County Attorney’s Office request to be dropped from the lawsuit is granted.
Last we heard from District Judge Burt Carnes, on October 18th, he wasn’t sure he had jurisdiction in the county’s lawsuit against Waste Management, Inc. (WMI), stating, “that he probably has no jurisdiction in the matter”. It appears something has changed his mind. I received this via email today:
On Wednesday morning, October 31, District Judge Burt Carnes released his ruling accepting jurisdiction in the lawsuit, Williamson County v. Waste Management. The county filed the lawsuit and an amended petition taking the position that its 2003 Landfill Operating Agreement (LOA) with Waste Management is void because it was not publicly bid, a violation of the Texas County Purchasing Act.
In addition to taking jurisdiction to hear the case, Judge Carnes also granted the petition of a group of taxpayers to intervene in the case. The taxpayers also believe the contract is void and should have been bid. On Friday of last week, that same group of intervenors filed a separate lawsuit mirroring its position in its intervention petition to preserve its legal rights in the event it had not been granted intervenor status.
An interesting sidebar to the case is that Steven Ackley, the assistant county attorney representing the county attorney’s office, requested to withdraw from the case, and that request was granted by Judge Carnes. It means that county commissioners will be represented by Susan Potts of Potts & Reilly (Austin), the outside counsel which is now the sole legal representative for the county in the case.
The ruling by Judge Carnes means that the lawsuit has merit and can proceed. The judge has also allowed the Hutto Citizens Group (HCG) to join the lawsuit as an intervenor, against the county’s wishes remember, Precinct 4 Commissioner Ron Morrison deserves credit, from what EOW understands, for bringing in outside counsel Potts & Reilly. Not only have they taken over the case, now that the County Attorney has withdrawn, but they’re also responsible for turning this from a somewhat friendly lawsuit into one that is now truly adversarial, as it should be.
This lawsuit involves quite a bit of local political intrigue. One of the reasons those in our county government didn’t want to bring a lawsuit against WMI, since the HCG became involved in this, was for exactly this reason, they knew it had merit. The county may have been more interested in not showing a mistake had been made than correcting it. They were also lax in fleshing out why they couldn’t put the contract out to bid. It doesn’t appear that the county did this initially to fool it’s citizens but were, more than likely taken in by WMI, and did this out of ignorance and blindly trusting the word of a corporation (WMI) and it’s lawyers. They we’re told from the beginning that if they put the contract out to bid WMI would sue and it would end up costing them more in the long run.
WMI’s political connections can probably be beneficial to someone looking to further their political career. (Who would have thought a company that deals in garbage could be so successful in politics?) They have a whole cadre of very smart lawyers that were probably telling our “Mayberry Machiavelli’s” not to worry, we’ll take care of it, with a wink and a nod to the future. But not everyone was asleep. That group of taxpayers, better know as the Hutto Citizens Group, kept the heat on and have held our elected representatives to account.
If WMI loses the contract, then the request for proposal (RFP) for a new contractor could include solicitation of proposals for a new landfill design – which is what citizens want. (Not as high, better screening, more recycling, etc.) It’s essential for everyone to keep in mind that this whole mess has transpired because our county government went ahead on this issue despite citizen appeals for input and assistance that were flat-out denied. More than likely much of this could have been avoided if the WCCC would have treated it’s citizens more like partners than bothersome pests.