Bill Aleshire On The WCCC’s Rules

Posted in Commentary, Commissioners Court, Williamson County at 11:11 am by wcnews

[Promoted form the comments to this post, ACLU Shames WCCC - Free Speech Under Attack. Thanks Bill Aleshire for adding to this discussion].

It appears that the Williamson County Commissioners’ Court is struggling to understand and apply the concept of a democracy (“of the people, by the people, and for the people”). These rules sound more like something King George would have required of his subjects in order for them to get an audience before His Majesty.

There is just something offensive to true believers in democracy when you read rule language like “The business of Williamson County is conducted by and between the members of the Williamson County Commissioners Court and by those…members of the public requested to be present and participate.”

Some of these rules betray an attitude of sanctimony and a regal view of themselves that conflicts with the notion that they are servants of the people. My first thought after reading these rules was, “Who the Hell do these people think they are?” Having said that, I suppose I just violated Rule IV(F) prohibiting “profane, insulting…language directed toward the Court….”

This Commissioners’ “Court” is confused about their function. When they hold their “legislative” sessions conducting the county’s business, the Commissioners’ Court is not operating in the judicial capacity as a court. Rules that apply to attorneys and witnesses in a staid courtroom do not fit well in what is really a legislative debate and hearing environment or a “town meeting..” For years, people have been confused about why the Commissioners’ Court is called a “court” when they are really acting more like just a city council at the county level. I’m surprised that confusion abounds with the County Commissioners themselves.

I also note that whatever legal research they did to support their highfaluting language in their “We’re a Real Court!” Rule IV(D) is additionally flawed by the citation to their power to issue Contempt of Court citation “under Section 81.024 of the Texas Local Government Code.” They do have that power, but that section was renumbered in 1999 as Section 81.023. In addition, the attached Interpretative Commentary about the Constitutional article 5, section 18 on which they rely for their view of themselves as a “court” (and the attendant rules of dress code and decorum) contradicts their view: “The county commissioners court, then, has none of the functions of a court, but is the general governing body of the county.”

I spent 12 years as the County Judge in Commissioners’ Court meetings in Travis County. My colleagues and I often sat there and took abuse from the “black helicopter” types and others, but we did it because we understood our role and responsibility: we worked for and reported to them, not the other way around. While I certainly understand the Commissioners’ Court’s legitimate desire to keep their meeting organized and productive, these rules are extreme by requiring a dress code, prohibiting press interviews even during meeting breaks, prohibiting anyone from saying anything insulting to them, threatening to issue contempt citations, and by claiming that they only conduct county business with members of the public they “requested to be present and participate.”

1 Comment »

  1. remerson said,

    January 28, 2008 at 12:59 am

    Amen, brother Bill!

    Stay tuned.

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