Bowie County Financial Advisory Committee: Hi-Jacked

Bowie County TexasEssay/Opinion

Did Bowie County’s Financial Advisory Committee Have a Hidden Agenda?

This article looks more closely at the facts discussed in the above article.

Financial Advisory Committee (FAC)

Item 10: On this 27th day of May, 2014, a motion was made by Commissioner Tom Whitten and duly second by Commissioner Sammy Stone to establish an advisory committee authorizing each Commissioner and County Judge one appointment to the committee on June 9, 2014, their charge will be to provide a five year plan to this Court. Motion was put to a vote and all voted aye and none opposed. Motion carried.
Commissioners Court Minutes May 27, 2014

The FAC never presented a five-year plan to Commissioners Court. The committee was a failure, never achieving its stated purpose.

FAC – Hi-Jacked
The FAC’s relationship to Commissioners Court took a different direction than the five year plan. The FAC was hi-jacked.

Paige Alexander reported in the Texarkana Gazette, 06/07/14

During the May 27 meeting, Whitten said he requested the committee, made of appointees by each commissioner and the county judge, so local business leaders can help provide county officials with ways to pull the county through its money problems.

Her report never mentioned the motion that passed unanimously. What she reported may have been discussion, and maybe not. What ever it was, it wasn’t the approved direction of the court.

Mike Sandefur, the FAC chairman, was responsible for keeping the committee on course. E-mails he sent to James Carlow, published in the article linked above show Mr. Sandefur had a different agenda than Commissioners Court’s five year plan.

Mr. Sandefur was sending e-mails to Judge Carlow’s courthouse email address. It appears he did not know Mr. Carlow no longer received email at that address. So, why, as chairman of the FAC, was he sending emails to candidate James Carlow? Why was he sending campaign ads that attack Judge Lacy to James Carlow?

“Round up the usual suspects” (Casablanca)
Here is a list of the people who received Mr. Sandefur’s emails sent to Judge Carlow’s courthouse email address:

Email, To:

  1. Former Judge James Carlow (well, it was intended for him)
  2. Gabe Tarr – Retired
  3. Tom Whitten – Commissioner, Precinct 2
  4. Andrea Williams (McCoy) – Administrative Assistant to Texas State Rep. George Lavender, and wife of resigned Commissioner Pat McCoy

Email, CC:

  1. Carol Dalby – Commissioners Court Legal Advisor
  2. Paige Alexander – Texarkana Gazette reporter covering Commissioners Court
  3. James Henry Russell – President, Texarkana College
  4. William Tye – County Auditor

Synopsis of Mr. Sandefur’s e-mails:

Emails 2 and 3 appear to be about FAC activity. Refer the content of these emails with the committee’s purpose of successful business men/women providing options for Commissioners Court five-year plan.

E-mail #1
Subject: I saw this today

Or, “Shucks, I thought the church was commenting on local politics.”

To:Gabe Tarr cc:James Carlow

Church Sign sent from Mike Sandefur to Gabe Tarr and Judge Lacy

 

E-mail #2 – Subject: Subject: Rules for Meeting: Committees (actually the email forwarded to Judge Carlow as an attachment to #2, above)

to: Tom Whitten cc: James Carlow, Carol Dalby, Paige Alexander, James Henry Russell, William Tye, Michael Sandefur

Advising Commissioner Whitten on meetings, and querying meeting control.

Advising Mr. Whitten that as commissioner he may “need the ‘ability’ to confidently recommend one or more of the below options.” Also, the importance of public educational meetings. Mr. Sandefur lists 5 areas of questions (about holding 1) meetings/special meeting, 2) emergency meetings, 3) additional committees/possible delegated authority, 4) open meeting requirements, 5) town hall meetings/who can host/who can be presiding officer) which he advises Mr. Whitten to get written answers to, so when one option is chosen Tom can proceed without wasting any time.

Mr. Sandefur believes “the financial crisis and budgeting deserve urgent measures and open discussion,” and the public should “almost always” be invited.

Tom,

Tom, as a commissioner you may need the ability to confidently recommend one or more of the below options to help educate the public and describe the tax increase. I believe Carol can quickly and concisely answer the 5 questions I have asked below. I also hope she can suggest some better or easier methods. — we need all good ideas. (I have copied James Henry on this as well, as we know he has good ideas.)

Any option being seriously considered must pass the “smell test” — we don’t want to read about any unlawful meetings in the Gazette. If our committee makes any recommendations, we will welcome discussion of our underlying thinking.

In my opinion, public meetings and hearings that are educational and useful will be important in the next few months. Meetings must also follow the law, but to be useful some future meetings may need a relaxation of some of the artificial limitations and rules of order that I have seen imposed upon the regular Commissioners Court meetings.

Although nothing has been recommended at this time, I suggest that you go ahead and get answers quickly, in writing, so that you know how to proceed with any option without wasting any time. Please provide me and our committee a copy as well so that we are all on the same page.

1) In addition to the two regularly-scheduled Commissioners Court meetings, how does a commissioner (or more) call a special meeting? What notice? What reasons? Any limit on agenda items? Who presides?

2) Is there such a thing as an emergency meeting? What are the circumstances? What notice? What reasons? Any limit on agenda items? Who presides?

3) May the Commissioners Court appoint one or more committees of its members? How is a committee chairman selected? In what cases, if any, is delegation of authority provided to a committee (Although I don’t foresee the need for such delegation, is it possible)?

4) If a court-member-only committee has three court members, I believe it must comply with all open meetings requirements. Is this always true if a committee has only two members?

5) In addition to legally required meetings, how would one or more educational or informal ” town hall” meetings be scheduled to discuss the budget? Must a town hall meeting be “hosted” by the commissioners court, or could it instead be hosted by a committee of commissioners, or even by our Advisory Committee? Would the presiding officer of the “host” organization preside over the town hall meeting, or would a County Judge or a Chief Budget Officer have some superior rights?

I believe the financial crisis and budgeting deserve urgent measures and open discussion, with the public almost always invited to attend, or at least knowing when its not invited. Understanding the options may help us structure the most appropriate venue.

Thank you.
Mike Sandefur

 

E-mail #3 – Subject: Rules for Meeting: Committees (includes E-mail #2 as attachment)

to: James Carlow

Notifying Carlow of his plans for special meetings.

With Carlow’s assistance, lining up outside legal support, Marshall Wood, for FAC.

Waiting to know if DA and Carol Dalby are fully engaged on helping county.

Want outside attorney to evaluate DA and Carol Dalby response.

Judge,

Thanks for the referral regarding Marshall Wood helping our committee with legal questions. I did not have his email; will you please forward this to him and let me know the email.

No action on his part is necessary at this time–it is obviously for Carol to answer. I did want him to know about my thinking and planning. I am also waiting to see if the District Attorney’s office and Carol Dalby is fully engaged on helping the county at this time of crisis, and want him to evaluate their response as well.

Thank you.
Mike Sandefur

 

E-mail #4 – Subject: Another Storyline

An anti-Lacy campaign attack ad.

to: Andrea Williams cc: James Carlow

A daydream:

Chart of tax revenues of Bowie County going up year after year (from Bill Cork chart, improved). New spike for next year.

Voiceover:
Judge Sterling Lacy, Bowie County citizens were unhappy with you SPENDING SPENDING SPENDING, with deficit operating budgets three years in a row. (another chart.)

Now you are TAXING AND SPENDING, TAXING AND SPENDING, TAXING AND SPENDING! That makes us really unhappy.

Judge TAX AND SPEND, stop it. We can’t afford you.

 

E-mail #5 – Subject: Cartoon

to: Gabe Tarr cc: James Carlow

Another anti-Lacy campaign attack ad?

Use Judge Lacy’s Christian belief to make fun of him.

Google the followings:

cartoon jesus speck in eye

and then click on images.

Being a good Christian man, Judge Lacy sure likes to point out the shortcomings of others.

 

These emails again beg this question: why is the FAC Chairman, Mike Sandefur, emailing candidate James Carlow? These emails indicate that Mr. Sandefur is a Carlow campaign activist. There is no reason for the FAC chairman to email Mr. Carlow. Emails 4 and 5 reveal an agenda to remove Lacy from office. This is consistent with Mr. Sandefur’s hostility toward Judge in Commissioners Court.

Example, during the August 25th Commissioners Court, FAC Chairman Sandefur:

  • Said the county would be insolvent in September.
    This did not happen.
  • Repeatedly pushed for the court to vote unanimously.
    It is the duty of FAC “to provide a five year plan to this court,” not to tell the court and its members how they must vote.
  • Pushed for a vote for “some plan” to make payroll in September.
    Payroll was not missed in September.
  • Said he did not know what to do, “this is over my pay grade”
    Agreed
  • Of the $1,933,000 remaining from the $5,000,000 loan the FAC advised the court to take out, Mr. Sandefur said it could not be spent, declaring it was cash, not revenue. A special session of Commissioners Court was called to address this situation.Mr. Sandefur told Judge Lacy, “You cannot miss the meeting.”
    Mr. Sandefur did not attend the special session of Commissioners Court.

Mr. Sandefur, the FAC chairman, recommended the $5,000,000 loan but doesn’t know how to legally spend it?

When asked, Tom Pollan, our bond counsel, said the loan was designed from the beginning to be treated as revenue, and could be spent.

Again: Mr. Sandefur was wrong (and did not show up for a subsequent meeting called for this issue)

Addressing the County Judge, Mr. Sandefur in the August 25th Commissioners Court meeting, “Sterling Lacy, you don’t trust me…”

Well, duh.

This essay is the collaborative effort of several members of the Bowie County Patriots.

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