to the county treasurer’s approvalThis is more than merely signing.” (bold lettering is mine).

P.9 #27  “A core duty of the county treasurer is the disbursement of county funds.”

P11 (20 of 79) “Texas law prohibits county commissioners from underfunding county offices or agencies in such a way that would effectively prohibit the office or agency from timely carrying out its statutory functions.”

P.13 (21 of 79) “The Commissioners’ Court may not strip core functions from the county treasurer.” (see above re: core duty)

And lastly, p.3 “The Commissioners’ Court may allow others to perform functions too but it may not prohibit the treasurer from performing them.”  (underlining of “too” is theirs; bold lettering is mine).

I urge you to read through CTAT JustLetMeDoMyJob yourself and draw your conclusions.

The Court will be taking this up in a special meeting on Monday, March 5 at 9 a.m. at the Scott Annex.

It’s Oh So Easy

Sometimes politicians just make it too easy. You know what I mean. You’re watching an interview or one of those innumerable debates, suddenly someone says something that makes you wake up and think, “I can’t believe what I just heard.”

That’s how I felt when I read Judge Bonn’s recent column. I’ve tried for the three days to contain myself. I’m sorry, I just can’t. There are just too many, “Are you kidding me?” statements; it is hard to know where to start.

I’ll go with this one, “Personally, I am not about to spend hundreds of thousands or millions of taxpayer dollars on road and bridge projects that are not designed, implemented and overseen by a professional engineer; remember the bridge collapse on IH-35 in Minneapolis/St. Paul, Minn!” Really? Does the judge really believe that bridge was not “designed, implemented and overseen by a professional engineer”?

When was the last bridge collapse in Caldwell County? In fact, a quick check on Google shows that bridge collapse accidents in Texas since 2000 involve another vehicle hitting and damaging the bridge, having nothing to do with engineering or lack thereof.

Please, I’m not saying don’t consult an engineer to design the next bridge to be built in Caldwell County. That’s as silly as the judge thinking the Minnesota incident was caused by not having an engineer design the bridge.

Next, “I took abuse at a recent meeting for suggesting that our current engineer be responsible for the Unit Road Department. The focus was on the emotional argument about hurting the current Road Administrator’s feelings because his title is changed.” Much has been said at the past couple of court meetings about the discontent of county employees. It’s no wonder: new and expensive departments over living wages for county employees, elected officials being stripped of duties, and political appointments over experienced staff. Maybe a little thought to the employees’ feelings is in order.

Judge, are you feelings not going to be hurt when the voters change your job title to “average citizen?”

The pièce de résistance is “Excellence THRU Professionalism.” Besides that obvious irony of the misspelling of “through,” the fact that the judge thinks the rest of us need to fall in line with his plan shows a lack of professional leadership. Wasn’t he hired (elected) to represent the voters, not himself?  The judge has admitted he can’t handle the job the voters hired him for; so he hired a “professional” to do it for him. That’s not to mention his tantrum-like outburst when he’s opposed during a meeting.

O.k. I’ll stop there. I could go on. While some of you may think I’m being nit-picky (and as a professional editor, I sometimes am), this is our “professional”-in-chief writing here. Should he not rise to the same standard he expects of others? Should he not lead by example and exhibit a little professionalism himself?

How do you think a professional leader guides to excellence?

Hoping for Change

Kathi Bliss couldn’t have been more right in her December 23rd column, “Harmony, Maybe Next Year?” As a bearer of a proverbial sledgehammer, I think she has gotten the gist of the problem.

I will add though that it’s unfair to blame the entire Court. For most of the decisions that Ms. Bliss cites, the Court was split in the votes. Some would say that the split was along party lines. As a non-Democrat, I say the split is along the people’s lines, with Commissioners Madrigal and Roland most often voting as the people request.

Ms. Bliss suggests that everyone bring some new tools. I suggest that Judge Bonn and Commissioners Cyrier and Buchholtz needs only one new tool – hearing aids.

I’ve been at the meetings where the decisions that Ms. Bliss cites were voted on. I rarely heard members of the public speak in favor of the decisions. Of course, since the passing (3 to 2) of the Rules of Decorum (translate that to mean “Judge Bonn Doesn’t Want to Hear Any Dissention” rules) it’s not possible to hear from the public during the meetings.

As a sledgehammer bearer, I would probably tread a little softer if Judge Bonn didn’t treat the voters with disdain and, at times, out right anger. He argues, belittles, and ignores the voice of the public.

If Judge Bonn, Commissioners Cyrier and Buchholtz would listen before acting, take the time to understand the people’s concerns, and have real conversations, there might be less dissention. If  fact, they might even persuade the folks to their side.

Too often the decision has been made prior to the Court meeting, with action by the court considered just a bothersome formality. Take for instance the hiring of Ron Heggemeier as County Administrator. He actually received a paycheck for that position before the Court (again 3 to 2) approved his hiring. As Ms. Bliss said, “Cut the lumber, then measure the results.”

Judge Bonn announced that he had a “think tank” of unknown persons to advise him. He also asked that he be allowed to carry out “his” plan for the county. However the public isn’t told what his plan is. He only intends to carry it out. I dare say by force if necessary.

How can the majority of the Court get help from the citizenry to build the county rather than watch it continue to crumble? First rescind the dictatorial Rules of Decorum and, if still deemed necessary, adopt the suggested rules from the Texas Association of Counties with the provision that allows citizens to speak on agenda items.

Second have a fewer “Discussion/Action” items on the agenda and a lot more discussion. I don’t recall any of the decisions being an emergency. Discussions could have been held with detailed information for the public at one meeting. Action can be taken at the next.

Judge Bonn might win more folks over to his plan if he revealed it and if he would listen to other commissioners as they present their case. More hearing from the right side of the table would go a long way to more harmony in the county.

I would be willing to carry a lighter hammer if the Judge and his followers were willing to seriously listen to and consider the voters objections to the plan.

What new tools do you think would bring harmony to the court?

The Lion Corner

Just returned to our ranch in Harwood after getting final items for Christmas preparation. After getting the last few groceries, we decided to stop at The Lion Corner (Facebook).

The restaurant isn’t really new; it was formerly the Country Kitchen. It now has a new owner and a new “no smoking” policy. The new owner has maintained the same menu.

More about The Lion Corner in a moment.

This little eatery exemplifies why we moved from the People’s Republic of California to the Republic of Texas. Liberty.

As most people know only New York rivals California in regulations and taxes. California has regulations to regulate the rules. We witnessed everything from no smoking in public, in some places not even outdoors, to rules about paint color on a house. We looked forward to coming to where there is freedom.

The Lion Corner has made the choice to have a non-smoking establishment. That’s as it should be. The consumers will tell them if it’s a policy that works. No governmental agency needs to be involved. They have the right to have a no smoking restaurant; the consumer has the right to not patronize them if they want to smoke.

It’s because I love liberty and worked hard to be able to live in rural Caldwell County that I fight so vigorously against those in the county who want to add regulatory burdens and curtail people’s rights. I don’t want Caldwell to become Austin, which is fast becoming a California clone.

Back to The Lion Corner. It’s a nice little oasis in a row of fast cardboard food chains. We waited while our food was cooked fresh. The plump burgers were juicy and fries just right.

Someone at a neighboring table asked for jalapenos for his burger – no problem. Try that at the neighboring fast food joint. Another reason to patronize local businesses; they are never too busy to give personalized service.

The family who owns the restaurant is friendly and eager to tell their story of coming to own the establishment. The service was also friendly and accommodating.

If you haven’t been to The Lion Corner since it opened on December 1, make it a point to give it a try – breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It will be on our list of places to frequent.

 

May you and your family enjoy the Peace and Joy of celebrating the coming of the Messiah.

 

Something Is Rotten in Caldwell County

Marcelllus (a minor character in Hamlet) said, “Something is rotten in Denmark.” This was a political statement – all is not well in the political hierarchy. The same can be said for Caldwell County these days.

Over the past year, Commissioner Court watchers have smelled the rotting fish, just as Marcellus did. Another one has been thrown on the pile this week. The sudden need for a road engineer appears to have more to it than the Texas Transportation Statute. I think there are some clear lines to another NGO – Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).

Let’s take a look at CAMPO. According to it’s website, “The purpose of CAMPO is to coordinate regional transportation planning with counties, cities, the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Capital Metro), the Capital Area Rural Transportation System (CARTS), Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) and other transportation providers in the region and to approve the use of federal transportation funds within the region.” The region is made up of Williamson, Travis, Hays, Bastrop, and Caldwell counties.

Although the stated purpose of CAMPO is transportation planning, it also has an air quality program and environmental justice program. (See “Keeping Local Government Local” for more about regional air quality programs.)

A board of directors and executive committee governs the organization. John Cyrier represents Caldwell County on the board and serves on the executive committee. It’s good to note that of the nineteen members on the board, entities from Travis County have nine of the positions. Caldwell and Bastrop counties have one each.

CAMPO has two main products: Long Range Transportation Plan (20+ years) and the Transportation Improvement Program (TIP) (short-range program). Funding comes from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) through the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT). Before the funds can be obligated to a project, it must be approved by FHWA.

I scanned through the TIP document for 2011-2014 and Caldwell County has one (count them, one) project listed: bike paths in Luling. Bastrop also has only one project. The greatest majority of the projects are in Travis County. Is that any surprise considering the make up the board of directors?

So what does this have to do with the county road engineer? Let’s start connecting some dots.

John Cyrier, Caldwell’s representative to CAMPO, recommended Bill Gardner (who identified himself as an engineer from Travis County when serving on the road committee) to serve on the CAMPO Technical Advisory Committee. According to the committee’s by-laws, Caldwell County doesn’t have a seat on this committee.

It has now become so important that Mr. Gardner be hired as the county road engineer that a budget amendment is needed. This will put someone with a direct tie to the regional NGO CAMPO in charge of the unit road department. Is it too far fetched to think that his decision-making will be based on the regional agenda rather than local needs?

What do you think?

  • Is Caldwell County being sucked into the urbanization of the regional NGOs? 
  • How much longer will we be able to maintain local control and our rural way of life?

County Road Engineer?

Take a look at the agenda for the upcoming Commissioners Court meeting. Suddenly the county needs a licensed road engineer.

Yes, a law went into effect 1995 that says, “The commissioners court shall appoint a county road engineer,“ (Texas Transportation Code 252.304). But that same statue says, “(b) If the commissioners court is unable to employ a licensed professional engineer, it may employ a county road administrator to perform the duties of the county road engineer. “

Apparently for the past sixteen years, Caldwell County has been “unable to employ a licensed professional engineer.” I think the county unit roads department has done a terrific job given the lack of funds they have. I’ve even bragged to my former California neighbors about how well my dirt road is taken care of here.

But suddenly it’s so important to have this licensed engineer that hiring must be done NOW. It’s such an emergency that it wasn’t even considered a possibility when the budget was written.

In 2006, Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott wrote an opinion concerning Transportation Code 252.034. Mr. Abbott’s summary says, “Under section 252.304 of the Transportation Code, a commissioners court may employ a road administrator when it is in fact unable to hire a licensed engineer as county road engineer. A commissioners court has discretion, subject to judicial review, to determine in the first instance whether it is unable to employ a licensed engineer. The determination of whether a county commissioners court violates section 252.304 involves a consideration of facts and, therefore, is a question we must leave to the courts.” (Emphasis added)

This opinion dovetails with former Attorney General Dan Morales’ opinion written in 1995. Mr. Morales states in his summary, “The commissioners court of a county operating under said system may employ a road administrator instead of an engineer if for instance, it determines that the county is financially unable to employ an engineer, or that for any other reason the county is in fact unable to employ an engineer. The commissioners court has discretion in making such determinations in the first instance, subject to judicial review” (Emphasis added)

Since this position is not in the approved 2011-2012 budget, then Caldwell County is not financially able to employ an engineer.

I’m sure the argument will be that the county can be sued. (Does someone in the county know something about a lawsuit?) Let’s face it; the county can be sued if someone has an injury accident on the unmaintained county roads. (Again, no slight to the unit road department. They are doing their best with what they have.)

Go to the Court agenda and click on the link to submit an agenda comment. Let your opinion be known. The deadline is 10 a.m. Friday.

Is this new position so important that the county should spend another $30,000 off budget?

Replacing An Elected Official

As I believe most Caldwell citizens know, Mary Vicky Gonzales recently resigned as the county’s Tax Assessor – Collector. It is now the responsibility of the Commissioners Court to appoint a replacement to finish Ms. Gonzales’ term. This office will be on the 2012 ballot.

At the last Court meeting, Commissioners Madrigal and Roland presented compelling arguments for leaving the office in the status quo. Right now Joy Pardo is filling in the position until an appointment is made.

There are five other applicants for the position, two of which are friends of mine. All I’m sure are very capable of fulfilling the duties of the office. But after hearing Commissioner Madrigal and Commissioner Roland state their case, I agree.

  • Ms. Pardo is already trained and doing the job. There will be no need to train a new person, which inevitably leads to a slow down in work.
  • Ms. Pardo already has a working relationship with the staff and public.
  • The election is only one year away. Why install a new person who may not be interested in a new term? (I know one applicant who is not running for the office.) That will put the county in the position of training another new office holder.

Judge Bonn, naturally, countered the sensible reasoning. First he stated that he’s “sensitive to the political party issue.” If he were really sensitive to the issue, he would want to replace Ms. Gonzales with someone from the same party that the voters elected three years ago. Since neither Mr. Madrigal nor Mr. Roland brought up the “political party issue,” I can’t help but wonder why Judge Bonn did.

More amazing to me was the judge’s next comment (and I’m quoting). He said he wanted to “insure a qualified candidate.” What? Is Judge Bonn saying that Ms. Pardo is not qualified? If so, how is it that the one applicant who has on-the-job experience is not the most qualified for the appointment? (Sorry to my very able friends.)

No matter your party affiliation, I think we’d all want the best person to replace Ms. Gonzales. This is not a time for politics as usual. It’s time to keep the status quo and allow the voters to decide next November who will be the permanent replacement.

Please send a comment through the agenda. Also send your thoughts to your commissioner.

Is this going to be a political appointment or will we get the most qualified person for the job? 

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