The RRL is reporting that the Williamson County Commissioners Court will formalize procedures for their meetings, making the the rules fair for everyone involved, and protects the members of the court from legal challenges to their decisions. In the article, from what County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr. says, it seems clear that the court hasn’t been operating under the OMA guidelines.
But Gattis said the court seeks to codify what have been informal policies, such as limiting the number of people who can speak for or against a particular issue, as well as limiting each speaker to two or three minutes.
Gattis acknowledged he’s liberally used his own discretion in the past; sometimes letting people talk beyond three minutes and other times – such as during the landfill contract debates – asking if there’s anybody else in the audience who’d like to speak.
But Assistant County Attorney Dale Rye – who serves as special legal counsel to the Commissioners Court – told commissioners last week that can be a recipe for trouble.
“You don’t want to have wide-open discretion,” Rye explained. “People are going to come back and tell you you’re abusing your discretion.”
That, in fact, has already happened on at least a couple of occasions. Dillon and former Georgetown Mayor Mary Ellen Kersch – a T. Don Hutto opponent – have each recently complained that Gattis lets some people talk longer than others.
Rye told commissioner they can set whatever public comment rules they want “as long as it doesn’t look like you’re targeting any particular group.”
Commissioners are also looking at adopting a dress code, for people who want to address the court, much in the same way the district court judges have dress codes for people who have business before them.
“You used to be able to tell people to dress for court the way they dress for church,” Rye lamented. “That doesn’t work anymore.”
EOW readers are already well aware of what was transpiring at meetings and what spurred their sudden interest in setting and following rules that should have been in place from the day this court was sworn in. Great job Ms. Kersch! This shows us all that one citizen can hold it’s elected representatives to account.