County Commissioners’ Court Accessible

Bill Neinast

neins1@aol.com

Radio Station KWHI’s forums for candidates for local political offices every election cycle frequently include some surprises.  The one Thursday night was no exception.


This forum included a discussion of the lack of communication with county officials.  This was listed as one of the “major” problems of the county.


Where have these candidates been?  The Washington County Commissioners’ Court is among the most available and transparent public bodies in the state.


The court convenes in its chambers every Tuesday at 9:00 a.m. Except for a few closed “Executive Meetings” allowed or required by law, the meetings are open and the public is invited.  


The full agenda for each meeting is available on line each Friday.


Finding the agenda  is simple.  Pull up the Washington County web page, click on Public Notices, choose the highlighted day of the meeting that will include “Commissioners’ Court Special Meeting,” and then choose “View Agenda.”   


If that is too complicated for some senior citizens, just ask a six year old grandchild to do it.  Whatever way you get it, you will know exactly what your elected officials will be discussing that day.


The County Judge, the four commissioners, the County Attorney, Clerk, Treasurer, Auditor, Engineer, Fair Grounds Administrator, and EMS Director are always there.  In addition, the Sheriff, JPs, DPS, and constables are frequently represented.


These public servants are generally present and available for private discussions of concern both before and after the public meetings.  Also, discussion of issues of concern with any of the officials is always available  by phone.   


There is one thing, however, that makes the regular meetings of the Washington County Commissioners’ Court  stand out among other public bodies.  In this court, the citizens for whom the Judge and commissioners work are allowed to participate in the discussions of the court’s business.  


Most other courts, councils, school boards, etc. require anyone who desires to participate in the discussion of a topic to fill out a form with name and topic to be addressed. Before official discussions are opened, those wishing to speak are allowed to “address” the officers for about five minutes on a subject that might be number 12 on the agenda.  Then sit down and shut up.


In the Washington County Commissioners Court, however, if you would like to comment on a subject under discussion, just raise your hand.  The presiding officer will allow you to participate.  In addition, County Judge John Brieden on occasion will ask someone in the audience for comment.


The sad thing about this open invitation to these weekly meetings to find out what the county is doing, and why it is doing what is being done, is that there are no RSVPs.


Frank Blizzard and I normally attend every meeting.  Seventy-five percent of the time we are the only private citizens there.  


Why do few private citizens take advantage of this weekly chance to communicate with the county?  


I asked County Clerk Beth Rothermal this question.  She said that there were some complaints in the past about the meetings being scheduled in the morning when most people are at work.  In response, the county scheduled some meetings after 5:00 p.m. but saw no change in attendance, so the court went back to the morning meetings because the public officials who must attend are on work schedules also.


So here’s the perspective.


If you feel you are being ignored or left out of county business, the fault is yours.  If you want to have more communication with your county government, the opportunity is there.


Keeping up with what is going on will require a bit of effort on your part.  This will require attendance at the weekly meetings of the county court.


One of the first things that will become apparent from these meetings is that there are no longer any “Road Commissioners.”  Now there are just four commissioners with management and maintenance of county roads left to the County Engineer. 


Attend three or four meetings and you will be surprised at what the county officials cannot do or, in other cases, what they must do because of a state or federal mandate.


You will also learn from these meetings that, because of mandates from on high, “local control” is a myth. 

enough

 
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