Commissioners consider open carry issues

By Curtis Chubb

The ongoing investigation of the tax assessor-collector office and its ramifications were evident during the regular meeting of the Milam County Commissioners Court held on Monday.
First, the court accepted the resignation of Milam County Tax Assessor-Collector Kolette Morgan effective Dec. 11. (See related story.)
Second, Milam County Auditor Danica Lara reported that she had conducted an internal audit of the tax assessor-collector office last week to ensure that the office could continue to do business. The main concern Lara voiced was that the Rockdale office needed a secure method to store their records and money.
She recommended the purchase of a fire-proof safe.
Third, the commissioners court discussed the importance of having an external audit of the tax assessor-collector office. It was first suggested that the firm that has been performing the annual audits for the county (Pattillo, Brown, and Hill, LLP) be engaged for this special external audit.
Milam County Precinct 4 Commissioner Jeff Muegge made a motion to hire them to do the special audit. At that point, Milam County Judge David Barkemeyer asked if any of the audience members had a comment about the selection. Franklin Stewart, a Milam County citizen, asked if the Pattillo firm would be in a questionable position since they have being performing the external audits for the last few years.
Lara mentioned that the usual external audits were general audits and not focused on any one department such as the tax assessor-collector office.
Assistant County Attorney John Redington suggested that the Pattillo firm could be appointed on the condition that they wouldn’t have a conflict. He felt that the external audit had to be done quickly and the Pattillo firm had already indicated that they could start the audit in January.
Barkemeyer suggested that the county attorney’s office talk with the Pattillo firm and determine if the investigators would be comfortable with them doing the audit.
Muegge then modified his motion to appoint the Pattillo firm with the provision that they will meet with the county attorney so that all parties agree that the audit firm can conduct an unbiased audit without a conflict. The motion was passed with a unanimous vote.
Another Milam County citizen, Wayne Horkheimer, voiced his concern about the Pattillo firm’s conflict of interest and emphasized that the firm hired to perform the external audit had to be certified fraud examiners.
Barkemeyer concluded the discussion by stating: “We have taxpayers out there who are concerned. We have to do it right.”
Another major discussion centered on the new Open Carry laws passed by this year’s version of the Texas Legislature. Redington introduced the topic by saying that the new laws become effective Jan. 1.
He said that no handguns are allowed in courtrooms. But he said that although the second and third floors of the Milam County Courthouse are all court-related use and no guns are allowed, the basement and first floor are considered as multipurpose. He gave the example that although guns would not be allowed in the county court room, they could be open carried in the hallways.
The legal climate is uncertain. For example, Redington said that the definition of a “government premise” is unclear and that an attorney general’s opinion about the subject has been requested.
In Bell County, the courthouse has robust security and if a person open carries their weapons, they have to be escorted by a deputy, Redington said. Smith County has a total ban of guns in their courthouse.
He concluded his overview by saying that the decisions about how to implement the open carry laws is “really up to the court to decide.”
Barkemeyer asked the court what they wanted to do. He suggested that “No Guns” signs could be posted at areas determined by the commissioners court.
Then Barkemeyer said that he suspects that people carry concealed weapons in the court room but it would be best to have a “No Guns” sign at the door. He expressed skepticism if anything would prevent anyone who wanted to shoot someone from carrying a gun into any room they wanted.
The consensus was to wait until the attorney general issues his opinions concerning open carry laws. Redington summed up the discussion by saying that if weapons are going to be allowed in the hallways of the courthouse, the county may want to consider full-time security guards and metal detectors.
In other business, the commissioners court:
• Approved the designation of Private Road 3530 which connects to County Road 353 and Private Road 2360 which connects to County Road 236A – it was decided that Milam County’s 911 Oversight Board would make the private road number designations in the future so that the first three numbers match the county road to which the private road connects;
• Reappointed Muegge as Judge Pro-Tempore for 2016 which means Muegge will act temporarily as county judge when needed;
• Accepted a certificate documenting that Sherry Mueck attended the Secretary of State’s Annual Election Law Seminar for County Election Officials;
• Appointed sub-committees of the commissioners to review bids for road and bridge materials – the commissioners’ recommendations will be discussed at the next regular meeting of the commissioners court; and
• Approved a request by Redington to abandon the right of way of a never-used platted road in Davilla (Blocks 17 and 18) and grant free title to the owners of the adjoining land.