Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Commissioners Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, and Jeff Warr want YOU to pay for problems they caused

Oh I tried---I was going to stop saying "clownishioners" and using terms like "idiots."  But today members of the Smith County Commissioners Court ignored our indignation and decided to continue discussing a proposal that, if passed, would  pave the way for reimbursing Commissioners Nix, Warr, and Hampton for personal legal expenses they incurred defending themselves in a criminal investigation.  That investigation and subsequent prosecution led to former Smith County Judge Joel Baker's conviction for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Oh, the commissioners are arguing that since they were never charged with a crime, they are entitled to compensation for legal expenses they incurred, when the county already spent $46,000 defending them in the case.  They are also comparing this case to a previous civil suit (Ken W. Good vs. Joel Baker et al.) related to alleged TOMA violations in which County Judge Joel Baker and Commissioner JoAnn Fleming prevailed.  That's an "apples to oranges" comparison, friends.  The previous case was a civil case, while this one was a criminal case from the get-go:  When the Attorney General's office started investigating the case, it never indicated an intention to sue Joel Baker or any of the commissioners.  The AG's case was a criminal prosecution!  Of course these individuals are "innocent until proven guilty" (HA!) in the eyes of the law.  But the fact that Commissioners Nix, Warr, and Hampton were all present at all three of the meetings that allegedly violated TOMA...and that Joel Baker was prosecuted and convicted for one count of violating TOMA...is prima facie evidence that they were complicit in a crime.  And it has to be pointed out that even participating in a meeting that is in violation is in and of itself a crime!
Furthermore, Commissioners Nix, Warr, and Hampton didn't oppose the failed plan to put speeding cameras in school zones that led to this mess in the first place.  (They only started complaining about it after it became a public scandal!) So really, if you think about it, these commissioners and Joel Baker should be reimbursing the county for the $46,000 that was already spent.  In short, we don't owe Commissioners Nix, Warr, and Hampton one. red. cent.
I'm short on time, so I wont go on and on.  An editorial in the Telegraph pretty much says what I would say.  Please take time to read it because it spells out why this measure should not be allowed.
So, here's what I've done, clownishioners Nix, Warr, and Hampton:  I've set up separate blogs with your names in the URL's and in the titles to make them easy to find on search engines.  Visitors to those blogs will be redirected to articles that I publish about you on this blog.  Potential voters should find the information interesting when it comes time for re-election.
You still have time to remedy this situation, members of the commissioners court.  As I understand it, each commissioner's reimbursement has to be voted on individually.  You can still vote "no."
It's your call.  We're watching.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Smith County commissioners want YOU, the taxpayers, to pay more of their legal bills.


Cameragate is back.

Ah, jeez--I told myself I wouldn't start doing this again.  But today I opened up the Tyler Morning Telegraph, and what did my wondering eyes  behold...

Like I have so many times before, I vowed to stop blogging.  Things were going well under newly appointed County Judge Nathaniel Moran:  More funding for roads.  They considered putting the decrepit Carlton Hotel building back on the market--no more building on to the Smith County Kremlin.  But then the Smith County commissioners just had to go and do something stupid, and here I am again.  It seems this time, Commissioners Jeff Warr, JoAnn Hampton, and Cary Nix want the taxpayers to reimburse them for some of their recent personal legal expenses:
Those include $924 attorney Scott Ellis for Commissioner Cary Nix, $3,900 to Jim Huggler for Commissioner Jeff Warr and $6,947.50 to Michael P. Heiskell for Commissioner JoAnn Hampton.
Sure, it's a little under $12,000 which won't exactly ruin the county.  But what infuriates me is that this is on top of $46,000 the county has already spent for three different law firms to defend them in the same matter!

"Cameragate" and TOMA violations

For those of you who are new here, this all has to do with a local scandal I called "Cameragate," which would lead to the criminal conviction of Joel Baker for violating the Texas Open Meetings Act.*  In January 2015, then Smith County Judge Joel Baker signed a 10-year contract with an outfit in Arizona called "American Traffic Solutions," or ATS.  The arrangement was something like this:  ATS would supply the county with 10-20 mobile automated camera units that would catch drivers speeding in school zones.  Speeders would be assessed a fine (termed a "civil penalty") of $150.  After the county paid an initial set-up fee of $8,700 per camera, ATS would keep half of the revenue, and the rest would go to the county.  And by calling the fine a "civil penalty," the county could bypass such Sixth Amendment-guaranteed legal machinations like allowing the accused to appear in court before guilt was determined and a punishment assessed!  Everyone wins, right?
Well, the deal was bad for the county for so many reasons.  Among them was the fact that the county could still be on the hook for as much as $2.4 MILLION for cancelling the contract early!**  And that was exactly what happened.  When the plan was announced later that spring, the public and just about every elected official in the county cried foul, and the commissioners scrapped the program.  But what got Joel Baker and the commissioners in hot water was that the scheme was hammered out and approved during three meetings--two closed sessions and one open meeting--in the summer of 2014 that were in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, or TOMA.
Ah, the old gang:  Former Smith County Judge Joel Baker, Commissioners
Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, JoAnn Hampton, and Terry Phillips
It's complicated and I won't go into too much detail here.  But TOMA is Texas' "sunshine law" that, but for a few exceptions, forbids elected officials from doing government business in secret.  And, when matters are to be voted on in open sessions, the public has to be given advance notice about such items in a way that would allow the average person to understand what was being decided.  It is a crime for an elected official to even be present at an an illegal meeting. (An official is expected to walk out as soon as he or she determines that a meeting is in violation.)  Commissioners Cary Nix, Jeff Warr, and JoAnn Hampton were all present at all three of the sessions.  Commissioner Terry Phillips, who opposed the contract, was present at the last open session when the contract was approved.

Why you should be angry

Commissioners have claimed that the legal expenses already incurred by the county were not for defending anyone in a criminal matter.  And since non of the commissioners were ever charged with a crime, it is perfectly legal for them to be reimbursed at taxpayer expense.  But part of that $46,000 went towards attempting to quash a grand jury subpoena, which means it was a matter involving allegations of criminal offenses.  And the Texas attorney general's office, which got involved in the case in June, 2015, never gave any indication of wanting to pursue this as a civil matter.  It was a criminal investigation from the get-go.  Not to mention the fact that in November, 2015, it was revealed that the FBI was involved.  The FBI doesn't sue people--it investigates crimes!  Am I making myself clear here?  It was a criminal case.
Oh, and get this:  $234 of that $46,000 was for attorney Robert Davis to look at my blog!  He concluded that what he called several "hate websites" targeting Joel Baker and the commissioners were affiliated with JoAnn Fleming's (executive director of Grassroots America-WTP) "network of radicalism."
The fact that Nix, Hampton, and Warr were never charged notwithstanding, it has to be pointed out that they knew or should have known that the three meetings were illegal.  They had been given numerous opportunities to attend training sessions about TOMA.  And each gets a $5,000 annual "travel allowance," some of which could be used to attend educational conferences!


So what can we do?

They will vote on this next Tuesday.  You can go and sign up to speak at the commissioners court meeting.  But, even better, you can e-mail or telephone each of the commissioners and the county judge and express your opposition to these expenditures:
County Judge Nathaniel Moran:  nmoran@smith-county.com  903-590-4600
Precinct 1 Commissioner Jeff Warr:  jwarr@smith-county.com 903-590-4601
Precinct 2 Commissioner Cary Nix:  cnix@smih-county.com 903-590-4602
Precinct 3 Commissioner Terry Phillips:  tphillips@smith-county.com 903-590-4603
Precinct 4 Commissioner JoAnn Hampton:  jhampton@smith-county.com 903-590-4604
Oh, and it would be nice to include a link to this article in your e-mail, just to let them know that someone is still paying attention.  http://smithcountytexas.blogspot.com/2017/01/smith-county-commissioners-want-you.html

So here's the deal:  If they vote this down on Tuesday, I will delete this post and fade back into obscurity.  Approve it, and it stays up so voters can see it when they come up for re-election.  And I'll add to that a little piece titled "Smith County 2007-2016:  A Decade of Failed Leadership," In which Commissioners Cary Nix, JoAnn Hampton, and Jeff Warr will be prominently featured.

It's your move, commissioners...


*The case was ended in a plea deal in which Baker pleaded "no contest" and resulted in a small fine and a month of deferred adjudication.  Baker claimed that this would not have the same effect as a guilty verdict.  But from the standpoint of the prosecutor, it was still considered a "conviction."
**The contract calls for 10-20 cameras to be deployed, and the cancellation fee would be as much as $120,000 per camera.  So it's not clear whether the county would have to pay the feels only for the initial five cameras that were to be deployed, the "minimum" of ten cameras specified in the contract, or for all 20 cameras.