New Rules, Here We Go Again

Posted in Media, Commissioners Court, Commentary, Williamson County at 10:13 am by wcnews

Last week EOW posted about the way that the AAS framed it’s article about the WCCC adopting rules for their meetings. They left out the fact that this issue would have never come to a head as it did if it wasn’t for an Open Meetings Act Complaint that was filed by Mary Ellen Kersch:

[The AAS article] gives the false impression that the reason the rules were drawn up and put into place, is because of the crowded meetings they’ve been having over the last year.


The only reason this became an issue was because of the Open Meetings Act complaint that was filed against the WCCC..

Now the RRL’s report on the new rules adopted by the WCCC tries to do a similar thing. From the first paragraph the obfuscating starts.

Williamson County commissioners stopped short of adopting a dress code, like they’d talked about, but they have adopted a set of formal rules for speakers addressing them at meetings.

Again read through this earlier EOW post, which contains a link to the new rules, and you’ll see that a dress code was adopted. Although it was one that was left open to interpretation, which may be a violation of the OMA. The traditional media is buying County Judge Dan Gattis, Sr., and Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman’s line that they’d been thinking about this for a while, and virtually ignoring the impact of Kerch’s complaint on the new rules.

County Judge Dan Gattis and the four commissioners perceive they are dealing with more controversial issues - and more of them - than past courts. Therefore, they say, it is more important to make sure everyone gets to have their say, in a way that is verifiably fair.

Commissioners - borrowing from standards other counties use - adopted the new procedures Oct. 30 and they went into effect for the first time at the Nov. 6 meeting.

“We had been talking about this for a long time,” Precinct 1 Commissioner Lisa Birkman of Brushy Creek said. “I think the rules are important when you have more controversy. I think there are more controversial issues now.”

For most of this year commissioners have heard a lot of public comment at meetings, regarding hot topics such as the Regional Animal Shelter in Georgetown, the county landfill in Hutto and the T. Don Hutto immigrant detention center in Taylor.

Now, Gattis and the court have codified what were more informal procedures in the past, such as limiting speaking time to two or three minutes for each speaker.

“You don’t want to have wide-open discretion,” Assistant County Attorney Dale Rye told commissioners during an October discussion of the new rules. “People are going to come back and tell you you’re abusing your discretion.”

That, in fact, has already happened. Two frequent speakers at commissioners court - Jim Dillon of Liberty Hill and former Georgetown Mayor MaryEllen Kersch - have complained Gattis sometimes is inconsistent in his policies.

Maybe Mr. Stutzman and Ms. Mixon will buy that but EOW won’t. Looking at the timeline of this one can see that it wasn’t until DA John Bradley ruled on the complaint that the WCCC even put this issue on it’s agenda.

  • Sept. 21, 2007: Mary Ellen Kersch files OMA complaint with Williamson County DA John Bradley
  • Oct. 19, 2007: Mary Ellen Kersch receives notification from DA’s office that the complaint did not warrant criminal charges.
  • Oct. 23, 2007: First time the Rules of Procedure, Conduct, and Decorum appear on a WCCC agenda.

Now I’m no investigative reporter but that seems like a very good case that this never would have been put on a WCCC agenda if it wasn’t for the OMA complaint that was filed by Kersch. These two traditional media outlets (AAS and RRL) received the same press releases that EOW did, so they were not in the dark about Kersch’s complaint and the DA’s ruling. Their decision to accept and use the WCCC’s narrative on this story is leaving out the rest of, and the most important part of the story.

Leave a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.