Top o’ the courthouse

Posted on 15. Mar, 2012 by

Monday’s 23-item commissioners’ court agenda looked innocent enough. The action items seemed simple and straightforward, nothing controversial. It was spring break for local schools, and therefore, all was quiet around the courthouse, too. So imagine my surprise when I walked into the third-floor conference room and found it packed with people.

Trust me when I tell you, people do not usually attend commissioners meetings for fun. It just doesn’t happen. Their semi-monthly gatherings draw guests only when they’re addressing a controversial topic. I quickly reviewed the agenda. I didn’t see anything.

Before I could consult with my “neighbors” seated along one wall, Tracy Smith handed me a letter that she and her husband sent to County Judge Bill McElhaney last week and that she had given to every commissioner prior to the meeting. She also gave me a copy of a letter from Mark York, Democratic Party Chair.

They are concerned that Commissioner Terry Ross has not already been charged or indicted for theft for allegedly using county money to purchase materials to build a playhouse for his grandchildren. They are also concerned that other county officials might not be doing everything they can to push the process forward and might be trying to intentionally delay the process since it’s an election year. (This is a simplified explanation of their worries, but for the record, I have not found any evidence to support their concerns. They also plan to discuss this at the meeting of the Wise County Democrats at 7 p.m. Monday at the courthouse in Decatur.)

Anyway … I decided that this was why ALL those people were at the meeting, in support of this concern. It was beginning to make sense. But after the meeting, as I worked my way around the room introducing myself, it seemed that a few of the people were actually there for different reasons — one had a question about taxes, one was there in support of firefighters, etc.

This may not be particularly show-stopping, but in light of the controversy surrounding Ross, anything out of the ordinary raises eyebrows and makes people wonder what’s going on — even extra people at the meeting.

Perhaps the MOST eye-raising moment was when Ross made the motion to seek a new outside auditor. I would say most of the crowd fought hard to keep their chins from hitting the table. Although the outside auditor has nothing to do with this particular investigation, it was poor timing on Ross’ part and could easily lead people to jump to conclusions.

What I thought was going to be a simple meeting quickly became complicated with underlying feelings of surprise and distrust.

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My favorite part of any commissioners’ meeting is the cover of Tom Goode’s reports. His comic relief is a welcome reprieve from regular business, and he didn’t disappoint this month.

 

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