SAN JAC COUNTY AWARDED GRANT FOR 'TITE WAD" BALER
Pct 4 Commissioner, Mark Nettuo led the effort to plow through the grant process and brought it to completion recently to obtain a solid waste baler for the Pct 3 colleciton site. Commissioners Court voted in late August to go for the 20k grant to purchase the machine and appointed Nettuno as the SJC representative to persue the funding. Commissioner Nettuno has had prior successes with the D.E.T.C.O.G. grant process and once again, saw the process through to completion. This Baler will contribute to the overall success of SJC's recycling efforts to keep reusable products out of the land fill.
Based on solid numbers from the existing efforts already underway by the SJC solid waste efforts headed up by Pct 2 Commissioner, Donny Marrs, this baler will not only save a great deal of space in the land fill, it will produce income via sales of the cardboard to the J&L Recycling center in Shepherd Texas. "Donny Marrs has done a great job with the solid waste responsibilities he took on", Nettuno stated, "but having this machine will save even more handling and transportation expenses incurred taking the recycle material to another site just to bale it."
In kind work still remains to prepare the site for the baler install but the grant was awarded and the project is well on its way to completion.
After watching our Commissioners Court in action thru the budget process and fielding the complaints from some elected officals over the tightening up of the budget, we may investigate if the baler brand name indicates the manufacturer has a familial relationship with any of the men. ;-)
ROBERTS HAS RUFFLES
Losing the vote after spending many thousands of dollars of his own money apparently ruffled the feathers of one wanna be that is another Bellaire transplant who resides in SJC for now. Not even garnering enough votes to force a run off in a three way race was too much for Steve Roberts to bear without blaming someone else instead of his own illegal, lying, cheating arrogant mistakes that The Sentinel reported on.
Several witnesses report Roberts challenged JP 3 Randy Ellisor to a fist fight election night after the final vote count was delivered. The north walkway of the courthouse was the site of the alleged juvenile display. "You're just a country bumpkin" was the insult more than one witness quoted Roberts as hurling toward Judge Ellisor along with a threat of violence.
In pursuit of the Truth, The Sentinel emailed Roberts with some questions regarding the event. Roberts quickly retreated behind his Sutherland lawfirm letterhead and email address instead of the campaign email addy I wrote to that he gave me to use. Not only has Roberts retreated there, he told me not to contact him anymore and then just randomly included the official seal, name and phone number of a sitting US District Judge named Gray Miller at the bottom of his email under the law firm disclaimer.
Some may recognize the name from an early story The Sentinel did at John Lovett's swearing in as SJC County Judge. At Lovett's request, the same US District Judge, Gray Miller drove to Coldspring and performed the oath of office. Nice guy. We did interview him the day of the ceremonies.
The Sentinel has contacted Judge Miller with questions about why Steve Roberts is using Miller's official seal on his own lawfirm email. We don't know but suspect that Roberts is saying, "better not mess with me because this US District Judge is on my rolodex".
Instead The Sentinel gets the message that Steve Roberts thinks he is above the law because if using a US District Judge's official seal of office on the bottom of your email is not a federal crime, it needs to be. I only met the man once but can assure you that Judge Gray wants no part of your penny ante efforts into SJC politics and the heat you brought on yourself Mr Roberts.
You can go ask Greenburg Traiug and their star attorney, Mary Olga Lovett Warren if all that law firm header bothers me in the least.
After careful perusal of the land value history, loan amount and for sale price documents regarding your home in Cape Royale, The Sentinel United Alliance, by majority vote, Steve Roberts, calls for your immediate resignation from the CAD board before you have an opportunity to conspire together and perpetrate any more fraud on the tax payers of SJC.
COMMISSIONERS HIRE ATTORNEY
After being 10 minutes late to an overflow crowd for Commissioner's Court, Lovett opened the proceedings and then abandoned the process before the only new business item was taken up for discussion. During the public comments portion, several made comments lamblasting Lovett for his inept actions that have cost the county so much and will conitnue to do so. The father of the girl who Lovett wrecked his 1 ton truck into received a round of applause after his comments. Then Lou 'Loser' Rogers stood up and gave comments in support of the judge despite the crimes Lovett has committed that have been proven and in doing so, hung the infamous Lou 'Loser' Rogers 'Lead Balloon' around Lovett's political career neck in San Jacinto County. Poke him with a fork he is done. Rogers still has not figured out that the best thing he can do to support a candidate is stay away from them and keep his mouth shut.
SJC COLDSPRING 9/18/2015
SAN JACINTO NEWS-TIMES MISQUOTES AND MISLEADS WITH FAIR BOARD STORY
In an apparent attempt to sway public opinion and intentionally shed a negative light on Judge Lovett, the most recent issue of the News-Times ran a story front page above the fold that pertained to Item 14 on the previous Commissioner’s Court agenda. Item 14 addressed the legal relationship between San Jacinto County and the San Jacinto County Fair. Having listened to the tapes of the meeting, The Sentinel quickly recognized a little bit of a continuing ‘feud’ between a couple of Big Creek brothers and opted to not write a story that would grind anyone’s axe for them. From The Sentinel perspective, the issues were cut and dried. 1) The county had entered into an illegal “inter-local” agreement in years prior with the Fair Board, a private entity that is not eligible for an inter-local agreement. 2) There was a way to solve that issue to bring the county into compliance with the law. 3) The necessary changes were made and a legal contract was entered into that provides the necessary logistical support that the county has always given without leaving us out on a legal limb any longer. Judge Lovett, DA Trapp, Commissioner Marrs, the TAC Attorney and The Court looked past their differences and worked together in solving the problem once it was brought to the forefront. Thank you gentlemen. Now we will move on to the point of this story. Quote marks are just that, punctuation marks that readers recognize as symbols denoting an exact quote from the person named as the speaker. Misuse of those marks began early in your story;
In the paragraph where you used the above ‘quote’, you claim that Judge Lovett asserted that the Fair was NOT listed with the State of Texas. You quoted the Judge as saying, “They do not exist”. An exact quote of his comment is, “I don’t know if they are a group that even exists according to the Secretary of State.” According to documents obtained from the Secretary of State’s office, Judge Lovett’s remarks were well founded and quite accurate. These documents prove that in multiple years past, the San Jacinto Fair was in danger of losing their charter for doing business in Texas based on delinquent reports. In the last ten years, they’ve twice lost the ability to operate and as recently as 2013 DID actually lose their State Charter in an ‘Involuntary Termination’ by the Secretary of State for failing to file the most basic reports after multiple warnings over several months.
At the top of the 4th column, you state, “For numerous reasons, County Judge John Lovett placed the item on the agenda for consideration . . . . . . .” The truth that came out in the meeting is that three commissioners signed an agenda request form to add it to the agenda. Judge Lovett could have left the item off of the agenda but he honored the people’s representative’s wishes.
The most egregious misquote you made was when you quoted Judge Lovett TWICE as saying, “They (SJC Fair Board) make the rules so they can break ‘em if they want to”. Ms. Erwin, you owe the Judge an apology for this one. An actual quote would be that they make the rules so they can “CHANGE” them if they want to. Granted it is a little word but it makes a big difference. The whole tenor of your story tried to paint Judge Lovett as the bad guy trying to stop the fair from going on. Nothing is further from the truth. You tried to insinuate that there were topics he did not want discussed when at every hint of avoiding a topic or retiring to a private venue, Judge Lovett plainly stated that he wanted everything brought out in the meeting. In fact, Judge Lovett brought out the topic everyone else would only hint around about. You call it an, “admission” when he openly broached the topic of his son being denied the opportunity to show this year. An admission is made under direct questioning. The Judge’s action was more of a ‘nipping in the bud’ and laying it out plain for discussion. What it all boils down to is when the Judge voiced his opinion that the fair has been mismanaged in the past, he was on solid ground. When he voiced his objection to a two hour sign up window for a hundred and fifty plus kids to jump through, he also offered a solution. When he brought out the illegal ‘inter-local’ agreement, he sought counsel, cooperation and offered and arrived at a solution. One last point is your failure to name the source of the phone call advising of a special called meeting and resolution of the matter. Judge Lovett called The Sentinel and left a message to that effect. Isn’t it true that it was him that called you with the same message? Why would you leave that out? What you have done with this story Ms. Erwin, is violate the public trust. You have taken a widely respected paper, the 'legal' paper of San Jacinto County, built on the back of one of the most peer awarded journalists and editors in our state and reduced it to a partisan political rag like the ‘Dam Good Times’. You owe the judge and your readers an apology. We expect better and deserve to see a retraction and a correction of your errors in the next issue. Please, for our community’s best interest, refrain from such actions in the future. Steve Watson
SJC COLDSPRING 7/14/2015
TEXAS RANGER ATTENDS COMMISSIONER’S COURT - JUDGE LOVETT AT MANDATORY FEMA MEETING
With both Judge and one commissioner absent from the meeting, a quorum was present with Judge Pro-Tem, Mark Nettuno presiding. After the Pledge to the American and Texas flag, Pastor Tobey Clemments of Magnolia Baptist Church gave the invocation asking for wisdom, knowledge and provision for us from above. Tax Assessor Collector, Kelly Selmer led the public comments by announcing the soon departure of her Chief Deputy, Ms. Mauney and introduced her new Deputy, Sommer Brinkley to a round of applause. Mack Freeman spoke next addressing the condition of ‘Counts Road’ and the damage and dangers that it poses. Mr. Freeman wondered if the county might could take a loan if they don’t have the money to do repairs. The regular business concluded quickly and the court went into new business. Item 7 was a brief discussion and passing vote to grant permission to bond the county Fire Marshall’s office again this year. Item 8 was some routine insurance renewal processes with TAC (Texas Association of Counties) for county department insurance. Commissioner McCoppin and Nettuno both brought up issues of clarification and completion needed in the documents. The rates remained the same for the most part and the policy has a 10K deductible but offers extensive coverage.
Item 9 was an effort to combine two lots into one in one of the Waterwood Subdivisions. No rep was present so this item was skipped.
Item 10 was a request to release $10K dollars from the seizure fund to commit to bullet proof vests. Combined with other moneys previously committed, the grand total is nearly 26 thousand.
Item 11 New health insurance rates from TAC for the upcoming year. Treasurer Washburn made the presentation outlining the offers to make the court aware of the upcoming contract negotiations with TAC for our county. Not looking for a decision today but rather, Ms. Washburn initiated the discussion on the increases from last year’s rate. Pointing out that she had provided packets to each prior to the meeting, she solicited any input from the court toward a final agreement. The premium per employee went up 4.41% from $784.22 to $818.80 per year. Item 12 was to declare an old 1996 voting machine as salvage. Commissioner Nettuno reminded those in attendance that the question had been asked last time this was brought up if the Historic Commission was interested in retaining the piece for future historic value. No answer was available. It was declared salvage. Item 13 Mr. Joshua Brogden spoke on an upcoming plan for a, “Tabletop exercise” to meet an, “EMPG Grant requirement” this coming Aug 29th. “A point of dispensing in time of a flu epidemic” was to be the theme of the Saturday exercise. “Our Volunteer firefighters have regular jobs”, Brogdon pointed out as the reason for the unusual scheduling on a weekend for county business. Item 14 Somerset Trails subdivision plat approval. Developer presented a check for the process in the amount of $58K dollars. Mr. Bass, our county engineer, pointed out that there was a preliminary problem with the plat. It was stated that the current drainage work was, “not up to a 25 year event, as flat as it is”. Commissioner Bonds inquired if the court’s decision could be to table this item until the full court was here so that the Judge and his fellow commissioner could be in on the discussion and decision. Even with additional culverts, the developer admitted, it would not meet the 25 year event threshold. Engineer Bass reiterated his prior call that an engineered drainage plan, “Be calculated and presented” so exactly what and where the drainage issues are could be determined. Without it, Mr. Bass stated, “Y’all are in the blind, I’m in the blind.” Our Engineer then went on to agree that those drainage plans don’t have to be ‘on the ground’ initially but stood on his constant counsel that the plan be presented before a decision is made. The developer agreed to get their engineer working on it and hoped to be complete in time for the next commissioner’s court. The decision was tabled. Item 15 Combine CAD and Tax Office software. Ms. Selmer appealed to the court that the combination of software would, “Make the office more efficient and save the county postage and paper”. Still on the court’s mind is the software issues with the auditor’s office. “Salesmen are salesmen”, Nettuno offered, “We can’t just change them every other day”. Ms. Selmer reminded us all that it has, “been since 07 that we changed it”. “I know”, Nettuno remarked, then added, “and we just finished paying for it.” When it was noted that the largest portion of the expense in the bid would be for the, “conversion process”, Commissioner Bonds inquired of the Auditor how her conversion was going. “We are at 99 percent”, Ms. Martin assured the court.
Item 16 Private donation of 500 dollars for bullet proof vests for Sheriff’s Department. Bowen, Michlette and Britt offered the money and Chief Shultea was thankful and expressed that Caper’s Department would, “Take all the donations we can get there.” The item was quickly passed.
Item 17 Employee parking around the courthouse. Mayor Eversole spoke on the issue of parking and the wheelchair ramp proposal presented by TxDoT to the City of Coldspring recently. She inquired about designating the corner by the Senior’s resale shop as, “Employee Parking”. She called on all the precincts to pitch in to complete the project. Representing the City Council, Mayor Eversol called on commissioner’s to address the problem of limited parking on the square. Ms Evesole committed the city to a donation of 4 thousand dollars toward the project and called on commissioners to each pitch in a part of their budget to complete the project instead of putting them all on Pct 1 Commissioner McCoppin. Judge Pro-Tem Nettuno assured the City that the commissioner’s worked well together that the issue was the sanctity of ‘Road and Bridge’ funds, not lack of cooperation at a precinct level. Ms Martin clarified for the mayor that the Pct funds were so dedicated and that an alternate portion of the budget would be the place to look for funding. Citing a need to, “Put a pencil to it”, Commissioner McCoppin expressed the court’s willingness to participate and accomplish the project. Mr. Thomas Bond’s asked again about the TxDoT project Ms. Eversol had brought to the floor in her opening comments. She claimed again that it was a single individual “here” that filed a complaint that initiated the project with TxDot. Our Senator’s office was not mentioned by Ms. Eversol as the ‘middleman’ in Commissioner’s Court. The senator’s spokesperson denial of any knowledge or current possession of any record of that event after her statements in city council last week may be the reason. The official TxDot statement was that “Although every complaint is heard and considered in The State’s addressing of ADA access issues, no single complaint is the impetus on a statewide prefunded project.” Ms. Evorsol did not give a name to go with her allegations in this venue either.
Item 18 Pct 3 Constable Sam Houston brought the agenda item up and presented Troy Anderson to the court. “Since sheriff was elected, I lost two deputies”, Houston commentd seeing approval of a deputy for his office. “It says to hire”, Nettuno pointed out. “I don’t know that we can act on this today for a reserve if it says, ‘to hire’ on the agenda” Nettuno stated. Houston attributed the typo to his secretary and stated in court that it was strictly an unpaid reserve position. The commissioner’s opted to “Put their eyes on him” this meeting but table the issue and vote during the next court session. That way the young man would not have to miss work again to present himself to the court. The need for accuracy and clarity of wording for an agenda item that is to be acted on was more important than immediate action so the item was tabled.
Item 19, Bringing electric and water to the impound lot building. A motion was made to “table that till we get some figures”.
Budget amendments were approved and the bills paid and the meeting adjourned.
SJC COLDSPRING 6/22/2015
COMMISSIONER'S COURT FAILS TO MUSTER A QUORUM FOR LAST MINUTE MEETING With the last minute posting for a special called meeting of the Commissioner's Court, scheduled for Monday, June 22, 2015 at 1:30 pm, other committments and duties prevented a quorum from being assembled which stopped the meeting from moving forward. With only one agenda item concerning plans for Emergency Management proceedures, the meeting was not held due to lack of attendance. The regular meeting of Commissioner's Court is scheduled for Tuesday, June 23rd at 9:00 am.
COMMISSIONER’S COURT DISPLAYS DOUBLE STANDARD
With the perfunctory actions taken beseeching the Lord to lead us and preserve our state and our county, San Jacinto County Judge and Commissioner’s Court got right down to business accepting the minutes of the last few meetings. With no one signed up to give any public comments, Judge Lovett brought the process of approving departmental reports to the floor. The San Jacinto County Fire Marshal’s report was lacking and has been consistently lacking this year. Others have missed the deadline occasionally but the Sentinel has not seen one fire marshal report submitted on time yet. That Item was passed till some copies could be made and distributed to commissioners before voting. Item 7 concerning the purchase of some iron ore from a rural property out on Pct 3’s, ‘Alsobrooks Rd’ by the Prct 2 Commissioner, Donny Marrs was opened by Judge Lovett. Property Owner, Thor Olsen, offered to sell the historically high grade iron ore for 4.50 a cubic yard, requiring the county to redistribute the overburden after the ore removal. Pretty standard fare until a 911 address became an issue. “Do you have a physical address on that?” Commissioner Nettuno asked. Commissioner Marrs replied that there was no physical address. “Humph”, commissioner Nettuno sounded, “It would be better if we had a physical, denoting where you are actually supposed to be.” he added. “There isn’t one”, Marrs repeated, as a matter of fact. “Ashley, can you get us one?” Nettuno inquired of the SJC 911 addressing coordinator and then went into making a motion to accept the offer contingent on the rocks, with not a structure anywhere around, being assigned an emergency response physical address. “To protect you” Nettuno assured Marrs. It was passed 5/0. The Sentinel confirmed with the on duty spokesman at the 911 addressing office that there was not another piece of raw land assigned an address in this county. The Sentinel also confirmed with Commissioner Nettuno that he has mined rock from pits with no physical address in the past. Item 8 dealt with expired construction permits purchased by a private property owner that were not used within the valid 1 year life. Part of the money went to the state already and is not refundable there for the commissioners voted down the item. The property owner will have to repurchase his permits. Item 9 was a motion to declare some items as salvage and surplus. Two agenda items dealt with salvage and surplus items to be scrapped or sold by the county. Both of these were passed after discussion and Judge Lovett and a commissioner agreed to physically review the items. Item 10 to approve payment of an annual membership fee to the forestry agency resulted in a motion to table it until a representative could come address the court on exactly what the program did for our county. Item 11 concerned Commissioner Marrs wanting to bring ‘Hay Meadow Ln’ onto the roll as a county maintained road. His proposal was met with exacting questions pertaining to status of the road. Hay Meadow lays in a recorded, platted subdivision known as “Old Langham Plantation” in Marr’s Pct 2. Adjacent to and incorporating one of if not the oldest road in San Jacinto county, The subdivision is part of the historic Old Langham Plantation on the Trinity River. Hay Meadow is completely surrounded by long known and established publicly maintained roads yet was somehow overlooked on the county road map. As it sits, Hay Meadow intersects several county maintained roads. “It is 1.3 miles” Judge Lovett offered, “I drove it”. Commissioner Nettuno took issue with Donny Marrs over the roads credibility as being worthy of court approval for maintinence. He questioned why Marrs only had affidavits from property owners in the area and hadn’t sought the word of prior commissioner Royce Wells. Commissioner Marrs reminded the court that he had brought this item before the court before and was told by Judge Faulkner that all he needed was resident’s affidavits. His presentation today was based on those affidavits. “I’ll be happy to talk to Mr. Wells for you” Nettuno stated after negating the resident’s word in favor of a commissioner who was voted out for the crimes he committed while in office. Acknowledging himself that the addition of ‘Hay Meadow’ would be a “correction” of the problem, Nettuno continued with ‘but’ and raised the objection of opening the county up by believing “Joe Homeonwer” instead of requiring the prior criminal commissioner’s word instead. The very first entry of the Texas Statute regarding the powers and duties of the county commissioner states;
“Sec. 252.005. POWERS AND DUTIES OF COMMISSIONERS COURT. (a) The commissioners court shall adopt a system for laying out, working on, draining, and repairing the public roads.”
Hay Meadow is a dedicated public road but not listed as a county maintained public road for purpose of calculating each Pct’s budget based on TxDot road mileage. The R.O.W.’s are dedicated to public use and have been since it’s platting and recordation in the county clerk files decades ago. By testimony of the sitting, popularly elected commissioner, multiple affidavits of long term residents in the area, and a willing witness in the audience to attest to the validity of the claim of continuing public use necessitating public maintenance, Nettuno continued to voice his opposition to Marrs’ request and disputed the public’s right to ask for a road change. In the same breath, Nettuno was already defending a similar situation Commissioner McCoppin was facing and had posted in a later agenda Item to help some of his constituents. There was misinformation stated that all the residents that touched the road had to agree to the change but the transportation code plainly states:
Sec. 251.052. PUBLIC APPLICATION FOR NEW ROAD OR ROAD CHANGE. (a) The residents of a precinct may apply for a new road or a change in an existing road by presenting to the commissioners court a petition signed by:
(1) eight property owners in the precinct, if the application is to request a new road or that a road be discontinued; or
(2) one property owner in the precinct, if the application is for a change in a road other than discontinuing the road.
In the face of a dozen times more than the legally required documentation, and on a second attempt to correct the error of omission made when the county road map was adopted Marrs has made before the court, Nettuno asked, “how do you make it a county road without documentation?” Nettuno made it clear that he would, “like to see” an affidavit from Royce Wells instead of “Joe Homeowner”. There are several categories of roads in relation to their legal standing:
Sec. 251.001. DEFINITIONS . In this chapter as applied to a public road:
(1) "Abandon" means to relinquish the public's right of way in and use of the road.
(2) "Discontinue" means to discontinue the maintenance of the road.
(3) "Vacate" means to terminate the existence of the road by direct action of the commissioner’s court of a county.
Sec. 251.057. ABANDONMENT OF COUNTY ROAD (a) A county road is abandoned when its use has become so infrequent that one or more adjoining property owners have enclosed the road with a fence continuously for at least 20 years. The abandoned road may be reestablished as a public road only in the manner provided for establishing a new road.
Hay Meadow Ln was dedicated to the public and has stayed in continuous public use since its development and in no way has ever come close to being abandoned by disuse or by official commissioner court decree. Commissioner Nettuno’s reluctance to accept the affidavits of a dozen affected property owners, a 30 year resident live witness in the court room and the testimony of the current sitting commissioner, contrasted by Nettuno’s quick vote to approve the same request for county maintenance for another entire subdivision in McCoppin’s Pct seems to llustrate his double standard. Nettuno’s repeatedly offered to, “Talk to Royce . . ahh, Mr. Wells for you.” while Commissioner Marrs favored the one dozen homeowner affidavits and his own 6 year history of blading the road over anything Wells might have to say. “I was told last time by Judge Faulkner to get this” Marrs stated pointing at the stack of affidavits, “this is exactly what I was told to do and this is what we did.” he concluded. Judge Lovett, who had driven the road and was familiar with its continued public use over the years, acknowledged that the county does need to maintain the road. Nettuno continued to throw up section 258 of the Transportation Code as if there was some block or major hurdle to adding roads to the list of county maintained roads because of that section. “If it wasn’t on this list in 2009 when we approved it. . . . “ Nettuno said then added, “how do you put it on there without documentation?” Both Marrs and Commissioner Bonds pointed out several examples of roads that were omitted in error and added after the map was approved. Bonds went on to reiterate the number one duty of the commissioners was to maintain the roads needed to meet the requirements of the people for access and emergency response. Nettuno stated, “You have to get documentation to show that it was a county road.” Marrs inquired, “How much more documentation do I need?” “Nettuno again reiterated his preference that Marrs get an affidavit from ‘Mr. Wells’.
The Code section 258 states plainly;
(g) The failure to include on a county road map adopted under this section a road in which the county has previously acquired a public interest by purchase, condemnation, dedication, or a court's final judgment of adverse possession does not affect the status of the omitted road.
“It doesn’t need to be a commissioner as far as I am concerned.” Thomas Bonds added. “There is a man who has lived there 29 years who says he has seen on numerous occasions that the county has maintained these roads.” Commissioner McCoppin said, “There is a man here who says he has lived in that subdivision 29 years and he says on numerous occasions he has seen county equipment maintain those roads.” Nettuno countered with, “we used to could do that but we can’t do that now.” Nettuno’s reference would likely be or include the ‘Bruce Wayne Thomas’ prosecution for being in the grey area of the so called, ‘Prescriptive road process’ that was born in the days of common sense, not bureaucracy. The old timers will remember the Republican party DA’s effort of demonizing the democratic commissioner for doing what all four commissioners were doing every day. The basic gist of Nettuno’s argument seemed to be based on three points;
With the absolute easiest way to get on the agenda, one resident of a precinct ask, on a topic that is first in the list of Duties and Powers of Commissioner’s Court, Section 258 IS the public’s mechanism for seeking a road status change. That is all Marrs is seeking is a road status change.
SJC COLDSPRING 6/9/2015 published 6/21/2015
PLENTY QUESTIONS - NOT ENOUGH ANSWERS FOR COMMISSIONERS
Ms. Pat Eversole, Mayor of Coldspring, presented a $50.000.00 check to Sheriff Capers for a new computer equipped patrol car that will allow onsite processing. In the public comments portion of the meeting, Shirley Baker read her speech that she had given to the appraisal board. Comments concerned the computer systems at the appraisal district and tax office that, “don’t talk to each other”. Ms. Baker added, “they do not know what they are doing” Her complaint was that the failure of communication has, “Put us through a year of pure hell” Her last admonition to the court was, “I can’t fix this but you guys can” “coordinate with the appraiser’s office”“I am not the only one”.
Item 5 announcement. Judge Lovett asked if any of the commissioners had any public notice. “I Do” Commissioner Marrs said. “I’m going to let Mr. Watson read a letter I got”. In it the property owners complain of 30 years of paying taxes and homeowners dues and her road is not passable. As elderly herself and her husband a Viet Nam veteran, their lives do depend on deliveries and the UPS driver is not able to get through. After the plea was read aloud, Commissioner McCoppin observed that. “I would just make a comment on that letter that I think all of us have that same situation on certain roads”. “I would think that probably everybody does and I don’t think that is the point of this public or community interest but that is more of a particular interest”. Judge Lovett said. Marrs inquired, “Why? They’re not part of the public judge? “They are a member of the community, yes, I get that” Lovett agreed. Marrs said, “So it is public interest”. Lovett retorted, “Are they having a party down there that nobody can get to or something?” “That is the point of this Item 5 to announce things, not a particular person’s problems.” “On this agenda Item, I think it is a little inappropriate to read that letter.” The business at hand rolled on to;
Item 7 Departmental reports. Commissioner Nettuno voiced his view that departmental report approval should be moved to the second Commissioner Court session in the month because the majority of reports are not submitted in time to allow the commissioners to review them before being asked to approve them. “Yeah we’ve got them”, Nettuno remarked, “but we haven’t had a chance to look at them”. Judge Lovett agreed and the item was skipped until the next meeting.
Item 8 Juneteenth proclamation - Marrs and McCoppin made the motion and second and it passed unanimously. Judge Lovett shared that the SJC Veteran’s Service Officer, Dale Everitt and his help will put the American Flags around the Courthouse in honor of the Juneteenth proclamation this Thursday and they will be taken up Sunday. The Proclamation will be read on Saturday. “That holiday originated in Texas”, Judge Lovett announced, “and we have never flown the flags in honor of it but this year we will.” He concluded.
Item 9 Using Gazeebo for musicians Mr. Davis proposed that Thursday night reservations for using the gazeebo on several dates during the summer. It was passed unanimously.
Item 10 Ms. Nan Kittell, seeking funds for historic markers restoration. “The State Historical Commissioner lists 30 historical markers in our county”, Ms. Kittell began and followed up with a list of over a dozen that needed refurbishing. Ms. Kittell informed the court that the Boy Scouts are willing to do the labor and sought some funding from Commissioners for the materials needed. It passed for 300 dollars to purchase the items. When asked in interview after her comments if any marble monuments were being refurbished, Ms. Kittell responded that, “All of those are in great shape.”
Item 11 -13 Declaration of salvage All Items listed on the agenda were declared as salvage.
Item 14 John Howard reserve deputy for Alvin Wyatt. Approved unanimously
Item 15 Bond approval JP 3’s admin assistant. Approved unanimously
Item 16 Approval of SJC ESD audit for 2014 by Hereford Lynch was a non action item, just a presentation as required per the Local Govt code.
Item 17 Inter local agreement between SJC and SJC ESD building maintenance and support. In an attempt to combine two separate agreements into one for ease of administration, Denise Lewis, secretary for the SJC Emergency Services District made the presentation to Commissioner’s Court. Bringing up the recent changes to the agreements that have been made, the issue of “Firemarshall support” was brought into the discussion. Adding ‘dispatch support’ to the agreement would allow all of the needs; building, maintenance and support to be addressed in one inter local agreement was Ms. Lewis’s message. “In recent years we added ‘Fire Marshall’ support”, she said. “We are not asking for any changes”, Ms. Lewis asserted, “I am just wanting to combine the two inter local agreements so we only have one to keep track of.” Commissioner Nettuno brought up the need for clarification and SJC commissioner’s being protected for bringing county equipment onto the volunteer sites for maintenance. Judge Lovett expressed some reservation in the wording also that he felt could be clarified to explain that the county has an agreement to bring its equipment onto these various properties. Once those particulars were ironed out, a simple statement refocused the discussion on the Fire Marshall. “Explain to me, with my newness here, how the Fire Marshall Works”, Judge Lovett stated. Ms. Lewis explained that the ESD had been approached by the Fire Marshall for help to buy a truck “three or four years ago”. With Commissioner’s Court approval, the ESD helped with a truck. “We actually gave the Fire Marshall’s office a budget”, Ms. Lewis testified, and added that his budget was discontinued the next year because of his failure to attend the budget meetings. It was further stated that the ESD has contributed to training expenses for additional investigators.
What started as a conversation questioning his budget evolved into a discussion of the particular practices, liabilities the county has regarding the office of Fire Marshall and his actions. “While we are talking about the Fire Marshall, I may as well bring it up”, Commissioner Nettuno stated. Commenting that he had heard the plural phrase, “fire marshalls” used in the hall, Nettuno stated for the record that the court had only ever approved one. As the men commented on his standing and questioned different understandings related to the office, the inquiry was redirected to Ms. Lewis. She summed up the situation by pointing out that if the position of SJC Fire Marshall was taken from a ‘volunteer’ status to being under the control of the Emergency Services District, there were many regulations and laws that would go into effect. Commissioner McCoppin brought up the population requirement of a million for the ESD to be automatically preside over the office of Fire Marshall. The Fire Marshall’s authority to issue citations came up but was not resolved, needing more investigation. As an unexpected tangent discussion of a routine ESD agenda item, there were more questions than answers all the way around. Nettuno reiterated the county’s liability exposure with undocumented ‘authority’ being claimed. Vehicle insurance was mentioned specifically. Ms. Lewis was able to confirm that there were permits being issued by these guys because those were being reported. “There are fees being charged”, Ms Lewis stated. “Where are they going?” Judge Lovett asked immediately. “I have no idea”, Ms Lewis confessed. She offered no knowledge of the financial side of the transaction other than to confirm that “money is being transferred” and equated it to the trash stickers that need to have a record of them. “I don’t know that we ever set forth any fees” Commissioner Nettuno stated. Ms Lewis confirmed that fees were being charged. From his standing room only corner, Chief Shultea asked the court, “Has the court set forth any fees”, “Has the ESD set forth any fees?” with a no to each question. Commissioner McCoppin raised the issue of pending legislation that would give a county of less than a million population, authority to adopt a fire code. Sheriff Capers commented that the county needed to adopt a fire code to make it all legal. “We have a Fire Marshall out charging businesses fees, and there is no accounting where that money is going to.” Sheriff Capers observed. Commissioner Marrs asked if there were any mileage or expense reports being turned in and was assured none were by Auditor Carole Martin. It was confirmed that the Fire Marshall was getting fuel at the county precinct barn. Commissioner Bonds observed that their needed to be a paper trail if he is charging fees. Ms. Lewis pointed out that he was turning in a report to the ESD board on a monthly basis regarding permits issued. “That doesn’t show up on the reports we get”, Commissioner Bonds asserted and Nettuno added a quick, “If we get one” to which the court acknowledged that a lack of reports has been the case in the past. When it was brought up in open court that there was an incident where the Fire Marshall had a vehicle towed off of a county road with no paperwork, a DPS scene, it was offered as a questionable act. “Who pays for that tow” one commissioner asked, “the sheriff’s department?”. Sheriff Capers, in no uncertain terms, assured the court that the Fire Marshall did NOT work for him. Questions arose concerning the differences in the reports that were submitted to the ESD board and Commissioner’s Court with an assurance that they would be compared and contrasted soon. “The Fire Marshall is not under the ESD no way, no shape, no form”, Ms. Lewis assured the court. “The rules and regulations that monitor the Fire Marshall’s office have zero to do with the ESD, He’s not under us at all” Ms. Lewis made plain. “We don’t police them”, she summarized. Judge Lovett questioned if the ESD would be able to contribute some funding for a paid position if he Fire Marshall was brought in under the Sheriff’s Department. Sheriff Capers interceded at this point in the discussion and requested that they take that issue into executive session to discuss. Commissioner Marrs asked if the permits were going through the SJC Permit office to which he was assured they were not going through any office. “So he writes the tickets and collects the fees”, Judge Lovett realized out loud. “Maybe we should pull his truck until we start getting a report”, Commissioner Nettuno stated. “I think we need to take his vehicle right now”, Commissioner Marrs stated. “He had some vehicles donated”, Ms. Lewis added, “I do know that.” Executive session was brought up again as the proper venue to pursue these questions. Once that dust settled a bit, the commissioners backed up and voted for the motion to approve the inter local agreement between them and the ESD. As they discussed specific wording for the contract, Ms Gwen Irwin offered “wouldn’t the word ‘maintenance’ work to cover all that?” in reference to the clarification the commissioners were seeking. As each of them continued to offer specifics, Commissioner Bonds reminded the judge that there were no public comments in this portion of the meeting. As that motion passed, Judge Lovett brought the next agenda Item to the floor.
Item 18 New Tax office software tabled Item pulled by request.
Item 19 Bank Deposit contract Peoples State Bank had decided not to offer free checking any longer and cut the interest rate paid to the county in half. With the existing contract in effect until July 10th, Judge Lovett wondered why they were lowing interest rates. With requirement that the bank ‘pledge funds’ to cover the amount of the County’s deposits, the bank does not like to do that. Ms Martin offered bleak expectations of finding another bank to take the business, much less offer any better terms. The motion was tabled to give the Treasurer opportunity to review the contract.
Item 20 Proposal to refinance motor grader balloon note through the General Fund was approved. The court suspended the regular meeting and went into;
Judge Lovett reconvened the regular session and asked if there was any motions to be brought before the court. Commissioner Marrs made the motion to suspend the SJC Fire Marshall’s duties and call in all county equipment, vehicles and funds effectively immediately. Bonds seconded the motion, there was no discussion and the motion carried 5/0.
Commissioners paid the bills and adjorned.
COMMISSIONERS COURT PRESSES ISSUES
Tuesday’s meeting of the SJC Commissioner’s court, after pledges and prayer offered a moment of silence as two were remembered in their recent passing. Ms. Margaret Himes Dorman, a vocal and active participant in our political process and Mr. Curtis Johnson, a retired employee of Pct 4 both passed on the 23rd. With that, Judge Lovett called for public comments and heard from Ms. Gayle Erwin with her “Chamber of Commerce hat” on, invite the community to participate in a ‘very elegant’ luncheon to honor administrative assistants. Next up was Mr. Lou Rogers imploring the court to “Please make them open meetings and I’d like to have public meetings on the Flood Plain changes” that were discussed during the last Commissioner’s Court session. Item 5 saw the court approve the Texas Association of Counties (TAC) insurance with expanded coverage in the package that will include a ‘cyber liability coverage’ policy to address the growing risk the county faces from the virtual environment. This is at no additional cost to the county as a member of the ‘pool’ of counties that participate. Item 6 was a quick and routine bond approval for Kimberly Wooly of the auditor’s office and Tom Yates, investigator for the DA. Item 7 dealt with the ‘overgrown’ shrubs blocking The Veterans Memorial on the front lawn at the southwest corner of the courthouse. One is a Holly and the other is a Japanese Magnolia. According to spokesperson, Nan, the holly needs to be cut off at the roots and the Japanese Magnolia trimmed to make it grow as a tree instead of a shrub. Item 8 was voted to approve the implementation of an ‘Emergency Operation’ set up drill. Item 9 resulted in the approval of an Emergency Services District Board to form a ‘Radio Communications Committee’ as proposed in the last meeting. That brought the meeting to Item 10 on the agenda to amend the training for Tyler Technologies financial software. Commissioner Ray McCoppin pointed out that despite the approval for funding the training for our county personnel in the last court session, Tyler Technologies is ‘booked’ all the way into September or October of this year. Citing the need for training, McCoppin brought forth the idea of hiring a qualified ‘third party’ person to come and engage in training our people. Auditor Martin spoke to the issue at McCoppin’s request and spoke of a possible candidate but had no names yet from Tyler Technologies. According to Martin, our software is the newest version and most of the counties have not upgraded to the current version. Martin stated, “We did not get any training on the new budget process, I mean we can muddle through it like we always have but I would really like to get it correct the first time we go through it.” According to Martin, the third party training may be the only solution to get the immediate training needed by Treasurer Washburn and the auditor’s office. Commissioner Marrs promoted getting a CPA for the outside training. McCoppin noted that Tyler is the software company and not an accounting firm. Auditor Martin clarified with, “The problem is that Tyler knows the software inside out but if they don’t know how it affect our financials, they can give us the wrong answer without even knowing it.” She went on to say that the third party trainer didn’t necessarily need to be a CPA but just someone familiar with the software and accounting practices. The court amended the prior decision to give the county flexibility to hire either/or for training with the monies set aside for the purpose. As the lone dissenter, Commissioner Marrs voted against the measure. Item 11 was just for discussion and announcement regarding public hearings for the Competitive Housing Tax Credit Applications, of which the Hillside Terrace application is pending. Item 12 was a quick decision by the court to refund some road and bridge fees to Katy Christensen and Keithon Brooks. There was no executive session. Item 18 came to the floor for reimbursement of constable deputy Training. It was carried 5/0. Item 19 was for opportunity for public announcements. Little League fund raiser kickoff was announced. Auditor Martin brought up a lot of chairs that needs to be declared surplus to be disposed of. Item 16 regarding budget amendments was brought up. Mark Nettuno listed the items and amounts of each and they were approved. Item 17 was the paying of claims they were paid but the ensuing discussion regarding re labeling or moving line items to more accurately describe expenses brought up the objections Commissioner Marrs had. “So are we amending the budget?” Marrs asked. “Not really”, Martin stated, “It is just account number definitons and nothing was added.” Marrs added, “I know in my budget I don’t have a line item for that acct number”. McCoppin reiterated his objection to ‘lumping’ bills together without an adequate description of each because it hinders the court’s ability to ferret out unneeded expenses to do away with. Noting a lot of high phone bills that included DSL lines that were no longer needed, his hope was to better identify expenses in the next budget. “The line item is wrong so we are still amending the budget no matter how you do it.” Commissioner Marrs stated. In response to Kimberly Wooly shaking her head, ‘no’, Marrs stated, “You can shake your head all you want but we are still amending the budget”. McCoppin noted that there was indeed a new line item being added. “It is the same money, it is just a different definition”, auditor Martin added. “Is the line item in that book (budget) right there?” Marrs asked. “No” was Martin’s reply. “If we are paying something that is not in our budget, how is that not amending the budget?” Marrs inquired. More discussion showed that the transition from one software to the new software was creating issues with line items and descriptions. McCoppin suggested that they print out a new, “Chart of Accounts” and bring it to the court for approval. Martin suggested a ‘blanket’ budget amendment to address the issues raised in the next court session. Several agreed that addressing the issues in the new budget was going to be necessary. In the end the motion was withdrawn and restated to include the corrections necessary. It was voted 5/0. That wrapped up the meeting with a motion to adjourn.
COMMISSIONER AND AUDITOR ‘SPARK’ OVER BUDGET ISSUES
San Jacinto County Commissioners Court met Monday in a special called meeting with five new business items on the agenda and addendum to the agenda as duly posted on the Courthouse steps. When Judge John Lovett finished leading us in the pledges and prayer for the meeting, Commissioner Marrs asked that those present remember Ms. Margaret Himes Dorman in their prayers as she battles health issues. After that announcement, Judge Lovett launched a short but loaded agenda into the public record by asking for public comments. None were brought forth so Item 5 came to the floor concerning a tower usage agreement between the Sheriff’s Dept and Walker County Cable. With a fee of 200 dollars per month, the new equipment will enhance the radio reception for the Sheriff’s Dept. It along with several other key locations are giving the county better overall coverage. March 31st is the deadline to complete a two year radio project. This particular tower is near Waterwood in the north end of the county. “The engineer for Walker Co Cable fell ill and had a death in the family is why this contract is so late”, Chief Shultea told the court, “and we are already scheduled to start hanging equipment tomorrow so we really need this today”. Long known as a radio “dead zone” in the north end of the county, the new equipment will eliminate that problem for the Sheriff’s Dept. “I’ve been asked to join the ESD’s Radio Commission”, Chief shared, “and we are going to be discussing some efforts to get them up and running in the same condition we are.” Judge Lovett encouraged the men from the various departments and committees to work toward a goal of all the emergency responders working together and to consolidate their radio efforts. Chief Shultea spoke to the issue of the varied environmental impact and other studies having to be done for each application and that his effort has been to get those requirements consolidated. Dale Everitt, responded to Judges questions by summing up that it seems there is “one desk at FCC for the Sheriff Radio, another desk for fire departments” and summed up that it had been going on two years that he knew of but deferred to Lou Rogers for comment. As the person who has attended all the meetings, Lou Rogers stated, “It has been going on a lot longer than that.” A few more comments from Ray McCoppin bringing the discussion back to the particular topic of discussion lead to a motion and unanimous vote to approve funding the new contract cost. Item 6 concerning update and changes to the Flood Damage Prevention Ordinance and to designate the Flood Plain Administrator for the county ended up being divided into the two issues. Commissioner McCoppin balked at some language in the revision that contained the phrase, “shall be liberally construed in favor of the governing body”. McCoppin expressed his reservation at using language that implied the infallibility of government. “I’d like to see that changed” he add. That portion was tabled for further review by the policy committee and Judy Eaton was removed as the last ‘by name’ designee and the change now designates the ‘911 Administrator’ as the Flood Plain Coordinator. That motion passed unanimously. Item 7 concerned implementing some changes to the county’s policy regarding how time and comp time are accrued and paid. The old system hog tied department administrators into a system that could cause a large buildup of comp time that could not be burned off. Now the county has adopted a policy that leaves each department head in a position to handle the accrual and usage of comp time in a way where it can be managed more easily. Number 18 on the policy was suspended for 6 mos to allow the Sheriff’s Dept to burn off accrued comp time and eliminated number nine on county policy that allowed accrued comp time to be paid in a lump sum at the end of the year if the department had the available funds and the employee wanted to. The vote was unanimous. Item 8 was regarding the purchase of additional training hours from the Tyler software company that manages all the financial transactions for the county. The proposal addresses the need for further group training on the software for the auditor’s staff, treasurer and each commissioner’s secretary to help them learn the program better. “Their rate works out to about a thousand dollars a day” Judge Lovett noted. “It is a hundred and twenty five dollars an hour” auditor Martin clarified. She also noted that, “If they come on site, we have their travel and housing in addition to that.” Ms. Martin outlined the three options the county had. Go there, bring them here or use an over the phone teleconference type setting. “Naaahhh”, Commissioner Marrs verbalized on the teleconference idea. Ms. Martin went into detail on the teleconference Idea touting the benefits to it. “The Judge and the Sheriff’s office need the program on their computers too” Commissioner Nettuno offered, “because they do just as much purchasing as we do.” He went on to say that we need to ‘get them down here’ if it takes two months, make a list of questions and then bombard them. “Use our time wisely” Nettuno added. “The judge is connected”, Ms Martin informed the court, “we connected him last week” she added and assured that another license could be obtained to add the Sheriff’s department to the network. Commissioner McCoppin asked about the support that came with the purchase of the software. “If we have an issue like the Treasurer’s report that was wrong, we should be able to call and ask why that report isn’t right.” “We are utilizing their help”, Ms Martin said, “and your ladies can do the same thing.” She explained that there was an 800 number and that their tech support staff would even “take over your computer” to show you step by step. “Is that for the life of the product?” Judge Lovett asked, “or is there an hourly cap?” Ms. Martin assured him that it is a lifetime support for the product. “Amanda and I are on the phone on a daily basis getting it tweaked to where we can finish up what we need to finish up.” Judge Lovett brought the conversation around to the budget constraints. “My best guess is that we need ten days additional training” Lovett observed, “Where in the budget would that money come from?” When he mentioned taking the money out of the auditor’s budget, it was met with a chuckle from some. “We have enough for at least three days of training in the budget that we have not spent on the package.” Auditor Martin responded. “I thought we had more than that”, Nettuno remarked. Ms Martin did reveal that she had gotten a credit from the software company due to their failure to complete the conversion. “Why didn’t they do the conversion?” Marrs asked? “They couldn’t do it”, Ms Martin explained, “We couldn't get our files in Hill Country (old software used) to where they could read them.” Ms. Martin clarified. “We have somewhere between three and four thousand dollars left out there” Ms. Martin said, “probably closer to four” she admitted. “We need another five or six thousand”, Judge Lovett observed. “where could that come from?” Ms Martin stated that they would have to find some ‘line items’ to scrape together. “I am not taking my health insurance”, Judge Lovett offered, “that is seven or eight thousand dollars of the judge’s budget I would give up.” he said, “although I wanted to use some of that for training and travel because very little was budgeted for it last year” he added. It was determined that there was no contingency fund for training and that other line items would be diverted. Chief Shultea questioned exactly what the software did and was told that it is ‘real time’ finances that would allow him to see exactly what the financial status was of his dept. “We have had a good relationship with the Auditor’s office in that regard.” He said, “and if it will save some money, I am ok with continuing with that but it is up to the Sheriff.” Commissioner Marrs noted outloud, “So we need six thousand dollars” to which Martin quickly said “No”. Marrs continued, “We need a thousand for the sheriff’s software license and five thousand for the training. Five and one makes six, correct?” he directed at Ms. Martin. “Yes” she replied. Commissioner Nettuno was pouring over the budget searching for money. “Wouldn’t that be considered ‘contracted services’”, Nettuno asked and Ms Martin replied to the affirmative. “We have five thousand sitting there.” Nettuno noted, “line 409”. Another miscellaneous services line contained several thousand and between them it was noted that there should be enough money to cover the training. Judge Lovett shared that a conversation with a representative from the software company had determined that the San Jacinto county install was their ‘worst experience ever’. Ms. Martin told the court that there were several counties out there that she knew of who were having the same issues. According to Ms. Martin, four or five other counties had claimed that their conversion was the worst experience of their lives. “It is powerful and has many choices but we haven’t had sufficient training to utilize them.” Ms. Martin added. “I have been well satisfied with their help line.” Ms. Martin assured the court. The commissioners and judge agree that the funds located would be enough to cover the expense and Ms. Martin quickly added, “I would like to do a purchase order to encumber those funds so they don’t get spent somewhere else.” McCoppin reiterated that he wanted to make sure that training time was not spent resolving issues that fell under tech support. Commissioner Marrs and Nettuno encourage Chief Shultea to get on board with the training and use of the system noting the ‘realtime’ detail that was available at your fingertips without having to ask the auditor’s office. “I will get with the Sheriff when I get back to the office because that will be his decision.” Chief said. More detail discussion on budget line items led to a motion by Nettuno to purchase ten training days. “I don’t want to wipe out these other accounts” Nettuno remarked. He noted that portions of each would add up to the amount needed and leave some in each account. ‘Is there a second to that motion?” Judge Lovett asked. After a brief silence, Commissioner Bonds seconded the motion and the vote was 3/2 with Marrs and McCoppin voting no. Item 9 came to the floor for discussion on accepting a donation from Mr. Jim Morris for purchasing rock for the old ‘Staley Stage Rd West’ in Precinct 4. “He poured some concrete last week and tore the road up so I went to visit him and he wanted to do more than repair the road” Commissioner Nettuno stated, “so he wrote me a check for 15 thousand dollars to put rock on that road”. Commissioner Marrs made the motion to accept the donation and it passed 5/0. The court moved into executive session even though it was not on the agenda. Back in regular session, Judge noted that nothing came out of executive session that required a vote so the meeting was adjourned. In and interview after the meeting, The Sentinel asked Commissioner Marrs why he voted no on the training money for the software. “Because I think it should have all come out of the Auditor’s budget” was his reply.
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