Friday, April 28, 2017

The "Cameragate" tapes: Things were--and still are--worse than we thought

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Grassroots-WTP excoriates the Smith County commissioners court

I'm perpetually disturbed by the fact that an organization that is considered a "fringe" group by many is often the only group that stands up for the taxpayers of Smith County.  I don't always agree with Grassroots, but the statement they published on their website yesterday hit the nail on the head.  Read it yourself, please, but, since I'm too tired today to whip up my own tirade about this, here are the statements I liked:
...[G]overnment is the servant and not the master of the people...The people, in delegating authority, do not give their public servants the right to decide what is good for the people to know and what is not good for them to know.
The evidence, which we posted on our website and released to the media, was shocking and far worse than we imagined, but Grassroots America was hopeful that the officials involved – the Commissioners and the District Attorney – would issue statements of sincere apology to the people of Smith County.
Oh, I'd go much, much farther than that.  First, all four of the commissioners should resign--or at least promise not to run for re-election.  Yes, they should publicly acknowledge their part in this, and...
All four sitting commissioners and Joel Baker should be required to reimburse the taxpayers for the cost of defending themselves in this matter.  Here's how I would calculate what they owe us:  Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, JoAnn Hampton and Joel Baker all participated three meetings that violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.  Terry Phillips participated in one.  There were multiple violations within the meetings, but for simplicity, let's count each time an individual attended an illegal meeting as one incident.  That makes a total of 13 "offenses." The county spent about $46,000 defending Baker and the clownishioners in a criminal investigation.  So, each "offense" cost us about $3,538 dollars.  Baker, Warr, Nix, and Hampton therefore owe the county about $10,600 each.  Phillips owes about $3.500.

And we are about to spend even more money on this.

The statement goes on:
...Instead, the Commissioners Court approved filing a writ of mandamus in the 12th Court of Appeals to determine whether visiting Judge Jack Carter had the authority to issue the order that released the executive session tapes; and even the District Attorney was reported as saying, “I don’t care. I don’t care about it. The litigation is concluded.” This is the Smith County District Attorney’s response when the videos reveal his assigned assistant district attorney sat in on those meetings and failed to make sure the meetings were conducted lawfully? 
How are the people of Smith County served by the Commissioners Court hiring yet another outside legal firm – spending tax dollars to go after a District Judge and to resist the facts made evident in the videos of those closed sessions? Will those expended tax dollars build public trust in the commissioners and the new county judge? 
We are disappointed beyond words that our local officials have decided to just keep digging, when they need to put down the shovel and start working to build public trust.
Judge Moran says he is concerned that county officials might be subject to prosecution if the order is later determined to be invalid.  I understand that is the lawyer in him thinking.  But, seriously?  Who the hell would prosecute them for this?  The Attorney General?  The AG's office has already released the information.  It is illegal for anyone to release records and recordings of legally closed meetings.  So if they went after Smith County officials for this they would be prosecuting them for the same thing they have already done themselves!
Judge Moran's (flawed) reasoning aside, what I think the clownishioners are hoping for is this:  A ruling that the videos and records cannot be released would mean that a judge didn't think the meetings were illegal after all.  Then, during their campaigns for re-election they could say, "I participated in illegal meetings?  What illegal meetings?  A judge has ruled that the meetings were perfectly legal."
Well the good news is that JoAnn Hampton has apparently already committed political suicide.  As long as Precinct 4 produces a candidate, she will be gone.  So that's two down, three to go.
The newest member of the "Mugshot Club"
Commissioner JoAnn Hampton.

Joel Baker:  Member since 2016

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