Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. proposed the new addition to the county policy that would require court approval before any county employee or elected official could make a statement in regards to a county’s position on a matter.
While separate, but still related, another agenda item for the court Monday also asked the commissioners to take pride in and ensure quality in written dealings with other agencies.
“The only reason I brought this to the attention of the court is we need to be more careful in the future when we send out official pieces of document to a state agency,” Salazar said. “It had nothing to do with the correspondence itself but in the condition it was sent out.”
This second item went with little discussion. The addition of a policy, in contrast, sparked debate.
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt voiced concern over the new policy, saying that it could be construed as a violation of the Constitution.
“I think this is pre-censoring every county employee,” DeWitt said. “Let’s say I am an employee of the county and I say Bee County supports veterans.
“That violates this policy if I didn’t go before the court and get permission to say it.”
This proposed policy, read during the meeting by Salazar, states, “No elected official, department head or employee shall issue any written communication or verbal statement which gives the appearance of an official position regarding matters that may affect Bee County, without the express approval of a quorum majority in an open meeting of Bee County Commis-sioners Court.”
Judge David Silva suggested, “Maybe we can have it vetted by the county attorney to see we are in fact violating the Constitution... just to be more on solid ground.”
Ultimately, the court sided to have the proposed policy approved by the county attorney before going forward.
This whole debate, and the attempt to include this new policy, stems from a letter written by DeWitt to the Texas Railroad Commission over a proposed recycling plant in northern Bee County.
Salazar said, “The explanation I received came when it was noted you had sent a letter to a state agency committing the county to a stance that the county had not discussed. A comment was made that there was nothing in policy indicating it could not be done. That is why this came about.”
Rodriguez said, “The bottom line is I do not want somebody to speak for me on a matter that involves the county and put it in writing. I am not interested in that but I was placed in a position where I was.”
DeWitt continues to argue that he never committed the county to a position — he only asked that they be considered interested in the issue.
Ken Haggard, county commissioner, voiced concern because he says the proposed policy lacked teeth.
“Policies are broken all the time in Bee County,” said Haggard. “We do not treat policies as we should.”
Haggard said he wanted some type of punishment included for violation of the policy.
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said, “How would a written reprimand sound?”
“That’s fine if we will do it for everybody,” Haggard said. “Are you going to give a written reprimand to an elected official?”
County Auditor Blandina V. Costley simply said, “I have.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.