Commentary

Ol' tightwad, the county judge

In the 1960s, there was a county judge who was unintentionally outrageously funny and ridiculous. He was extremely tight with his own money and the taxpayers' as well. Being cautious with tax money is a virtue. However, his personal cost-saving was often at others' expense and to his detriment.

This county judge, who was a practicing attorney we'll call John Brown, belonged to a fundamentalist church and was a 45-year-old bachelor.

When interviewing him for a re-election announcement story, I asked what was his best accomplishment in office. Judge Brown said: "Marriage counseling. I've been able to counsel many couples who've come in to file for divorce and the sessions have steered many away from filing."

This county, with a high population of Czech, Polish, German and Hispanic people, had for decades legalized the sale of alcoholic beverages. Judge Brown managed, in his first term, to anger much of the population with lengthy delays of alcoholic beverage permit applications.

Judge Brown and I were members of the same service club. At one point I was elected the club's "fine collector." At meetings, I carried around this little "potty" with a squeeze horn on the side (Yeah, grown men in service clubs did such things).

All fine money went for "ladies' night" functions. A member could be fined if he didn't wear his club pin or his name badge, didn't call his assigned buddy to remind him of the meeting and didn't get to the meeting on time, among other things. It was 10 cents (one thin dime) for each violation. However, there was a minimum fine of 20 cents for everyone just to make sure the ladies' night fund grew, but a maximum fine of 70 cents so it wouldn't hit anyone too hard.

The judge never did any of the things that would prevent the maximum fine. When I squeezed the horn and tried to collect, he'd smile, nod his head and offer a quarter after I'd informed him he owed 70 cents. He'd plunk the quarter into the pot and I'd announce loudly that he owed more. Did I harass the judge? Guilty.

His late arrival was not entirely, I believed, accidental. When Judge Brown arrived, he'd find a spot at a table where there were two or three empty chairs. One of the women cooking and serving the meal would ask him what he'd like on his plate and he'd always reply that he was not eating. When the woman turned and went back to the kitchen, he would gather the pre-served small salads and desserts from the three unoccupied spots and eat that for lunch. He never paid.

Judge Brown apparently decided arriving later than his usual time would get him there after fines were collected. I figured it out and nailed him every time. Ultimately, he went to the club president and told him he didn't think he could afford to belong to the club any longer.

Finally, the clincher came from none other than Judge Brown's brother-in-law, Carl.

They two were standing around after church services one Sunday when the judge nodded toward an attractive young widow, and said: "Carl, I sure would admire to meet that young woman."

Carl informed the judge he could arrange the meeting to which Judge Brow n replied, "If you'd do that, Carl, I'd treat everyone to a fine meal in Houston."

Introductions were made and off the foursome went to The Red Lion, one of Houston's finest restaurants. Evidently, the judge didn't know it was also one of the most expensive. Carl described Judge Brown's reaction as each was ordering. "He looked like someone with the DTs (delirium tremens)," laughed Carl, "adding up the tab in his head."

When the food came, Carl said, the judge made like a vacuum cleaner on his plate and finished well ahead of everyone else. As he dabbed his mouth with the fine linen napkin, Judge Brown proclaimed, "Carl, I want you to know I really appreciate your treating us to this fine lunch."

Carl never did Old Tightwad any more favors, brother-in-law or not. And, Brown lost the next election.

wwebb@wildblue.net


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2009-06-25 digital edition



The burn ban for Milam County has been lifted. Burning is always prohibited in the county's municipalities.


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