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Is This Panama? County Gov’t Is A Mess

KLTV archived video shows basis for suspended judge’s indictment
KLTV steps through the 3-count indictment against Smith County Judge Joel P. Baker and explains the problem. See the video and report here.

Tyler Morning Telegraph spells it out
Doesn’t matter what they say at election time, EVERY member of the Smith County Commissioners Court participated in two of the three meetings cited in the Baker indictment as violations of the law called the Texas Open Meetings Act. Read the article here.

KETK & TMT archives, from our “Be Careful What You Say Because We’re Really Listening Department,” we find a 2016 Primary Election Evergreen
Contrast Commissioner Terry Phillips’ definitive “never, never” comment made at the SC GOP Women’s Feb. 2016 candidate forum with agendas and minutes from the three meetings cited in the three-count Baker indictment. All four county commissioners were in two of the three meetings, including Mr. Phillips. All four commissioners had a duty to object to the closed-door meetings by simply walking out and telling the public why they would not participate. If one or more of them had acted on what they were supposed to have learned in their mandated training in the Texas Open Meetings Act, it is very likely there would NEVER have been a ten-year contract, or legal fees, or the rest of this mess. Read the Tyler Morning Telegraph article here.  Watch a carefully parsed “on camera” with KETK here.

Questions about further indictments
Grassroots America does not and cannot have any information on this subject. The downtown county rumor mill says an “all clear” has sounded. We remind all the sages who are either trying to cover their backsides, or prove how profoundly smart they are, that the Code of Criminal Procedure and Grand Jury secrecy laws are very clear such proceedings are to be secret. “Secret” – as in, if you know something, you’re required by law to keep your lip zipped. (Oops! We forgot some of our county officials don’t know how to read the law or even find the Texas Open Meetings Act online.) We’ll make it easy for you. For Article 20.02 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, click here. Local media sources say – “The Attorney General’s Office declined Tuesday to answer whether any more indictments are expected,” Tyler Morning Telegraph (6/21/16); and, KLTV (6/27/16), “A representative for the Attorney General’s office said it cannot comment on whether any other commissioners could face an indictment over the same meetings because the case is still being investigated.”

7/14/16: KLTV’s latest explosive report – Baker’s possible grand jury statement, timeline of entering/leaving county building around the time of the indictment, and his last-minute budget directives given to the auditor. My, my, my…the county administrator knew nothing about Baker’s last minute budget directives. He had to find out about it in court with the rest of the commissioners when the auditor mentioned it.  The questions screaming inside your head at this point should be – “What else don’t the commissioners know?” and, the scariest “What else have they been hiding?”  Good grief.  Is this Panama? Click here for the blockbuster.

Why isn’t Grassroots America vetting candidates for interim Smith County Judge? Why aren’t we speaking out in Commissioners Court meetings?
Short answer – it would be improper. Why? Because Grassroots America filed the complaint and made a very public call for the investigation, which has thus far resulted in a three-count indictment against Judge Joel Baker. We might be called as witnesses for the prosecution, and although we care very much about who will fill this position, we do not want our efforts cheapened by getting into a lobbying posture regarding interim candidates for county judge.

In our call for Judge Baker to step down after the KLTV investigative report on the sexting allegations aired, we said this about the process of selecting an interim should a vacancy occur:

“Any conversation about planning to fill a vacancy on the Court should take place in public. In fact, the Texas Open Meetings Act prohibits commissioners from discussing such important matters outside a public meeting; therefore, Grassroots America strongly recommends the Commissioners Court solicit applications and resumes from Smith County citizens who are interested in serving as interim county judge. The Commissioners Court should review those applications and resumes and interview the applicants in a public meeting. No member of the Grassroots America Board of Directors plans to apply for the position or run for the office.”

We stand by this statement. Filling an interim for a suspended elected official or a vacated seat of an elected official is not the same as hiring a department head. The interim will have to take the OATH of OFFICE; therefore, all sorts of important questions should be asked of any applicant. Any applicants for a public service position, who do not want to answer questions in public, disqualify themselves.

If Smith County Commissioners had held some public hearings in the evenings (after regular work hours for most folks), we think they could have formulated a fairly stout list of questions from the citizens of Smith County. Too bad they didn’t make time for that.

See Roy Maynard’s 7/12/16 Tyler Morning Telegraph article, which indicates a decision may come on Tues. July 19. Click here to read about the “candidates” in the running to serve as interim county judge.

Hey, just to prove the Texas Open Meetings Act is not Tolstoy’s 1,225+ page War and Peace…
Click here for the TX Government Code, Chapter 551.
Click here for the Texas Open Meetings Handbook 2016.
Click here to see online video training in TOMA (TX Open Meetings Act) and PIA (Public Information Act) available to elected officials, appointed officials, candidates, and citizens any time, at no cost. The training is approximately one hour for each Act. Officials can even print their own nifty certificate, proving they completed the course. It’s on the honor system, but frankly, it’s pretty easy to tell which officials slept through class, or just started the video playing and walked out of the room.
The Texas Association of Counties (of which Smith County is a member) provides open government training. They have online resources, which also talk about the consequences for violating these laws. See the TAC handbook here.
Conclusion
All you elected officials out there and future candidates, you can take this to the bank; Grassroots America is making knowledge about TOMA and PIA a priority in the candidate vetting process. Playing fast and loose with open government isn’t going to fly.
Because of the torrent of inquiries we’ve had from around the state about open government, we intend to make citizen training a priority.

“Government is the servant and not the master of the People.”
Therefore, it is also true,
the People are the master and not the servants of government.
Act like it.