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Kiddos get bird's eye view of government

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Just in time for Primary Election on Tuesday, May 29, 19 members of the Alkek Elementary School Student Council visited Bandera County Commissioners Court on to see exactly how "sausage is made."

An abbreviated governmental session on Thursday, May 10, enabled County Judge Richard Evans to give the grade schoolers a civics lesson on exactly how local government works.

Additionally, all elected and appointed officials attending the meeting were given a chance to explain to the Alkek students the functions of their offices.

Evans noted that commissioners court is convened regularly - normally at 10 am, the second and fourth Thursday of each month - to conduct the business of the county. The court is comprised of one commissioner from each of the four precincts and the county judge.

Evans described the public forum, the first item on the agenda, as a venue that allows citizens to hold elected officials accountable. "By law, we can't discuss what's brought up in the public forum, but we can give citizens factual answers," he said. "No action can be taken unless the topic is put on the court's agenda."

EMS Director Cindy Martin asked for the court's approval to apply for a $35,000 grant from the Department of State Health Services to replace a 1998 ambulance. Martin planned to include the remainder of the necessary funds - $120,000 to $150,000 - in her department's budget for fiscal year 2012-2013. "We'll know in August if we get the grant," Martin said.

Commissioners approved her request unanimously. "An agenda items needs at least three votes to pass," Evans explained to the visiting elementary students.

Martin also requested the court's permission to donate an inoperable heart monitor to the Pipe Creek Volunteer Fire Department. She noted that with a $1,000 repair, the heart monitor "would be a step up from what they have." Again, commissioners approved her request unanimously.

Two routine agenda items required commissioners to grant Evans authority to sign contracts on behalf of the county. "I can't act for the county on my own; only if I have permission from the majority of the court," Evans said.

The last agenda item is traditionally the "consent agenda," a series of routine items, such as payment of bills and approval of minutes, among others, that occur monthly. "However, any item in the consent agenda can be removed for further discussion," Evans explained. "That item would then be voted on separately."

He also noted that a law enacted during a previous legislative session enables commissioners to make informational statements at the end of every meeting; however, that no action can be taken on these statements.

After court adjourned, Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris told the students, "This was a short meeting today, but sometimes we're here for six to seven hours. Don't think this is an easy job." Adding, "We're also not always this congenial," Harris concluded, "We don't always agree but we always vote and there should always be debate."

Evans concurred, saying, "We have to have a system of law or there would be anarchy. It's very important to follow the rule of law."

Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King said that his precinct comprised 45 percent of the county, but had the least population. "All precincts should be evenly divided by population," he said.

"The commissioners main job is to see that tax money is well spent," said Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese. "We also oversee the road department, court system and sheriff's office."

Precinct 1 Commissioner Bruce Eliker said, "This is where it all begins and it's sad to see so few people at court. Citizens must let us know what they want. Voters have ultimate control over their elected officials."

"You don't have to be a politician to do this job, but you do have to be a public servant," Harris said.

"The most important and powerful thing we do is to approve the county budget," Evans said. "We decide how much to tax residents and how that tax money will be spent." He went on to say that budget hearings are complicated. "Controlling the county purse strings is not easy and those sessions are not as amiable as the one today."

Other elected officials who spoke to the students included County Clerk Candy Wheeler, County Attorney John Payne and Treasurer Billie Reeves.

Other informal speakers included Chief Deputy Richard Smith, EMS Director Cindy Martin, Emergency Management Coordinator Carey Reed, Building Maintenance Supervisor Doyle Haner, Assistant Auditor Karen Pugh and Marcia Short, who serves as Evans' administrative assistant.

Alkek teachers who accompanied the students to commissioners Court were Courtney Casebier and Jaime Marino.

"I'm very glad that the students attended the commissioners court meeting," Evans said. "Maybe someday some of them will be up here making the decisions."

Pictured: Nineteen members of the Alkek Elementary School's 25-member student council attended Bandera County Commissioners Court on Thursday, May 10, to watch the commissioners and county judge in action.