A renewed dialogue on meeting times for the Ellis County Commissioners Court sparked a heated exchange during Monday’s scheduled meeting.
Last year, commissioners voted to move its second meeting of the month from 6 p.m. to 3 p.m. Following that vote on March 11, 2013, the move sparked a backlash with several residents arguing against the change, saying an evening meeting made it more convenient for residents to participate in their county government.
During Monday’s meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry told the court he originally submitted an agenda item requesting the topic of changing the times of commissioners court meetings as an action item for Monday’s agenda. When the final agenda was posted the item was listed as discussion only. Ellis County Judge Carroll Bush said she changed the agenda item’s wording and that the change was not a mistake.
“I take full responsibility for this because I don’t think that it was right for action (at today’s meeting). If this is going to be a continued topic of discussion, we need to have various meetings so people can come in and comment,” Bush said. “So I think for us to have responded quickly with an action item would have been premature. I just felt that having been through this before that we should hold several meetings (on the issue) to allow more members of the public to come in and discuss this with us.”
Perry said he has been hearing from voters — not just from his precinct but also from across the county — about the topic of changing the meeting time of the commissioners court in order for residents to attend meetings.
“Now I know that we have had some concerns” about safety issues, Perry said, regarding the previous court’s decision to reschedule the evening meeting. “I think that there should be a way to meet the public half way.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Dennis Robinson and Precinct 2 Commissioner Bill Dodson told the court that their experience had been different from Perry with the feedback they received from the public.
“I would say that I have had three our four (people) come into my office and talk with me. After sitting there and talking with me for about 15 or 20 minutes they did not care one way or the other,” Dodson said. “Looking at the expense of (of having an evening meeting once a month), I feel that it is important to save the county money. Truly, if it is an important issue on the court’s agenda and our citizens are concerned about it if we can and want to have a special session.”
Robinson told Perry he needed to respect the decision made by pervious members of the court.
“The majority of this court, you may not have been present at the time, decided that this is when the meeting would be scheduled. So you should show a little respect for the court that had decided this,” Robinson said. “Just because you’re new and don’t like it, now you think the court should change it to your way.”
Perry responded that he was elected by the community and they continue to voice their opinion on this issue.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Brown, the most senior member of the court, said the deciding factor in the court’s decision last year ultimately came down to attendance.
“I have noticed over time that we have had commissioners court meetings both during the day and in the evening and the only time there has ever been a crowd were the times there was something controversial on the agenda,” Brown said. “I just don’t think what time of the day we meet is that important.”
Perry said he continually hears the request for the court to return to an evening meeting — even more then people asking him to fix their road.
Several members of the public were in attendance during Monday’s meeting, which began at 10 a.m., to voice their opinion on this topic to the court.
Tim Berneking, a GOP candidate running for Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 2, said that he is one of the many people that are unable to attend meetings during the day because he has to be at work. He said having a meeting at a later time allows people to share their views and opinions with the court on issues that affect them.
Ennis Resident Lane Grayson encouraged Judge Bush to change this item from “discussion” to an item of action on the agenda. Grayson reflected the same feelings as Berneking that having an early meeting makes it hard for people to attend. Grayson said people want to come to these meeting to share their voice and opinion.
Following Grayson, Dave Vance, a GOP candidate running for Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 4, said former Ellis County Judge Chad Adams changed the meeting time to allow more people to attend. He added the change would also allow residents to view agendas early so they can be prepared to address their commissioners. At pervious meeting held on this topic, no members of the public were in favor changing the time, Vance said.
R.C. Lyon, a GOP candidate running for Ellis County Judge, stated that rescheduling the court’s evening meeting was not wanted by the community and that many people came to court to express their opposition to this change.
Following the meeting, Perry said if you review the Texas Attorney General opinion or talk to the Texas Association of Counties legal council, they will tell you that the judge should not be changing agenda items when it comes to deciding when an action item is requested or not.
“It should not have been done. If the rest of the commissioners didn’t want to move ahead on that, what they could have done is tabled it or let the motion die for a lack of a second,” Perry said. “I think (changing my agenda item) it is just overreach by the county judge. I do not think that she was giving us the best example of what an elected official should do in her situation.”
In other business the court:
• Approved one-time variance from the county rules, regulations and specifications for subdivisions for a fire hydrant requirement for a replat located at 2071 Ferris Road in Ferris.
• Approved replat of lot two of the Sleepy Hollow addition in Ferris was approved.
• Approved replat of lot 22 of India Acres was approved.
• Approved replat of two lots in the West Highland addition was approved.
• Approved bid to be awarded to Horn Crew Trucking as the primary vendor and JK Excavation as the secondary vendor for hauling road material.
• Took no action for armored car services for the county
• Presented a proclamation recognizing 4-H Gold Star Award and state record book winners.
• Presented a proclamation recognizing the 2013 Milford High school Six Football team for advancing to the UIL state championship.
• Presented employee service award pins to employee who have served 5, 10, 15, 20 and 30 years in county service.
• Approved tax resale offer from Nextlots for properties located in Ennis at 408 E. Loggins, W. Milam St and 1207 N. Kaufman.
• Approved a tax resale offer from John Koscielniak for property located at S. Hall St. in Ennis.
• Approved appointment of Judge Gene Calvert to the Ellis County Bail Bond Boar to serve from Jan. 1- Dec. 31, 2014.
• Approved a line item adjustment from jail sale salaries to employee training in the amount of $2,000 for the Sheriff’s Office.
• Approved inter local agreement for enforcement of County Fire Code between the county and the city of Alma
• Approved to adopt an order designating the Bristol Schol building as a historical significant site in need of tax relief to encourage preservation.
• Approved to exempt from taxation all or part of the assessed value the Bristol School building and land.
• Approved the change of the spelling of Dunkerly Road to the correct spelling as Dunkerley Road.
• Heard an update on the streaming audio and video project for commissioners court meetings. The contract for services has been sent to Swagit Productions for revisions.