Judge Danny Pierce: “We don’t follow our own rules”
by Walker County News Today staff
Monday morning’s regular session of Commissioners Court included a lengthy 45-item agenda, but the most lively discussion centered around the issue of allowing public access to public information.
As we previously reported, it is difficult, if not impossible for members of the public or the media to obtain any of the documents listed in the posted agenda prior to court. During Citizen Input, local media representative Wade Thibodeaux urged the court to release the info to the public rather than making citizens and media go through the Public Information Request process each week. He explained the difficulty in adequately reporting on Court proceedings when the information wasn’t available until long after the votes had been taken. “From a transparency standpoint, it goes a long way,” Thibodeaux added.
The issue was taken up later during court as an agenda item. District Attorney David Weeks said his office reviews all of the documents before releasing them to the public to ensure that any information that needs to be redacted could be taken out before the documents were released. He specified that his office had not been receiving the agenda packet (routinely referred to as “backup” in Commissioners’ Court) early enough to have an attorney review all of the documents. When asked how often information was actually redacted, Weeks could not give specifics.
The DA did not explain why the un-redacted documents were released to Commissioners Court and to various courthouse personnel. It is unclear whether releasing potentially non-public information to so many courthouse insiders might effectively have the same result as releasing it to the public.
Commissioners pointed out that there had long been a Court rule that any item to be placed on the agenda must be submitted to Judge Danny Pierce’s office no later than Wednesdays at noon so that an attorney at the DA’s office could review all of the documents prior to court. But according to Judge Pierce, the court does not follow that rule and routinely allows last-minute additions to the agenda. “We don’t follow our own rules,” Pierce explained. Commissioner Ronnie White said that he would bring the issue back up as an action item for next week’s Court.
EMS Ambulance Issues
EMS Director John Nabors reported that the county currently has two ambulances out of service with blown engines. After discussion of repair options led by Commissioners Danny Kuykendall and Ronnie White, court approved spending just over $20,000 for replacement of one engine; repairs are already underway for repairs to the second vehicle.
Maintenance records were reviewed and discussion centered around delayed maintenance of the most recent ambulance to need repairs. Nabors reported that maintenance items such as oil changes were scheduled based on miles driven rather than on hours of operation. White responded that while the ambulance only had 130,000 miles, it had a significant number of “idling hours” and that many types of heavy equipment based maintenance schedules on hours of use rather than miles driven. Based on hours, White said the ambulance has an equivalent of 377,000 miles when the hours are converted to miles.
IT Issue Revisited
At last weeks meeting commissioners heard a presentation from a company offering solutions to internet issues in outlying county offices. According to county purchaser Mike Williford, the initial discussion of improving connectivity to Pct 2 Road & Bridge then expanded to include the Pct 2 JP’s office and the combined Pct 3 JP/Road & Bridge location. Williford said increasing the scope from one location to three would likely exceed the amount allowed for direct award. Commissioners approved the issuance for an RFP to seek solutions to improve internet connectivity at all three locations.
Other Items on the Agenda
- Minutes from the past seven meetings were approved.
- Financial Information was received.
- Monthly reports were received.
- Approved final plans for Precinct 3 office building and authorized proceeding with bid process.
- Approved claims and invoices for payment
- Two public hearings regarding replats of subdivision lots.
- Approval of replats of subdivision lots in the Wildwood Shores subdivision.
- Received 2nd quarter VFD reports.
- Approved drainage easements.
- Proclaimed May to be Older Americans Month
- Approved appointment of Ms. Whitney Franks and Ms. Chandra Brown to the Children’s Protective Services Board
Commissioners also approved Utility Placement Applications from Gran Prix Pipeline Company for a 30″ steel liquid natural gas (LNG) pipeline at the following county roadways located in Precinct 2 and Precinct 3:
- Lost Indian Camp Road
- Old Cincinnati Road
- Louis Voan Road
- Wood Farm Road
- Old Chapel Road
- Mann Road
- Dodge-Oakhurst Road
None of the documents voted on at Monday’s court were available for review on the county’s website or at the meeting. Our request for documents sent via email several days ago remains unanswered.
Here is what the State of Texas has to say about making public information to the public:
Under the fundamental philosophy of the American constitutional form of representative government that adheres to the principle that government is the servant and not the master of the people, it is the policy of this state that each person is entitled, unless otherwise expressly provided by law, at all times to complete information about the affairs of government and the official acts of public officials and employees. The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know. The people insist on remaining informed so that they may retain control over the instruments they have created.
The provisions of this chapter shall be liberally construed to implement this policy.