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Fort Bend County, At Large
By Cheryl Skinner

This column expresses the personal opinions/views of the writer. If you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column, write a SIGNED letter to the editor. Name can be withheld by request with a valid day time phone number.


 

Hebert erred

It seems Fort Bend County Judge is in a little warm water. First he was angry with another paper for questioning him on a new county policy that links the recent raises that commissioners gave themselves and other elected officials to the salaries of the state district judges, which are set by the state of Texas.

The whole issue surfaced when a reporter reportedly questioned two members of the court who had not attended the meeting where the policy issue was discussed and they told the reporter a policy had been set. Well, Hebert and the commissioners who were at the meeting said no formal policy had been made. Then, Hebert read the transcription of the minutes and said the County Clerk had added the notation that there was a policy. It kind of sounded, at least to County Clerk Dianne Wilson, that Hebert was placing the blame for the whole policy thing on her back and indicating that wasn’t the intent of the court.

The day of the actual meeting, Aug. 8, there was so much confusion over the whole thing and the discussion by the two commissioners in attendance and the county judge, got confusing to say the least. So, every newspaper simply wrote about the approval of the huge pay increases the county officials were giving themselves. Even then, in a follow up interview, Hebert denied there was a formal policy linked to the raises. In other words, while the court had set their pay increases to those of the district judges, if somewhere down the line they wanted another pay increase and the state hadn’t yet seen fit to grant the judges an increase, the county fathers could vote themselves another raise.

But, the actual court minutes, which are not by any means a simple notation of Dianne Wilson’s view of the court actions, but an official record of the actual meeting, show those guys did to create a policy, whether intentionally or not, and should they decide they don’t like the rules, they will have to all get together and vote out this policy in order to give themselves a raise if they don’t like the state’s generosity to the judges. Now that is really no big deal. Look at the hoopla over the Lighting Ordinance. It was approved, changed, modified, redone and finally re-approved under a different set of guidelines. In other words, just because it is a rule, a law or a policy, doesn’t mean it will last forever.

For the record and for Dianne Wilson’s benefit, here are portions of the official transcript of the meeting that does indeed set a policy:

“Commissioner Patterson: And it’s important that we did not clarify this on the previous motion, but we’ll clarify it on this motion. Those elected officials pay will stay, will not increase until the District Judges pay increases and the State Legislature is the one that decides that. So it could be six years from now, it could be however many years it is between now and District Judges. So all elected officials need to understand this is not an annual, this is how you’re locked.”

“Judge Hebert: As I understand Commissioner Meyers recommendation, he showed the percentage of a District Judges statutory base salary that would apply to each elected official. I believe your motion assumes that we make that a policy. Right?”

“Commissioner Patterson: Yes sir.”

“Judge Hebert: So we’re tied to the State Legislature in the future of those percentages until some court desires to make a change. All right. That’s a clarification of the previous motion. Is there discussion on the motion made by Commissioner Patterson on the 3.35 total plus the 84% of District Judge for Associate Judges?”

“Commissioner Patterson: And a District Judge, I mean, excuse me, Associate Judge is the same as I just talked about the.....”

“Judge Hebert: Yeah”

“Commissioner Patterson: others is they’re locked. They’re not gonna get a 3. whatever next year.”

“Judge Hebert: That’s why they were included in our original recommendations because we wanted to tie everybody to a percentage of a District Judges base salary. ok? Any other questions?”

Now there is lengthy discussion on various employee raise issues and finally when all of that is ironed out, Judge Hebert makes the final statement:

“Judge Hebert: All right. If no further discussion, all those in favor of the motion. Motion carries.”

So, regardless of how Hebert and those other commissioners doing the talking remember it, that is what the minutes reveal. And, those commissioners who said the county had set a policy after reading the minutes from the meeting they were absent from were far more correct than those who were in the meeting and then attempted to recall their actions. Scary, isn’t it?

And Wilson, the official keeper of the minutes of these meetings, didn’t interject anything about policy. She transcribed what had been said by those who did establish a policy.

End of topic...well maybe. We will have to see how many years pass between this raise and the next attempt to boost elected officials salaries. If it is before the state approves raises for the district judges, the court will have to vote for an official policy change to carry out this quest. Please make note on your calendar and keep a watchful eye on the actions of the court in the future. I know I will.

 

Contact skinnerc1@ev1.net, if you would like to express your opinions/views regarding the column. Write a SIGNED letter to the editor with valid day time phone number--name can be withheld by request.

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