Elected officials have to be careful of abusing position
by Jeff Latcham
Apr 27, 2012 | 1050 views | 0 0 comments | 7 7 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It was in this same space only a few years ago that we criticized former Precinct 2 Commissioner Susan Stasny for using her office to smear Dennis DeWitt as a racist.

DeWitt had beaten her in the primaries and the whole affair didn’t pass the smell test because of the timing of the aged charges being produced right before the election and Stasny’s active participation.

So here we are now into the second year of DeWitt’s term and we find ourselves again concerned with a Precinct 2 commissioner misusing his position.

This is not about whether the proposed B&G plant is a good thing or not. There’s a hearing of the facts and process to go through to approve it which is yet to occur.

Unfortunately, that does not seem to be sufficient for DeWitt, who used his county commissioner letterhead to speak on behalf of the county in contacting the regulatory authority, the Railroad Commission, before the Commissioners Court had even taken up discussion on the topic.

DeWitt, who has property near the proposed B&G site, has a personal interest in the outcome. Proximity to an issue doesn’t mean he has to surrender any citizen’s interest in it, but nor does it give him carte blanche to use his office for his own purposes.

If you’re opposed to the plant and have no trouble with DeWitt wielding his position to squash it, you need to consider the Pandora’s box this opens.

What if DeWitt decides your business is unfit to exist in the county without due process? Doesn’t this open the door for any commissioner to use his office to pave a friend’s road because he personally is sure it’s necessary? Where do you draw the line on heavy-handed politics?

DeWitt’s on a campaign to block the B&G project. There’s a fine line though between doing so as a private citizen and invoking his commissioner’s position before any official county action has been taken.

It was some 25 years ago that we also took then County Commissioner Jimmy Martinez to task for using his commissioner’s letterhead to campaign against a unit road referendum. It bothered us then and it bothers us now – regardless of the issue.

Our commissioners are elected to serve their constituents, but need to do so within the framework that delineates their personal interests from the public’s.

We live in a time when the rights of private citizens and private businesses are under siege from government. There’s a process here to go through and everyone – the neighboring land owners and, yes, even B&G – have a right to a fair hearing.

We hope DeWitt and the other commissioners can learn from this overreach and slap on the hand from the rest of the court voting 3-2 against supporting DeWitt’s letter to the Railroad Commission.

– Jeff Latcham
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