County Judge Barbara Shaw left the meeting before any public comments could be heard, but two residents expressed their concerns to the other members of the court.
Maurice Yarter told the court that he believed that it is everyone’s obligation to defend those who can’t or will not defend themselves, and it was in that spirit he decided to speak on the issue of a misconduct complaint brought forward against Chief Deputy Russell Swize.
Swize resigned recently amid the allegations of misconduct noted in a complaint brought forward by a law firm representing Premier Vacuum Service and Barbara Shaw in her “individual capacity.”
“Contrary to what anyone else may speculate, neither Russell Swize nor Carol Swize asked me to speak on his behalf, but it is time for somebody to speak up,” Yarter said.
“It is my understanding that Russell made an offhand remark at an accident scene, and it was made in jest, however in true Barbara Shaw fashion, she is using this offhand comment to suit her own political agenda. It is sad when our First Amendment right to free speech can be dictated by the likes of a county judge,” Yarter said. “She can outright lie about people to maintain her position, and hire a law firm to abuse her position to cost someone his job.”
Yarter said that Shaw, her husband Kyle Shaw, Attorney Brian Smith, Sheriff Dwayne Villanueva and County Attorney Herb Hancock met in the county judge’s office during normal business hours to discuss the complaint.
“Why was it being held in the judge’s office?” Yarter asked, questioning whether Shaw was bringing the complaint as an individual, or in her capacity as county judge.
“Is she using her office in an attempt to intimidate Mr. Swize?” Yarter asked. “Why was the county attorney present?” Yarter asked. “Is he representing the county judge and or Barbara Shaw in her individual capacity?”
“Barbara Shaw’s comment that this is politically motivated is in fact an accurate statement,” Yarter said, “however, it is politically motivated by Barbara Shaw in a misguided perception to set up her re-election. Barbara Shaw has made several attempts to try to remove virtually every elected and appointed official in Karnes County. Beginning with Vi Malone, Carol Swize, Bob Busselman, Betty Yarter, Lajauna Kasprzyk and Jeffrey Wiatrek. If you do not agree with her or go along with her half-baked schemes, this is what you are in for.”
“The big question now, is ‘Who is next?’” Yarter asked. “My guess is Sheriff Villanueva or her stated opponent for county judge, Walter Long.”
“Russell Swize is guilty of making an offhand remark and perhaps even an unprofessional remark, however it should not have been raised to the level that it cost a good man his job.”
At this point, County Clerk Carol Swize told Yarter that his three minutes allowed for public comment had expired.
County Judge Pro Tem James Rosales called for a motion to extend Yarter’s speaking time to allow him to finish what he had to say.
County Commissioner Shelby Dupnik made a motion to extend Yarter’s time an additional two minutes. The motion was seconded and all present voted in favor of extending Yarter’s time.
Yarter concluded by urging residents who know Russell Swize to contact their county commissioner and express their concern and displeasure regarding the “railroading of Russell Swize.”
“He did not deserve this treatment and what it has cost Karnes County and its residents,” Yarter said. “The actions of Barbara Shaw in this matter are reprehensible, as is the lack of leadership by Sheriff Villanueva.”
“Karnes County has lost a good man,” Yarter said. “I have been told on many occasions, and I believe this to be true, if good men do nothing, evil will prevail.”
Shanna Hall also spoke to the court during the public comments part of the meeting, and Hall expressed opposition to a recent decision to move public comments to the end of the meeting, instead of the beginning of the meeting where they have been for many years.
“I think this shows a perfect example of where citizens stand in the priorities,” Hall said. “You see where we are at on the agenda. At the very very bottom -- last. The concept of putting the citizens to be heard in any form or fashion at the very end of the Commissioners Court meeting, reveals a genuine lack of respect for the citizenry. It is censorship and it shows utter disdain for the very people who pay your salary, for each of you in your elected positions -- they are who you work for.”
“There are many citizens out here with extensive education, business and military experience, lawyers with legal facts which not only can be helpful to inform this commission to make decisions, but in addition let us not forget our first amendment right to be able to speak, even if it is just an opinion, or an argument,” Hall said.
The court’s rules that limit speakers to only three minutes of speaking time are unnecessarily restrictive, Hall said, because some subjects require more time to explain.
“I would recommend that you might consider extending that to five minutes,” Hall said.
Hall cited instances where public officials stalled or denied the right to inspect invoices or other public records.
“Maybe the transparency is in the best interest of the Karnes County taxpayers,” Hall said.
Hall then referred to Judge Shaw’s recent decision to circumvent the posting of meeting notices and agendas through the county clerk’s office.
“The idea of circumventing this normal protocol of recording the agenda must come to an end,” Hall said. “Are you aware at the current time that the Commissioners Court agenda is not even being posted according to the local government code, 81.003, and there is no official verification that the agenda is being posted 72 hours in advance which is a local government code, 551.043.”
Hall read from an attorney general opinion that stated that the county clerk is to issue all notices, all writs, all processes necessary for the proper executions of the powers and duties of Commissioners Court.
“Therefore, all of the agendas that have not gone through her office properly are not stamped and filed as official documents,” Hall said. “Why has this changed? We did it for the same way for years with (former County Clerk) Alva (Jonas).”
Hall described a recent incident at a Commissioners Court meeting as harassment.
“I hope that no citizen goes through being harassed and threatened as happened with my husband at the last public meeting,” Hall said. “He was obviously threatened with being arrested for not signing in to the public meeting. This is not required by the Texas Open Meetings Act -- to sign in.”
“Each of you commissioners must rise up, must stand up, must speak up and take a stand on behalf of the people you represent, and uphold the proper procedures for conducting government business. It is your duty to represent your constituents and do things the right way.”
Hall also asked the court to consider installing a sound system in the room where Commissioners Court meetings are held.
“A lot of the people who spoke today, we could not hear or understand,” Hall said.