“The best way to handle this is from my part is simply to drop the whole thing,” said Mike Knight, county attorney, during Monday’s court meeting.
The issue arose because of a letter written by Commissioner Dennis DeWitt to the Railroad Commission concerning a recycling plant proposed in northern Bee County.
Commissioner Carlos Salazar had asked the court to add a policy into the employee handbook that would require court approval before elected officials, department heads or employees could comment on behalf of the county.
DeWitt was silent during the discussions Monday but vocal during the prior meeting when the item was initially proposed by Salazar.
The rule proposed by Salazar reads, “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 expressed approval of a quorum majority in an open meeting of Bee County Commissioners Court.”
During the public comment period of the meeting, resident Carlos Perez said, “For the commissioners court to send a county policy to be vetted by the county lawyer to restrict any elected official, department head or employee from issuing any written communication or verbal statement regarding any matters without the expressed approval of a quorum majority in an opening meeting of Bee County Commissioners Court is a violation of (their) constitutional rights.”
Knight, whose opinion was requested by the court at an earlier meeting, said, “As a practical matter, our independently-elected department heads can take any position they want to on any matter that is within their purview, subject only to the approval of the public, i.e. the voters.”
He added that the only time the court takes a stand as a whole is by official vote during a court meeting.
The court, in a meeting about a month ago, voted not to support the letter DeWitt wrote to the Railroad Commission.
Knight told the court that this is how situations like this should be handled — and not through an additional policy.
“Handle it as the court did handle it,” he said. “The court could meet and vote to censor or not censor the offending party...
“It’s an informal policy and that is just how it works. I just don’t think we need to put something like this in stone.”
Had the court created this policy, commissioners agreed they would have been the first in the state to adopt such wording.
Knight asked, “Do you want to be number one?”
Salazar simply said, “No, I don’t.”
• Postponed any decision upon whether the fire marshal can legally inspect a business without a request from the business owner. They also postponed a decision on whether the court could set the fee charged by the fire marshal for these inspections.
The decision was made to have Knight review the laws and report back to the court with a recommendation.
Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said that James Barrie was working for the state at the time he was hired but eventually left that position, after he was hired at $150 a month to be the county fire marshal.
“When we spoke to him about the position, he was already employed by someone else,” Rodriguez said. “I never imagined this was going to turn into a full-time job.
“My intention was never for this to be used as a front to collect fees.”
• Approved a grant deed without warranty for utility right of way alley in Skidmore.
• Approved making the speed limit 40 mph on County Road 613.
• Approved limiting parking inside of Capehart Subdivision.
• Approved Welch State Bank to finance a new John Deere Tractor and Boom Ax at the rate of 2.87 percent for the amount of $91,206.32. The amount will be repaid in three annual payments of $31,344.01.
• Approved an order proclaiming May as Older Americans Month and also as Community Action Month.
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.