Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Profiles in failed leadership: Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix

Meet Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix


I just saw the news that Smith County Commissioner Cary Nix is going to seek re-election for another term.  Nix has to know that if he has an opponent this time, he is going to be hammered mercilessly by the Grassroots people, his opponent, me, and others.  As for me, I intend to dog him for the rest of his pitiful political career.  Why doesn't he just go back to what he knows best--selling dirt and rocks and sod and stuff? There must be some kind of "magic number" in terms of years of employment with Smith County that compels these commissioners to seek at least three terms.  Retirement benefits, perhaps?    On my old blog, I used to refer to Commissioner Nix as "Sidekick Nix" because he seemed to always march lock-step with former Smith County Judge Joel Baker.  To Nix' credit, he was known to oppose Baker on some issues. I don't think Cary Nix is really a bad guy, just incompetent. Overall, Nix has proven he cannot be trusted as a leader in local government.  Let's take a look at a few examples of Nix' failed leadership.

Building the Smith County Kremlin--while your roads and bridges crumbled

For a decade, county leaders have been neglecting critical local infrastructure such as roads and bridges.  And now, according to a study that was done in 2014, it may take as much as $124 million to bring the existing county roads up to acceptable standards.  Yet, there was always plenty of money whenever commissioners wanted to renovate or buy county facilities in downtown Tyler.  Commissioner Nix went along for the most part.  To his credit, however, Nix did vote against Joel Baker's 2015 fiscal year budget, that added a six-figure salary for a "county administrator" to do much of the work the county judge and commissioners were already being paid to do.  But otherwise Nix has kept his mouth shut and kept to a "go-along-to-get-along" mentality when it has come to the commissioners court's fiscal insanity.  And to date, Nix and his fellow commissioners have yet to come up with any plan to fix the county's roads.  Pathetic.

Transportation Reinvestment Zone (TRZ)

Ostensibly, the purpose of the Loop 49 Transportation Reinvestment Zone was to earmark some of the tax revenue from land near Toll Loop 49 and "reinvest" it into local "transportation" projects.  In reality, the TRZ was a SCAM by Joel Baker and the county commissioners to divert funding away from much-needed county infrastructure improvements to support pet projects such as a toll bypass route around Lindale, and possibly to add a multi-million dollar facility to their own little Kremlin in downtown Tyler.

When Nix and Baker were running for reelection in the 2014 campaign, they set up "town-hall" style meetings to get "public input" about the TRZ.  But opposition to the plan was so fierce that they set aside their plan until after the election.  Despite public opposition, Commissioners Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, and JoAnn Hampton hastily voted to create the TRZ in December 2014 with little opportunity for additional public input.  (Link to article)  Fortunately for taxpayers, however, the TRZ died on the vine later that winter--Not because commissioners listened to constituents, but because the attorney general issued an opinion that counties do not have the authority to set up special taxations zones.  In other words, this scheme was ILLEGAL from the get-go.

And speaking of illegal:  Cameragate

In January of 2015, Smith County Judge Joel Baker signed a 10-year contract with a company in Arizona called "American Traffic Solutions," or ATS.  In the agreement, ATS would supply 10-20 automated camera units that would catch speeders in school zones and issue "fines" that would be assessed by the company.  When the program was finally announced to the public in April, 2015, there was outrage, especially among other elected officials, including the sheriff.  First off, the program was unconstitutional in that it violated defendants' Sixth Amendment right to face their accusers in court.  Second, Texas' counties to not have the legal authority to set up such programs.  And finally, the plan was hammered out and approved in three commissioners court meetings that violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA).  As a result, this scheme erupted into a major local scandal that some of us called "Cameragate."

Commissioners Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, and JoAnn Hampton were present at all three of the illegal meetings.  And all three of them voted for the plan and supported it until it became a scandal.  The attorney general of Texas and the FBI launched investigations into the matter, and the AG's case resulted in Joel Bakers' conviction for TOMA violations.  However, probably for political reasons, the county commissioners were never prosecuted, even though they participated in the illegal meetings, which is a crime.  Nix would later claim ignorance of the TOMA violations.  But county commissioners are required to take 16 hours of continuing education annually and are each given a $5,000 yearly allowance for travel and education.  And TOMA is like one of the "basics" of local government.  But Nix claimed ignorance?
Perhaps Nix' claim of being "ignorant" is ironically true.  After the deal went public, resulting in outrage by the public and other elected officials, Nix would try to claim that he never saw the contract.  Never saw the contract?  Then why did he vote for the deal if he was not fully aware of its details?  So much for his fiduciary responsibility to his constituents and the other taxpayers of Smith County.  "Ignorant" is right.  I'd maybe add "incompetent" and "irresponsible."

After the AG's criminal investigation was initiated, county commissioners ended up approving the expenditure of approximately $46,000 in taxpayer funds to defend themselves.  And to add insult to injury, Nix and the other commissioners would later consider using taxpayer funds to reimburse themselves for additional legal fees they incurred for individual representation!  Well, enough is apparently not enough in Smith County, because last spring, the commissioners court approved even MORE spending for a private law firm to try to prevent the county from releasing recordings and transcripts of the illegal meetings, even though those materials have already been released to the public.


Disregard for the First Amendment

In 2012 Nix and his fellow commissioners approved and signed a list of "rules of decorum" that prevented speakers at commissioners' court meetings from making derogatory comments about members of the court.  In March of 2014, County Judge Joel Baker was caught sending and receiving obscene messages while he was supposed to be attending hearings of the state's judicial ethics commission and while he was attending taxpayer-funded educational activities.  In following weeks, Baker used these bogus rules to cut off speakers who were calling for his resignation.  Did Nix or any of the other commissioners protest during or after those hearings?  Nope.  They sat there like they always did, with dumbfounded looks on their faces.
Did the commissioners try to change these unconstitutional "rules"?  Well, they did the cowardly politician thing by appointing a "committee" to study the issue that was led by their own employee, the county administrator.  The committee did make some recommendations for changes, but months went by, and still, nothing.  Last September they "considered" the issue one last time and again, avoided responsibility by agreeing to have the county's attorneys look at the committee's recommendations.  We're still waiting.


Just say NO to Commissioner Cary Nix

Cary Nix comes up for reelection in 2018, which will be here sooner than you think.  Hopefully he will have an opponent, and he and Commissioner Hampton will be the first two to go down in our push to "vote the bums out."

Read more about Smith County government here:  smithcountytexas.blogspot.com

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