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Courtroom video system rejected on split vote
by Joe Baker
Nov 07, 2013 | 60 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KARNES CITY – On a split 3-1 vote, members of Commissioners Court rejected a request to approve an emergency budget amendment in the amount of $24,444 for an audio system and video surveillance system to be used in the space currently used for meetings of Commissioners Court.

Before considering the item during the Oct. 31 meeting of Commissioners Court, the court listened to comments from two people regarding the item.

Betty Yarter was first to speak to the court and expressed opposition to the purchase based on her assertion that such an item does not meet the criteria required for an emergency budget amendment.

“The statute requires grave public necessity,” Yarter said. “Or, an unforeseen circumstance that was not discovered at the time of investigation.”

“That is definitely not the case here,” Yarter said. “This situation with regard to the audio visual system, as it is referred to, was addressed during the budget.”

Yarter asked County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk if the item was in strict enforcement with the law.

“No ma’am,” Kasprzyk responded. “Only $4,994 is included in the current budget for an audio system.”

Yarter said the court approved 65 emergency budget amendments to the last county budget, totaling more than $1 million in spending.

“That is something you all need to take into consideration when you start doing this,” Yarter said.

A basic sound system is needed, Yarter said, but could easily be purchased within the amount allocated for it in the budget.

County Clerk Carol Swize was next to speak on the agenda item.

“On Sept. 27, during a budget workshop, you all motioned, seconded and voted unanimously to remove from the budget the audio-video system, leaving only enough to purchase audio equipment for the Commissioners Courtroom,” Swize said. “I said before, and still agree that there should be microphones in here. As close as I sit to the table, I still have trouble hearing at times what is being said. But three video cameras for this room for the cost of $24,000 dollars?”

“Is this really for the public to have live access to the meetings or is this just another version of the ‘gotcha game’ that has been played against almost every elected and appointed official for the last three years?” Swize asked. “The proposal is nothing more than a ‘Big Brother’ surveillance on the citizens and county employees that have a right to attend this public meeting.”

Swize said there are options for live streaming video of the meetings that are far less expensive.

“It is an expense that is irresponsible and unnecessary, and an insult to taxpayers,” Swize said, adding that the court has failed to provide a fire alarm system to protect county records, or video surveillance cameras in the district courtroom where there is a much greater security risk.

“To suggest that this room and the happenings in it warrant this much surveillance is absurd,” Swize concluded.

Swize’s remarks were met with applause by those at the meeting.

County Treasurer Vi Malone said she agreed with Swize’s assessment of the surveillance system as “absurd.” Malone said the money could be much more wisely spent on other purposes.

County Attorney Herb Hancock, who requested the item be placed on the agenda, reacted by saying, “it sounds like I have stirred up a hornet’s nest.”

“Yes, sir. You did,” said Malone.

Hancock explained that the request was precipitated by the fact that an important document was recently lost.

“We can’t find it,” Hancock said. “There is no credible evidence of where the document went. It is important that we record everything that occurs in these meetings – in the front and in the back – as far as what goes on in this courtroom and what influences county government.”

Hancock said his goal in making the request, was also to provide greater accessibility of what happens in the meeting for the people of Karnes County.

“Mr. Hancock, don’t you think we can be able to find something a little bit cheaper than $24,444?” County Commissioner Tracey Schendel asked.

County Judge Barbara Shaw spoke up by saying that she had heard of other counties spending as much as $100,000 for similar systems.

“I think there are other alternatives,” Hancock answered.

“It is a little expensive,” Schendel said.

Swize said there was a local man who could set up a basic sound system and also set up video streaming for a much smaller cost.

When asked why this would qualify as an emergency expenditure, Shaw said it would because it is “unforeseen.”

“It is not unforeseen, because we discussed it during the budget process,” County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk said.

“I make a motion we disapprove item number 24,” Commissioner Schendel said.

Commissioner Shelby Dupnik seconded the motion.

Schendel, Dupnik and Commissioner Pete Jauer voted in favor of Schendel’s motion to disapprove the expenditure. County Judge Barbara Shaw voted against the motion, which carried on a 3-1 vote.

The audience applauded the three commissioners who voted to disapprove the item.

“I sometimes wonder how nobody in here wants the truth to come out,” Shaw said before moving on to the next agenda item.

Shaw’s remark was met with laughter from the audience.
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