San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

January 22nd, 2008
Sumter’s double whammy

Editor at Large

SAN MARCOS – Hays County Judge Liz Sumter took a double whammy at Tuesday morning’s meeting of the commissioners court over her recusal from discussing or voting on a controversial parks issue.

Sumter bowed out of the debate concerning $1.6 million to fund infrastructure for football fields at the Village in San Marcos, a complex of social service agencies at Reimer Avenue and Hunter Road. Sumter cited her participation on a social services board with an interest in the Village, then handed the gavel to Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford as she started walking off the bench.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton immediately objected, arguing first that courthouse tradition requires that the gavel be passed to the court’s senior member when the judge isn’t present to preside. That would be Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe.

Sumter insisted that Ford would preside and suggested a five-minute break to discuss the matter with Barton in her office. But Barton refused the meeting, then motioned that the court observe its tradition and give the gavel to Ingalsbe. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley seconded and Ingalsbe took the gavel after voting with Barton and Conley in a 3-1 split, with only Ford dissenting.

Next, Barton challenged Sumter’s decision to recuse herself, saying not only that it was unnecessary, but that it called for a standard that no legislator could meet, since legislators routinely serve on boards for non-profits and quasi-governmental agencies. Barton said it would be absurd to suspect that Sumter would recuse herself from road votes just because she sits on the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).

Furthermore, the court’s special legal counsel, Mark Kennedy, said no requirement exists for court members to recuse themselves because of their service to non-profit groups.

Later, the commissioners approved the expenditure to help the San Marcos Police Athletic League open its youth football program in time for the fall season.

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