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BCRAGD adopts policy regarding personnel confidential information

By Carolyn B. Edwards BCC Staff Writer

After a brief public hearing during which no citizens spoke, the Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District (BCRAGD) board of directors segued into a called meeting and approved a proposed tax rate of .026001 cents Friday, August 24.

General Manager Dave Mauk said the rate, a slight increase over last year, would support a budget that will run about $35,000 higher than the budget for 2012. Two line items alone accounted for a $20,000 increase in the budget. There is a proposed $14,000 expenditure for a USGS rain gauge atop Bandera County's Edwards Aquifer in the far northwest end of the county, and a $6,000 expense for a USGS rain gauge on the Sabinal River. "[The gauges] would offer real time data to fire departments and emergency services about rainfall in that area," said Mauk. "The benefit is not just the science for us, but to the people who live out there." Mauk is negotiating with the Edwards Aquifer Authority to share costs for the Sabinal gauge, hence the lower budgeted cost.

The BCRAGD 2013 budget, approved at an August 8 meeting of the board, totaled $497,695.

New policy

Following adoption of the tax rate, the board moved to consideration of an item on the agenda that dealt with the handling of district employee's confidential information.

The item was generated in part due to actions taken by Director Ernie DeWinne, as well as by Mauk. Shortly after DeWinne took office, he asked for access to the district's Quick Books files since his expertise is in accounting. Mauk allowed DeWinne to copy the files and only later realized the files contained confidential employee information.

After consulting with the district's attorney, Richard Mosty of Kerrville, Mauk received a letter from Mosty outlining opinions from the Texas Attorney General's regarding the Texas Open Records Act that might apply to the supposed breach in confidentiality.

Mosty's letter said, "An officer or employee of a governmental body who obtains access to confidential information under Section 552.008 of the Open Records Act commits an offense if the information is used for an improper purpose, or permits inspection or discloses the confidential information by a person not authorized to receive the information."

AG Opinion JC-0120 goes on to say that a governmental body "may and should adopt procedures for reviewing the records that will ensure their preservation and confidentiality."

Consequently, Mosty sent a draft of a proposed policy for consideration by the BCRAGD board.

DeWinne acknowledged that the proposed policy item was generated by his actions. "I've deleted the files I had [on a flash drive]," he said, "As long as I don't have confidential information, I could work on gross numbers and do budget analysis."

Mauk said he wanted "to limit the number of people who access that computer [which contains BCRAGD's financial records] but agreed that he could make a copy of a redacted version (eliminating the confidential employee information) for directors to work with."

The new district policy recognizes a director's and an employee's right to access the records, but clearly states the restrictions on the release of any confidential records.

The board, including DeWinne, voted unanimously to adopt the policy.

Charges from City

The final item on the agenda also involved alleged actions by DeWinne. Mauk read a letter sent to BCRAGD from Bandera City Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Schumacher and City Administrator Mike Cardenas. Schumacher and Cardenas alleged that DeWinne may have recorded a private meeting between city officials and water district officials and then shared information from that meeting with others, and most particularly Jim Hannah, who, the letter said "we had told could not be present at the meeting."

Schumacher and Cardenas said Hannah "repeated verbatim portions from the private meeting at the City's Planning and Zoning Commission public meeting" held the next day.

The private meeting had been organized in order for Mauk to bring some city officials up to speed on local water issues as they might affect the city in both the short and long term.

Mauk advised the board that, according to Mosty, since the letter involved one governmental entity contacting another governmental entity, he had to bring the issue before the board.

DeWinne admitted he had had a conversation with Hannah but that they only talked about the agenda, not about any specifics. "I don't feel I did anything in violation of my position [as a BCRAGD director]."

City Councilman John Hegemeier, who also attended the private meeting, submitted a letter to the BCRAGD board in which he freely admitted he had "discussed the meeting in great detail with the then chairman of the City of Bandera Planning and Zoning Commission, Mr. Hannah."

Hegemeier said he didn't believe the meeting was a "private" meeting. He also apologized to DeWinne "for any embarrassment that the letter from the Mayor Pro Tem and the City Administrator may have caused. I only found out about this matter on Wednesday of this week or I would have spoken up sooner."

Board member Sid Gibson asked if the board needed to send a letter to the City saying BCRAGD had considered the matter. "I don't believe there was any violation of public trust [on the part of DeWinne]."

BCRAGD Director Karen Ripley said, "This is the response. We've dealt with it."

Also, FYI, any taxpayer, or elected official, with questions about the BCRAGD's budget for 2013 is welcome to stop by the district's office during regular office hours to look over a copy. The staff will be happy to answer any questions.