Commissioner to pursue investigation
Precinct 4 Commissioner Walt Smith expressed his concern during Tuesday morning’s Hays County Commissioners Court with the removal of agenda item #33 after it had been filed by County Judge Ruben Becerra on Friday, Aug. 9.
The agenda item, which relates to voting locations for the County’s upcoming Nov. 5 Constitutional election, was requested by Smith. The item’s purpose was, “discussion and possible action to approve election vote center locations for the November 2019 Constitutional Amendment election.” Due to the removal of the agenda item, other items related to elections were not able to be voted on, including the appointment of judges to the election and the calling of the Nov. 5 Constitutional Election.
Smith said tampering with a government document is prohibited, and stated that he will be pursuing an investigation with the Texas Rangers Division into the situation.
“I would ask that we request an investigation into this without any objection, seeing as how we don't have anyone here in the court that (Becerra feels) confident in conducting that, then I would like to discuss with the court asking the Rangers to have a look at this,” Smith stated in Court.
The Texas Rangers Division, which is within the Department of Public Safety, conducts investigations into “major incident crime investigations, unsolved crime/serial crime investigations, public corruption and public integrity investigations, officer involved shooting investigations, and border security operations.”
“In March of this year, we unanimously adopted with the support of the County Judge a policy and procedure relative to the establishment of a weekly agenda for our meetings,” Smith said following the meeting. “Not only did the Judge violate that policy, which he voted for, but in doing so violated statute by removing and altering an agenda item. Not one member of our Commissioners Court, or the county clerk, has the statutory authority to remove or alter the agenda once its been filed, and according to decision documents by both Attorney General Jim Mattox and Attorney General Dan Morales, the actions of the Judge were in direct violation of that statute.”
Janice Jones, Legal Support Services Specialist, sends out the agenda to a mailing list every week, and explained what she experienced on Friday.
“In summary, all five of your election items were properly and timely sent to the clerk’s office for posting, the clerk sent the agenda to county judge who in turn ordered the polling location item removed from the agenda,” Jones said. “The clerk then determined she would only stamp the altered version of agenda, with the polling location item eliminated, she refused to sign, stamp and post the proper agenda, as a result the agenda emailed to my normal mailing list and the version posted online includes the polling location, the version signed, stamped and posted outside the courthouse and government centers lacking that item.”
Hays County Clerk Elaine Cardenas said she regrets her error, and said she thought the Judge had authority over the agenda for the Commissioners Court.
“I sent it to Judge Becerra, he sent it back with an item removed and asked me to sign it and post it,” Cardenas said. “And that was just a few minutes before 5 (p.m.,) I’d have to go back and look at my email chains to see, but that was the case and that was the end of it. I thought I had done the right thing honestly.”
Beccera claimed he removed the agenda item due to lack of supporting materials, which would include a list of polling locations, and said that he did not see such materials until after 5 p.m. on Friday.
“I did the only thing I thought to do and as a new County Judge I made a mistake, and you know what, I’ll happily live with it because the spirit of my effort was purely to do good by all,” Becerra said.
Following the meeting, Becerra said in a statement that he called a special meeting to discuss all things voting on Monday, August 19, 2019 at 5 p.m. at the Hays County Courthouse.
“Threatening to call in the Texas Rangers for normal County business is a classic bullying technique meant to distract from his true agenda of disenfranchising voters and suppressing the voice of minorities, the elderly and our young people,” Becerra said in a statement. “It is perfectly within any executives purview to remove an agenda item that is not ready and incomplete.”
During public comment, Hays County Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson said the voting center agenda item included 37 polling locations, which is 18 more locations than the last election.
“Comments that I have been less than transparent with this process are completely false and unsubstantiated,” Anderson said. “I, as the chair of the county election board, attempted to call a meeting twice with the members of the county election board to walk through this process. Two attempts to reach out for this meeting were unanswered by the County Judge’s office.”