Brown County Judge Paul Lilly met with the media Wednesday and discussed a wide range of topics, including Lilly’s proposal to disperse funds — left over in the now-defunct pre-trial diversion program — to the county’s 10 volunteer fire departments and other organizations.
Lilly said the pre-trial diversion program has about $110,000 remaining. Lilly said he proposes, with county commissioners’ approval, to make a one-time payment of $10,000 to each volunteer fire department. Lilly proposes with commissioners’ approval to disperse the remaining $12,000 equally to:
• CASA in the Heart of Texas
• Brown County Child Welfare Board
• Heart of Texas Children’s Advocacy Center
• Community Connections of Central Texas (formerly the Family Services Center).
“We no longer have the (pre-trial diversion) program, but the funds collected have been just sitting there,” Lilly said. “I was trying to think of a good use of those funds. So I contacted the Department of Justice out of Lubbock and told them what I wanted to do with the funds. They thought it was a very good idea as long as I tracked where the money is spent.”
Lilly said he also checked with the Texas Attorney General’s Office, which agreed with Lilly’s proposal.
“We have not been able to give any increase to our volunteer firemen since 2004,” Lilly said. “The county gives them a small amount every year to help them buy bunker gear, buy fuel for their vehicles … what I’m going to propose (to commissioners) is that we make one-time use of that money, and I can think of no better way to do that than to make a one-time payment to each of the volunteer fire departments.
“That would help them tremendously. These are brave men and women who donate their time to serve their community in a very dangerous role. I think this would be an excellent way to show them that we recognize that, we love you, we support you and we’re going to do everything we can to help you get the equipment you need.”
Lilly said he is still working out the details and it will be a few weeks until he is ready to make a proposal to commissioners.
Referring to the Community Connections of Central Texas, Lilly said, “I know they had some grant issues, some grants that they worked under — it wasn’t renewed. The grant went away. They’ve lost some paid staff, and they’re hurting too. I think we ought to do everything we can to help them provide those services.”
Lilly said the pre-trial diversion program “kind of comes with a checkered past, but the money can legitimately be used for any authorized government service. Even though it comes with a checkered past, I was elected to help lead us away from that past and we can’t do that if we continue to relive it. Yes, the program is defunct, but the money was collected legally and it’s still there, and I think we should put it to good use,” Lilly said.
“It’s been sitting there untouched for three or four years now.”
Greater access for citizens
Lilly also said he is making a change in the way citizens are allowed to address the commissioners court.
Under previous court rules, citizens were required to sign up ahead of time to speak during a commissioners court meeting, and they could only speak on topics on the agenda.
“I’m scrapping all of that,” Lilly said.
Under the agenda item “Citizens Comments,” citizens will not be asked to sign up ahead of time, and they will be given three minutes to speak on “on any issue that the government would have involvement in,” Lilly said.
Lilly said citizens need to understand that “we can’t do anything about it if it’s not under the purview of the county government.”
Lilly said citizens also need to know that “commissioners can’t speak back to them, can’t answer questions, can’t ask questions and cannot take any action to anything that’s not posted on the agenda per the Open Meetings law. … for some reason our county took it off of the agenda quite some time ago. So that is going back on the agenda.
“Some people don’t have access to their county commissioners or to me on a regular basis and that may be their only opportunity to get their voice heard.”
Lilly said while citizens will no longer be required to sign up first, they will be asked to state their names and where they live “to establish that they’re a county resident. I’m trying to eliminate any unnecessary steps that would inhibit anyone from voicing their First Amendment right,” Lilly said.
Obscenities and shouting won’t be allowed, Lilly said.
Lilly said he knows his changes to the Citizens Presentation agenda item “is not going to make me very popular with some of my colleagues on the court. I didn’t come here to win a popularity contest. … (Voters) sent me here to help bring this county into the modern age. “At the end of four years, the public will get a chance to decide if they like what I’ve done and hopefully they’ll approve of it.”
New seat for county attorney
Lilly said he is making a change to the seating arrangements in the commissioners court.
He said he’s had a table installed where staff can sit. Lilly also said he has asked County Attorney Shane Britton to take a seat among the other elected officials in the commissioners court.
“He’s a countywide elected official so I’m going to be placing him up on the commissioners court behind the microphone instead of having to sit out in the audience like he has to most of the time and answer questions,” Lilly said.
“This time he’s going to be in front of the microphone and he can give us legal advice, and be there to help us avoid pitfalls.
Lilly said he didn’t get elected to “come up here and be a good ole boy. The thing that I cannot stand above all others is, don’t tell me ‘that’s the way we’ve always done it.’
“That is not a valid reason for doing something. It may be that that’s the most legitimate and efficient way to do it but there may be a better way. I don’t like change for the sake of change, but if there is a better, more efficient way to do something, then I’ll do it.”
Lilly said while he hasn’t yet spoken with Sheriff Vance Hill on the topic, he wants to “help clean the areas of the county that are very trashy. (There is) trash and abandoned cars on the county right-of-way, in the ditches … I just want to help us clean up the county.”
Lilly said he’ll be visiting at length will Hill.
Lilly said an issue related to the agenda needs to be resolved. “We often have on our agenda where the commissioners vote on approving an employee … the commissioners court has no right, no authority under law, to tell any elected official who they can hire and cannot hire,” Lilly said.
“That puts us in an awkward position because what if the commissioners voted no? The elected official’s still going to hire who they want. Now the commissioners have complete authority over the salary. That’s different. And maybe that’s what we’re voting on in there.
“I asked why it was like this and I was told ‘because that’s the way it’s always been done. If that be the case, we need to clarify on the agenda in the future that what they’re voting on is the salary, not the appointment of the individual.”