The County Commissioners’ Court met Tuesday morning to swear in newly appointed Sheriff Tommy Ratliff and deal with matters ranging from the replacement of a new judicial vacancy to economic development in the greater San Marcos area.
A former Texas Ranger, Ratliff was appointed by the Commissioners’ Court to fill the vacancy created by the death of Sheriff Allen Bridges earlier this month. Commissioner Will Conley, who alone had voted on Monday against Ratliff’s appointment, assured the Court that his absence from the new sheriff’s swearing-in was the result of personal matters and not an act of protest. After the meeting, Commissioner Jeff Barton said he had his own reservations about selecting someone outside the Hays County Sheriff’s Department, but he admitted Ratliff was on his “internal shortlist.”
“I know Tommy Ratliff is up to the challenge of mending the wounds of the process and more importantly, helping people grieve and recover from the loss of a beloved sheriff and move on,” said Barton. “I’m excited about having Tommy on board, and I really look forward to working with him.”
One item on the Court’s agenda that morning involved the appointment of a “small city mayor” as a representative to the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO).
“I moved forward and talked with Gloria Whitehead of the city of Woodcreek, and asked if she would be interested in serving as our small city representative,” said Judge Liz Sumter in her introduction to the agenda item. The current small city representative is Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez.
After Sumter proposed a motion that Whitehead be appointed the small city representative, there was a lengthy pause as she waited for another commissioner to second the motion. Sumter looked around and asked, “There’s no second?” After Ford said, “I’ll second this motion,” Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe brought forth news that stopped the Court in its tracks.
“Judge, let me just first say, I…received an e-mail this morning from Mayor Mike Gonzalez,” said Ingalsbe. “There’s five other mayors…which all have recommended that Mike be reappointed.”
“Are there signatures?” asked Sumter.
“There are just names — (Gonzalez) confirmed that he spoke to each one of them,” said Ingalsbe.
“I didn’t realize that was our process,” said Sumter. “I knew that Mayor Gonzalez…took over from Mayor Trube because Mayor Trube resigned early…but I didn’t recall from the first nomination that we’d asked the cities to get together to decide.”
Sumter said if the original appointment policy involved Hays mayors choosing a representative, then “it would be good to get a consensus among all 11 mayors, not just six.” The item was therefore pulled from the agenda.
Commissioner Barton sponsored an agenda item involving the possible appointment of 10 members to a citizen committee that would be tasked with finding a location for a shooting sports complex. Barton spearheaded an effort earlier in the year to impose restrictions on firearms discharges on small lots after the killing of seven-year-old Daniel Galicia by Jose Barrera Espitia. Espitia was allegedly shooting at targets in his yard when a bullet from his gun struck Galicia about 200 yards away.
“As we look at our parks and recreation space on moving forward, we want the possibility of incorporating some kind of cheap activities in that, and finally (there is) the issue of public safety — there was a lot of discussion here in the court about how to find safe outlets for both target shooting and sport shooting after the death of Daniel Galicia,” said Barton. “One way to accomplish all those goals, it seems, is to get a plan properly laid out with the right stakeholders at the table so we have a place for citizens to go.”
Steve Marlow of the Texas Shooting Sports Complex nonprofit organization, testified before the commissioners.
“We do want to get the task force operating as quickly as possible,” said Marlow. “Our anchor grant, which would be through Texas Parks and Wildlife, is probably the one we’re most concerned about. To take advantage of the (fiscal year 2010) money, we would need to be able to say we selected a piece of property by June.”
Marlow said the $1.5 million grant necessary to establish the shooting facility could be provided in phases over four years. He said the project would have to be evaluated by Texas Parks and Wildlife, the County engineer for infrastructure items. The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would have to be consulted if the proposed site was in the aquifer recharge zone.
Barton proposed that he and Conley put together a charter governing the operations of the task force, to be presented to the Court on the January 13. Barton proposed five “active participants” in the Texas Shooting Sports Complex nonprofit group to be appointed to the task force: Steve Marlow, Thomas Mijares, J.B. Kolodzey, Herman Waters and Willy Ribbs. Barton asked his fellow commissioners to each suggest one person for appointment to the task force.
“If you could have those to my office by Jan 6, I will include them in the packets, but if not –”
He broke off abruptly as Judge Sumter offered him a stack of paper constituting her recommendation.
“Thank you, Judge,” said Barton, to the general amusement of the chamber.
“And if not,” Barton continued, “just come prepared on the thirteenth.”
Barton made a motion to appoint the five men to the task force, which Conley seconded. The motion passed unanimously.
Director of Economic Development for San Marcos Amy Madison gave a presentation in which she asked the commissioners to pledge $25,000 of Hays residents’ income to fund a strategic plan for economic development in the greater San Marcos area. The plan would be coordinated by Economic Development San Marcos (EDSM), which, according to its website, “is a public-private partnership working to enhance, diversify and build on the San Marcos area economy.” EDSM’s board of directors include Mayor Susan Narvaiz, San Marcos City Manager Rick Menchaca, San Marcos Chamber of Commerce President Phyllis Snodgrass, and six individuals representing corporate CEOs or senior management staff. Two citizen-at-large positions are occupied by Judy Allen and Scott Gregson, the latter of whom is a co-owner of Newstreamz.com.
Madison said the EDSM economic development plan would be implemented in early February.
“For the first time ever, we are putting together a comprehensive economic development plan,” said Madison. “The plan is very different from anything that’s ever been done before.”
According to an EDSM proposal document, the economic development study will involve “meetings, presentations and community events with various officials and citizens; identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and challenges; identifying target industries and potential development areas; reviewing existing research, city and stakeholder master plans, regional strategic plans, and existing relevant programs; preparing and presenting the final report to include recommendations to attract target industries through collaboration and marketing; and to identify the best way to organize, fund and operate a superior city-wide economic development program.”
Conley made a motion for the County to partner with EDSM on the comprehensive economic development plan. The motion passed unanimously.
“I know Commissioner Ingalsbe and I have met and talked about this issue, and it feels like it’s the right direction, and that the County should be a participant,” said Conley.
Barton introduced an agenda item involving disability benefits for county employee Terri Johnson, and policies regarding medical disability benefits and retirement.
“There is some room for interpretation, ambiguity, in our personnel policies about disability retirement,” said Barton. “Terri Johnson meets all of our criteria for disability retirement. Because she does not also meet our criteria for this — what I’ll call ‘full retirement benefits,’ the cost of her insurance is dramatically different. It’s $644 a month instead of approximately $150 a month. And that raises some questions about her case individually, but it also raises some questions about our broader disability policy — and that’s what I really want to bring to the court’s attention.”
Barton said Hays employees meeting the criteria for retirement should be eligible for the $150 premium
“From my perspective, if we’re saying that you’re eligible for county insurance benefits, we probably ought to say that you’re eligible for insurance benefits when you retire. If the threshold’s going to be 30 hours to get insurance from the county, then that’s a reasonable threshold to set for insurance once you retire as well.”
After Sumter asked Johnson’s husband, a Hays County employee, whether he could add his wife to his insurance, Barton interrupted, reminding the Court that the Johnsons were “not anxious” to answer questions posed directly to them. He spoke for the Johnsons, saying that Terri could be added to her husband’s insurance, but that she did not wish to do so as it would entail an undue degree of dependence and lack of security — to which Sumter, smiling, said, “I certainly understand that point of view.”
Barton said he “felt strongly that any person should have the right to have a final appeal directly to the Commissioners’ Court,” to which Judge Sumter nodded her agreement.
“I will move that we ask the treasurer…to work up guidelines based on this premise: that we allow anyone who is determined to have a medical disability between now and the time that the insurance committee takes this issue up, and who also meets at least eight years…of continuous, full time service with Hays County, to be eligible for our premium insurance retirement benefits — the same benefits that are available to those who retire under the rule of 75. And based on the A&M rule, which is one month for each year of service,” said Barton. “This would be a policy that would expire as soon as the insurance committee has deliberated the issue and either confirmed the current policy or amended the current policy.”
Sumter advised the insurance committee to meet sooner if it needed to clear up policy ambiguities, and expressed her opposition to making an exception for Johnson.
“I certainly understand your situation, I certainly understand the need for independence, but there is an alternative and in my mind it is not very much more expensive than the $150 stop-gap measure, and I absolutely do believe in consistency,” said Sumter to Johnson.
Barton pointed out that it was “by happenstance” that Johnson’s spouse works for Hays County, and asked the Court to address the broader policy issue. Barton’s motion passed, with Conley and Ford adding their support and Ingalsbe and Sumter voting “no.”
by Sean Batura