By Bill Peterson
The so-called Court of Public Opinion rarely makes its findings as clear as District Judge Robert Pfeuffer late last month in the matter of Nick Ramus vs. Hays County.
We’ll see how the Court of Pubic Opinion reacts to this one, because public opinion has a unique opportunity to express itself in November.
Ramus is a San Marcos caterer and restaurateur who has fought the county for years over his septic permit. A two-acre property on Old Bastrop Highway, which Ramus hopes to open as Texas Heritage Kitchen, was platted in 1977 with a 1,400-gallon septic system. When the county tightened its septic regulations under new development regulations in 1997, Ramus argued that his On-Site Septic Facility (OSSF) permit should be grandfathered under the old regulations.
In 2005, the county granted Ramus his permit. But the new court revoked that permit in April 2007. The revocation raised eyebrows, considering that it was a pet issue of County Judge Liz Sumter’s political allies. Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos) and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs) voted with Sumter in a 3-2 decision.
Meanwhile, the two minority commissioners were fierce in their opposition. Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) called the revocation “un-American,” while Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) said he believed the county put itself on shaky legal ground.
The matter further rankled Barton when a constituent of his, Florinda Martinez, needed a variance in February so she could install a septic system on her residential property, which hadn’t been properly platted. As if to argue for consistency with their vote on Ramus, the same court majority voted to decline the variance for Martinez. An exasperated Barton complained that the court sold out a little old lady over politics.
Last June, Ramus sued the county, arguing that commissioners acted illegally by revoking his permit. On March 26, Pfeuffer issued his ruling in a one-page letter to the attorneys for both sides, granting the summary judgment for Ramus.
The county, which already has spent a mountain on legal fees, could appeal. But now it is an overtly political issue. Ramus filed in early January, without opposition, to run for Ingalsbe’s seat on the Republican ticket. Ramus will certainly campaign against Ingalsbe on the basis of her vote that the district court over-turned.
But even if Ramus is right on this one, according to the district court, it remains to be seen how the Court of Public Opinion will respond through the course of this campaign. Ingalsbe is a three-term commissioner with a stable political organization. Ramus is a relative unknown.
The district court has spoken. Perhaps, an appellate court will speak on the matter later. And, perhaps, the Court of Public Opinion, speaking through election results, won’t agree with either one.Email | Print