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Judge bypassing clerk’s office with meeting notices
by Joe Baker
Jun 20, 2013 | 1856 views | 0 0 comments | 51 51 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KARNES CITY – A recent change in the way the county judge is posting notice of meetings of Karnes County Commissioners Court is causing concerns for local residents, as well as Karnes County Clerk Carol Swize.

Up until May 31, Swize said the normal routine was for the county judge’s office to deliver the agendas to the county clerk’s office, where they were then copied, file-stamped, filed, signed, posted and shared with anyone who had requested to see the agendas whenever posted.

Since then, the county judge’s office has no longer involved the county clerk’s office with the posting of agendas, but instead the county judge or someone else the county judge has directed has posted the agendas near the entrance of the Karnes County Offices on the Square without sending a copy to the county clerk’s office.

Swize said County Judge Barbara Shaw has not explained her reason for making the change in procedure.

“She has not told me anything,” Swize said. “I sent a written request to the county attorney for an opinion on this.”

Swize said she was concerned about whether posting such notices in such a way is in compliance with state laws. After researching the topic she located a state attorney general opinion on the topic. The opinion states, “We find no authority for the county judge alone to control the contents preparation and posting of the agenda.” The summary of the opinion states that, “Neither the county judge nor the county clerk controls the agenda for the commissioners court. The commissioners court as a whole has the authority to determine its own agenda.”

Swize said that state law under the local government code states that the county clerk shall issue the notices, writs, and process necessary for the proper execution of the court’s powers and duties. Swize said the law considers meeting agendas as “notices” under this provision.

There are several reasons why it is important for the county clerk’s office to be involved with the posting of agendas, Swize explained.

“It makes it an official posting, because it’s got our file stamp on it,” Swize explained. “Every other record of the county comes through here to become official. Number two, I am required by law to attend those meetings and if they are being posted on a bulletin board and I don’t have any knowledge of them, and I have no alert that there is a meeting coming up... If I miss one, then I have broken the law or what is required of me by law.”

Swize said that by file stamping it, there is proof that the agenda was posted a minimum of 72 hours before the date and time of the meeting as legally required under state law.

Without notification from the judge, Swize said someone from her office will have to check the bulletin board twice per day, every day, in order to know when a meeting has been set.

Swize said posting agendas without involvement of the county clerk’s office is highly unusual and that virtually every other county in the state has these agendas file-stamped by their county clerks.

County Judge Barbara Shaw told The Karnes Countywide that she determined that it would be simpler to post the agendas without any involvement from the county clerk’s office because there are times when agendas need to be posted after normal business hours, on weekends or holidays.

“They are still posted on the front door and the bulletin board,” Shaw said. “The agenda does not have to be signed by anybody. Period.”

Shaw said several attorneys told her that there is no requirement for county clerk office involvement for posting of meetings under the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA), and that nothing in the Local Government Code could trump the law as stated under TOMA.

When it comes to agendas, in most counties, Shaw said, agendas are normally prepared by the county judge.

Shaw said she plans to begin posting these agendas online via the county web site at some point in the future, but there are still some technical obstacles in the way of making that happen.

“All I know is I haven’t done anything wrong,” Shaw said. “If the county clerk wants a copy of it, I will be more than glad to provide her one. All she has to do is ask me.”
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