Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), left, and Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley), right, are likely to face off in the Democratic primary for judge next March.
By SEAN WARDWELL
A recent meeting of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) has led to a war of words between Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) and County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley).
A rocky relationship between Sumter and Barton has characterized the commissioners court for more than two years, almost from the very start of their present terms, which began in January 2007 after each won election in November 2006. Now, it appears the voters will decide between them as they face off in the Democratic primary for county judge next March.
Sumter will officially kick off her re-election campaign at an event on June 21 in Wimberley. As Sumter’s presumed challenger, Barton faces a tricker road, for he would have to step down from his seat to run for judge. Though political observers take Barton’s candidacy for judge as a near given, he has not announced that intention. He could announce it no later than the filing deadline in early January.
Barton issued a press release on June 9 to outline several projects that received funding through CAMPO, including an overpass in Buda, safety lanes in San Marcos and street striping in Kyle.
In the same release, Barton insinuated that Sumter, who sits on the CAMPO board, was remiss in her responsibilities by being late to what he deemed a “crucial workshop.” Barton, a CAMPO vice president in the 1990s, now serves as an alternate to the CAMPO board.
Said Barton’s press release, in regard to a workshop concerning funding for State Highway (SH) 45 Southwest:
“(Barton) noted that the county was well served by its mayors on the CAMPO board, Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez and San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz, both of whom attended the crucial workshop session of CAMPO before the regular meeting. It was at the workshop where CAMPO members hammered out priorities for funding and narrowed the field. County Judge Liz Sumter, who sits on the board, did not attend the workshop session and was an hour late to the follow-up meeting at 5 p.m. before leaving town for a conference on South Padre.”
Sumter, along with Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) and Precinct 4 Commissioner Karen Ford (D-Dripping Springs), attended the annual South Texas Judges and Commissioners Association Conference. Ingalsbe is the outgoing president of the association. Their attendance at the conference caused the cancellation of last week’s commissioners court meeting.
Barton was asked by CAMPO Chairman State Senator Kirk Watson (D-14) to serve on a special committee dealing with SH45, and presented a report at a June 8 workshop.
Sumter took issue with Barton’s statement.
“Barton’s assertion that I missed the ‘crucial workshop’ is a blatantly false statement and his motives for these false statements and others makes me wonder about his true reason for his press release and his credibility,” Sumter said in an email to Newstreamz.
Continued Sumter, “On Monday, June 8th I attended the CAMPO board meeting. I was there to hear all of the citizens comments and participate in discussion and vote on every agenda item, including the 29 million dollar stimulus money projects. I was not there to hear the 45SW presentation, which took place before the 6:00pm CAMPO business meeting. Because of my full schedule on Monday, I made sure I received briefings and the written recommendation beforehand, so that I would be fully informed. No vote was taken on the SH45 issue and it is anticipated that it will make the business meeting agenda sometime in September after a workshop.”
The agenda for CAMPO’s June 8 meeting, which is posted on its website, lists a work session beginning at 4 p.m. and public comments starting at 6 p.m.
Sumter said she did attend a work session with San Marcos Mayor Susan Narvaiz on June 3 to discuss the roads eligible for funding through federal stimulus monies to be distributed by CAMPO. She also said that neither Barton or Gonzalez were present to answer questions.
Barton’s press release credits a wide variety of people, citing “…Buda staff and the economic development corporation, and the city council, especially, council member Sandra Tenorio and Mayor Bobby Lane, who helped advocate for the project with CAMPO board members.”
Said Barton, “This doesn’t happen by accident. A lot of people deserve credit.”
Sumter agreed, up to a point.
“Barton is right about one thing, it does take an entire team of folks to get any number of projects funded by CAMPO,” Sumter said. “Barton concentrated solely on getting the Buda bridge project ready to go, while Commissioner Conley worked hard on getting the RR12 safety project ready to go and Commissioner Ingalsbe worked equally hard on the SH21 safety project. It was my job to make sure all three roads made the short list for funding, which they did. It was also my job as the CAMPO representative to get them all funded and I almost did.”
Sumter also asserted that Barton influenced Gonzalez to vote in favor of a Travis County project, the Highway Emergency Response Operator (HERO) program, over funding for SH 21.
“Unfortunately Mayor Gonzales(sic) did not rank SH21 in his top 5 priorities and that resulted in SH21 falling 2 points short of being funded,” Sumter wrote in her email. “Maybe it was because Commissioner Barton was actively supporting the Travis County HERO program and that influenced Mayor Gonzales(sic) to rank the HERO program in his top five priorities and not SH21. I don’t know, I can only guess. ”
Barton, who also served as the Precinct 2 commissioner in the 1990s before losing to challenger Susie Carter (R-Uhland) in 1998, considered running for judge in 2006 before deciding to take on Carter for his old seat and winning that bid. Sumter defeated two-term incumbent Jim Powers (R-Dripping Springs) for judge that same year.
Though 2006 the elections of Barton, Sumter and Ford swung the court from a 4-1 Republican majority to a 4-1 Democratic majority, their legislative priorities have been much less influenced by their shared label as Democrats than by their differences.
Most famously, Sumter and Barton clashed over a May 2007 road bond supported by a pass-through financing agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT), with Barton in support of the debt issue. Sumter had campaigned for judge against the pass-through agreement. After a bond election failed in May 2007, a modified version passed in November 2008.Email | Print