Independence alive and well in county government
David Barkemeyer
Milam County Judge

The Fourth of July, Independence Day, has come and gone and we red, white, and blue blooded Americans once again have had our independent spirits stirred within us with various parades, fireworks displays, and celebrations of our freedom.

There are many countries around the world that celebrate independence days where the people broke away from colonial rule as we did or from dictators or whatever.

But what makes us unique is what we did with the concepts of freedom and independence in making the break from Britain, beginning with the wording of the Declaration of Independence, then finally developing our Constitution and Bill of Rights with its separation of power in the branches of government and so on.

A lot has been said in speeches and editorials about all this and more in the last few days.

As I was reading some of this over the holiday, the thought struck me that this American independent spirit has also had a major impact on Texas county government structure as well.

I know I’ve explained this in past articles and some of you already know these things, but I know by the questions I get that a lot of folks don’t realize how county government works because it is so different from most other organizations, even municipal government.

It’s basically defined by the Texas Constitution and detailed in the Local Government Code.

The first principle of county government is that elected officials are fundamentally independent of each other.

I am not the boss of the other elected county officials. I don’t tell them what to do, they answer only to you the voters.

I am the budget director for the county, but once the budget is set, they (the sheriff, commissioners, county clerk, JPs, etc.) are free to spend the funds allocated to their department.

And as budget director, I only work with the approval of the commissioners court which is made up of myself and the four county commissioners.

We have begun the important process of budget planning for 2014. Each official presents their preliminary plan to me, these are then compiled and reviewed with the commissioners in a planning workshop, and will be reviewed with you in public hearings before final approval in commissioners court in September.

A lmost all laws governing counties are passed by the state legislature in Austin.

Counties are limited on the kinds of regulations that can be passed locally.

What decisions that are made locally are usually made by the five-person commissioners court by majority rule.

The county judge makes very few decisions independently. There will be no dictator here! Decisions within each commissioner’s precinct involving roads, equipment, personnel, etc. are made by that commissioner and he alone.

Decisions regarding the sheriff’s department or jail are made by Sheriff David Greene.

Decisionshavingtodowith the tax department are made by Tax Assessor/Collector Kolette Morgan, and so on.

Sometimes I get a call or visit from a citizen complaining about a decision or service in one of our county departments.

I will always respond to your request, but you must understand that my intervention will be one of inquiry, discussion, and reasoning together, never one of trying to dictate an order or overruling their decision.

Cooperation is essential to success. Good old American independence is alive and well in county government, and at the end of the day, it keeps us free.

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2013-07-11 digital edition

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