Cassandra Evatt, a Comanche attorney and owner of Comanche County Abstract, and Brown County Clerk Sharon Ferguson agreed on one point Monday:
Evatt and her staff are entitled to stay as long as they want in Ferguson’s office and copy records for the title work Evatt wants to do in Brown County.
They agreed on little else in Monday’s meeting of the Brown County Commissioners Court, and Evatt left the meeting threatening to file a lawsuit against the county.
Evatt takes issue that members of the public are no longer allowed to use a sheetbed scanner to scan records. The only private imaging devices now allowed other are laptop computers with handheld scanners.
Evatt said it takes too long to use a handheld scanner for the volume of records she needs to scan, and she believes state law and case law give her the right to use a sheeted scanner.
Ferguson disagreed, and commissioners supported her view.
On March 26, commissioners approved a resolution at Ferguson’s request to prohibit the use of sheetbed scanners. Ferguson said the scanners can damage the pages on which the records are written. Ferguson also there isn’t room in the county clerk’s office for individuals to set up large pieces of equipment for scanning.
Before the new policy took effect, Evatt said, she and her staff used a sheetbed scanner to scan about 100 volumes in four days. Evatt said she and her staff weren’t disruptive and space was not an issue.
Once she should no longer use a sheetbed scanner, it would take about two years of work to use a handheld scanner for the remaining 500 volumes she needs, Evatt said.
The attorney said she intends to purchase the records that have been digitized, but not all records are digitized. Evatt said the records she had been scanning are in good condition and were not being damaged.
State law says the public has the right to copy records, Evatt said, noting on several occasions that the last thing she wants to do is file a lawsuit.
Commissioners said Ferguson is responsible for the preservation of the records and that they were not going to usurp her decision.
“I think the clerk can limit you or anyone else with equipment,” commissioner Gary Worley said. “ … The records are in her care.”
“I am trying to exhaust every effort that I can before I file a lawsuit,” Evatt said. “I’m entitled to the records, that’s where I’m going with this. I thought coming here might be a way to get this resolved without me having to do that.”
Ferguson replied, “Ma’am, you are entitled to the records. I do not deny that. You can stay all day long, every day. It’s the equipment that you’re wanting to bring in.”
“The only thing I’m pointing out is that we’re entitled to copy the records,” Evatt said.
“You sure can,” Ferguson replied. “ … but you cannot open the books. I talked with the Texas Association of Counties and they said they don’t know of any county that lets you open the books … we find (records) upside down, backwards, forward. Some are missing totally.”
Evatt said she’d cleaned up some of the records when she used a sheetbed scanner and encountered those situations.
“I can’t police that every day,” Ferguson said. “That’s why I’ve got to stop letting people open the books. It’s just getting worse and worse.”
Evatt said she understood and maintained she was not seeking special treatment. “All I’m asking is what we’re entitled to,” Evatt said.
Ferguson replied, “you are entitled to look at them but I have to treat everyone the same.”
Evatt said she’d be happy to meet with Ferguson and discuss the issue further.
“You threatened a lawsuit, so I don’t think so,” Ferguson replied.