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Citizens question meeting practices

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DIANA BUCKLEY
Ellis County Press
WAXAHACHIE - Citizens found it unacceptable for Ellis County to include its Fourth Quarter 2000 Investment Report only as an item in the 'consent agenda' at the March 26 regular meeting of the commissioners' court.

'I don't know if you know what a consent agenda is. I didn't, but I found out,' said Everett King, reporting to a gathering of the Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government on April 3. 'It simply means that they have listed all of these things on the agenda and then at the commissioners' court meeting everybody says, ‘Yeah, that's okay,' and that's it!'

King noted supporting materials for the consent agenda are provided only to members of the commissioners' court. Nothing is read into the record or clarified in any way for members of the public who are in attendance.

'That consent agenda consisted of (a number of) items, one of which was rather important,' he continued. 'It had to do with the approval of their fourth quarter 2000 investment report. The fact of the matter is, those folks have lots of money in their control that could be made available to do lots and lots of things.'

Although County Treasurer Mark Price was present at the meeting, commissioners did not ask him to make any presentation regarding the report, nor did they ask any questions about it.

'In accordance with Government Code 2256.023,' stated Ellis County Treasurer Mark Price in the 12-page report, 'the investment officer shall prepare and submit to the Commissioners Court a written report of investment transactions for all funds for the preceding reporting period within a reasonable time after the end of the period.'

The report, submitted to the court March 26, deals with the period ending Dec. 31, 2000, and lists an investment balance of $32,059,122.44.

'That's a lot of money; that's a lot of money,' said Columnist Duff Hale, recently appointed to lead TAGG's research, reform, and issues development effort.

'You have to ask very specific questions to get very specific answers,' Hale continued. 'I'll get to the bottom of it - I'm digging awfully hard.'

Hale indicated the fund balance had improved since the end of the year.

'On Feb. 28, 2001, and bear in mind this was the end of the month just prior to the rollback election, (the county had) $41,863,998.56,' he said. 'In the bank.'

A report prepared by Price and printed in the April 5 issue of the Ellis County Press confirms this figure.

'I met with Mr. Navarro, (Ellis County auditor), a couple of weeks ago and he specifically told me all of their investments were in very liquid instruments, so they could on very short notice turn this into cash,' Hale said. 'The question that I want to find out is in all of this $42 million, rounded off, is there not somewhere in here where they could find $1.2 million that could have been used to pay even half or three quarters of what was necessary to avoid laying off all the deputies?'

According to Hale, interest income in the year 1999 was $1,595,273. 'Now to get an interest income of 10%, to have that generate $1.5 million, that's a lot of money!' he said.

King asked for at least three volunteers to attend the next Commissioners' Court meeting, scheduled for Monday, April 9, at 10 a.m.

'There's one, two, three right there,' he said. 'Four, that's five. Just show up down there across from the courthouse about 15 minutes till ten in order to get a seat.'

Commissioners' court meeting procedures require members of the public to sign up in advance if they want to speak to issues listed on the agenda. Speakers will be allotted a time limit, generally based on the number of speakers who wish to address the court.

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