Thursday, March 16, 2017

COUNTY RAISES OKAYED


I attended the Commissioners Court meeting Monday morning and wish more folks would attend and see county government in action.  Two primary items on the agenda of public interest were the 2% raise for all county officials and employees and a salary adjustment for employees of the Sheriff’s Office.

Since last year the Judge has been predicting dire financial circumstances for the county.  However, his explanation Monday morning showed a much brighter outlook for 2017.  Bottom line is that the county has over 970,000 dollars in reserve.  As the Judge stated the “County is solvent.”  If you got 970,000 dollars in reserve you are not broke.

The 2% raise was a little sticker situation.  A letter was presented in court from attorneys that represent Milam County that went into great detail about the issues involved with the raise.  The conclusion is stated below.

“Based on the information provided, the Milam County elected officials should be paid the salary contained in the notices that include the 2% raise, to be paid from the beginning of the 2017-2018 fiscal year.  The county may be liable for not paying the county auditor for her increased salary as set by the district judges, as she is not required to avail herself of the grievance procedure before filing suit in a court of law based on a contest of her salary.  The commissioners court has the discretion to determine whether to give raises to the remaining county employees as well as, continuing the one-time salary increase for the County jailers and dispatchers.”

In plain terms the elected officials were stuck with their 2%, but had discretion as whether to give all employees a raise or not.  You need to also be aware of the fact that the money for the raises is already in the budget.  The total budget did not increase due to the 2%.  That being said I applaud the commissioners (those that voted for it) for giving the employees a raise.  Would have been bad had the officials gotten a raise and their employees got nothing.  Especially since the money is already in the budget.

Let’s put 2% into perspective here.  Say average county salary is 50,000 dollars, and it is not, but for demonstration purposes I will use that figure.  Based on a figure of 2% that comes out to 1,000 dollars per year. That is a raise of $83.33 per month, or $41.67 per paycheck.  For some employees that could be just enough to put them into another tax bracket and they actually take home less pay per pay period.

On the raise for the Sheriff’s employees it should be understood that all money for that raise is coming out of the Sheriff’s budget.  The vote on that was unanimous.  The fact is to keep good people you have to pay them a living wage.  If you think the jailers make too much get the Sheriff to let you shadow one of his jailers for one shift.  Guarantee you will change your mind.

Last but not least I was somewhat disgusted by one of the public participants that openly threatened the court if they voted to give the raises.  If you do not like what elected officials do you vote them out.  That goes without saying.  To get up there and publicly threaten them shows a real lack of character in my opinion.  Then again maybe the threats were what made two members of the court vote against their employees

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

BUYBOARD



I started not to write this post but sometimes you have to respond to totally incorrect information.  A local citizen, referred to by many as the “Village Idiot”, recently presented the court with a letter during public participation.  He then later sent a letter to the editor to local papers that was basically a duplicate of his request to the court.

In his comments he refers to purchases made by a Commissioner involving two tractors one front end loader and two shredders.  He also indicates, “Purchases need to go through a bid process.”  The tone of his letter indicates he believes the bid process was not followed.

However, he does not let you know that a BuyBoard created by legislation allows members to purchase equipment through the BuyBoard.  He also likes to throw around the terms compliance and transparency.  The following is a direct quote from the BuyBoard web page. 

“Compliance and transparency
Contracts and vendors awarded through BuyBoard have been competitively procured, so members automatically have compliance with Texas local and state procurement requirements and a documented audit trail. Transparency in the procurement process is treated with a high degree of focus and is of paramount importance. All vendors are treated on equal terms and are on the same plane of competition.” 

Another point made on the BuyBoard web page is as follows,                             

"Energy and cost savings                                                Because the competitive procurement process has been completed, members save time and resources that would have been spent on preparing and conducting a formal RFP. Besides reducing administrative costs, members reap savings through competitive pricing—plus, we offer member rebates!” 



Point is these purchases were made through the BuyBoard and hence were in full compliance with the letter of the law.

Another statement he makes is, “The former County Judge attended Court and told me the action was not in accordance with the Milam County policy and Local Government Code…”  Again, his statement is incorrect.  I did say the bids for road and bridge materials should have been opened in court, but never referred to or mentioned Milam County Policy or the Local Government Code.  I was not even aware of Judge Barkemeyer’s undated notes concerning a purchase policy.

In closing he makes the statement, “I have zero tolerance for acts of fraud, waste, or abuse in Milam County Government.”  Yet he fraudulently accuses the Court of waste and abuse.  Perhaps he should study the facts before jumping to conclusions.

Monday, January 16, 2017

WE MADE IT!



I made the last two Commissioner Court meetings and looks as though we will survive; at least for now anyway.  Dire predictions of having to borrow up to 800,000 dollars did not come to pass.  In the end 59,000 was needed to be spent from this year’s funds to balance the 2016 budget.

Last summer there was a great deal of anguish over the possibility that we might have to sell tax anticipation notes to make it through the year.  Uncertainty over the direction of the Luminant law suit had the court concerned about revenue for 2016. 

I made a presentation to the court asking them to consider expending some of next year's funds instead of borrowing.  From the information I had I did not believe the county was going to be in that bad of shape considering there was over 800,000 dollars in reserve.  While I understand why the Judge did not want to spend the reserve what is it for if not for situations just like this?  Congratulations to the court for having built that reserve.

Issuing tax anticipation notes is the only way a county can borrow money if they are not going to repay that money within a year.  I have never met anyone who suggests that you can borrow your way out of debt. 

Granted we are starting 2017 right at 59,000 dollars short, but at least we do not have a loan with interest to be repaying.  There are also certain fees and costs that go along with the issuance of tax anticipation notes and we don’t have those to repay either.

According to Judge Barkemeyer there is light at the end of the tunnel.  He stated in court last Monday that a settlement was near that will cover three years.  He did not mention the terms of the settlement as to what percentage of the appraised value Luminant was going to agree to, but at least we will know what is coming. 

My past experience with ALCOA was similar in that every year they would dispute their values, threaten law suits, but in the end we never made it to court a settlement was always agreed to.   

Whatever amount the settlement is I do hope the agreement includes reimbursement of the taxing entities legal fees.  Luminant will get a big tax write off for their fees Milam County taxpayers will not.  Luminant started it.   They could have negotiated a deal without going to court.  Only seems fair to me that they pay our legal fees.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

WHY? WHY?



Why and why are the questions I have been asked most since making my intentions to run for office public.  Why are you announcing so early, and why are you running for Milam County Judge?  I can understand both questions since it is early to announce for the 2018 primaries, and the next few years for Milam County does not look too promising.

Why so early?  Well, as many of you know I have run campaigns in the past.  From that experience I have learned that it takes a long time to get your message out to the voters.  Texas campaign laws require candidates to have a campaign treasurer filed before they can spend or accept campaign funds.  One way I plan on getting my message out is by running columns in the local newspapers on a monthly basis during 2017.

Why do I want to be Judge in a county where the future does not look too bright?  First and foremost I love Milam County.  Fell in love with the county in 1969 when we first purchased property in the county.  I graduated from high school in 1969 and spent that summer enjoying the beauty and serenity of Milam County.

I believe in the people of Milam County and the future of Milam County.  While things do not look too great right now what happens in the future will be dependent on us.  We can sit back and let things happen or we can be creactive.  Yeah I know that is not a word.  Something I came up with during my graduate work that is a combination of create and react.

We can either sit back and react to what happens in the future which means we are reactive, or we can attempt to direct the future now by creating plans for a desired outcome.  By not looking ahead we have to react to everything that comes our way.  On the other hand we can try to create what we want in the future and be creactive.

We know Alcoa did not last forever, and we know Luminant will not last forever.  Housing out prisoners is something else that could end tomorrow.  The loss of either of these revenue sources for the county will be devastating if we are not prepared.  I will be the first to admit I do not have all the answers.

If elected I plan on bringing leaders from across the county together to discuss our options for the future.  In my past tenure I utilized citizen input on renovation of the courthouse and on the construction of the new jail.  Committees were formed by the Commissioners Court to get public input on both of these major projects.  By bringing folks together we made a difference in Milam County, and we can do it again.

Monday, April 25, 2016

HEALTH DEPARTMENT TO REMAIN FOR NOW



Yeah it has been awhile since my last blog.  Been things to blog about, but been busy.  However I would like to share some thoughts about the recent activity with the Milam County Health Department.  Been a lot going on.

First of all the Judge’s report of March 30th on the Milam County website is not exactly correct.  The Commissioners did not vote to turn the Health Department over to Region 7.  On the Milam County website his March 30th article states, “In another move to reduce costs, at Monday’s regular meeting of Commissioner’s Court we voted to have Region 7 of the Texas Department of State Health Services take over the operation of the Milam County Health Department.”  They in fact tabled the motion to the next meeting where the court voted 3 to 2 to keep the Health Department as is.

I do have to add that the article printed in the local papers was corrected to say the issue was tabled.  I wonder why the article on the website says something different?

Commissioners Fisher, Muegge, and Shuffield voted for keeping the department, and Watkins and the Judge voted against.  Muegge stated he had talked to a lot of his constituents and that they were in favor of keeping the department as is.  The other two yes votes said pretty much the same. 

If you had attended the meetings leading up to the vote at the last court meeting you would have seen there was a definite push by the Judge and current Health Department Interim Director Mary Beth Sexton to move the department to the control of Region 7.  Previous workshops on moving the department had many uncertainties mentioned.  Every time Region 7 representatives were asked a question the answer was qualified by an if, a maybe, contingent upon or other qualifying lead in that left the average person understanding that there was no definitive answer.

With all the uncertainty about the move three Commissioners should be congratulated on their votes.  The fact is that if the doom and gloom theory of Luminant’s demise does come to pass Region 7 will be required by law to take over the department anyway.  So why the rush?  Could there be an alternative motive?

Other questions were also raised during the meetings.  Just how much would the cutting of the department save?  Several amounts were mentioned during the meetings including $162,000, $167,000, and at last report the Judge told the media the savings would be $200,000.  What’s the real savings?

Taking into account any of the savings you would have to subtract the income generated from the Health Department’s activities.  2015 ending year reports showed an income of over $99,000 for the department, but never once during the meetings was this information shared with the Commissioners.

It is true that we do not know what the future holds, and yes Luminant could win the law suit, but I truly believe that there will be an agreement reached that allows the county to collect a majority of the remaining taxes Luminant owes for this year.  That being said, even if they do win and Milam County comes up the two million short the Judge keeps mentioning and cuts have to be made Region 7 will still take over the Health Department responsibilities.
 
That however, will only cover a part of the numerous cuts that will have to be made if Luminant wins.  So even if Luminant does win cuts will have to be made but we will still have a Health Department, or some semblance of what we have now.

Friday, February 5, 2016

WE ALL HAVE A DOG IN THE FIGHT



Early Voting begins February 16 for the 2016 primary election.  As I wrote in my last blog this is going to be one of the most important elections for our country that most of us have ever seen.  Your vote does count, but only if you cast it.

As we draw closer to voting time I am beginning to hear more about the elections.  On Monday I was talking with an individual about the upcoming election and I was asked about my opinion on a local election.  Just happened to be a contest that I will not be able to cast a vote in since it is a precinct race and I do not live in that precinct.

My response to him was that I really wasn’t thinking about that race cause “I didn’t have a dog in that fight,“ it was out of my precinct.  His response made me start thinking.  He said yes you do.  Even though the winner may not be directly responsible to you they will still be representing Milam County and you should care about that.  You know he was right.

The elected officials of Milam County represent all of Milam County whether they are precinct or countywide officials. Think about it.   A county official elected to any county office represents Milam County   Along with that representation comes potential liability for the county.  While in the performance of official duties an elected official could wind up in a situation that would result in a law suit and cost Milam County a lot of money.  All the taxpayers foot that bill.

Another point he made was that in emergency situations it was an all hands on deck program for Milam County.  What he meant was that in the past emergency circumstances have required all county officials to take a part in meeting that emergency.  During a train derailment some years ago county officials were required to perform certain services above and beyond their normal roles.  This was also true during the county’s response to hurricane Rita.

Guess my point is that at all levels we have a dog in the fight beyond those that we can vote for.  While it might seem as though the state and federal levels are beyond our reach certainly the local races are within our reach.  Even if you can’t vote for a candidate  you can help candidates at all levels by contributing time, cash and word of mouth recommendations to friends and family to help their campaign.

I know we are all busy and seem to never have enough time to get everything done, but we need to make time to learn all we can about our candidates at all levels.  Talk to our neighbors and urge them to support the best candidate for the job.  Bottom line is we all need to take our government more seriously at every level and get involved and cast our vote.  Remember it’s for the people by the people, and to get there WE the people got to get involved.


Thursday, January 21, 2016

ELECTION TIME AGAIN


This is going to be one of the most important elections in history for our country.  Can you imagine another four years of the past eight?  I know I can’t, and only hope and pray for the sake of all of us that Hillary or the other guy does not win.  That being said you know who I am not going to vote for.

I will perform my civic duty and vote in the upcoming election, and if we have any chance left for this country we all need to exercise our right to vote.   Our national and state elections are very important, but so are our local elections.  There might be someone in Milam County who personally knows one of the candidates for president, but I doubt it.

However, as voters we can get to know our local candidates.  On the state and national level that is a bit harder to do.  We can only go by what we learn about them in the media.  On the local level it is a different story.  You can and should get to know your local candidates.  There will be a number of opportunities for you to meet them and learn more about their position on the office they are running for.

One of the most important things you can do about local offices is to learn what they do.  You can check online to find out what the constitutional mandates are for your local elected officials.   Knowing what the responsibilities of each office are will better allow you to select the best qualified candidate for that office.

Key words here are being the best qualified candidate.  Just because someone is an incumbent does not necessarily mean they are the best qualified.  They do have a record in that office that you can check to see if they have in fact been doing the job.  There are also candidates running this year for some offices that have never served as an elected official.

A lot of you know some of the candidates and may consider them friends.  Just because someone is a friend does not always make them the best choice for the office.  As a matter of fact sometimes the fact that they are a friend and you know them very well might be a good reason to not vote for them.

I guess what I am trying to say is that we need to look at elections as job interviews.  You wouldn’t hire someone to work for you if they didn’t meet the qualifications for the job that you were hiring them for.  Why vote for someone just because they are a friend if they can’t or haven’t been doing the job.  These folks will be working for us for the next four years in very important jobs.  These are jobs that are paid for by our tax dollars.  We need to get our monies worth.

Just because you know someone or they have held the job in the past does not mean they are the most qualified for the job.  Take time to get to know the candidates and the job they are “applying” for.  Then cast your vote for the person you believe is most qualified for the job.  An uneducated voter can be their own worst enemy. 

Voting is easier than ever in Milam County.  You can vote early or vote on election day at any of the polling places.  Do what you can to learn all you can about the candidates and their office at all levels of government.  Then most important of all be sure to cast your vote.