Residents waiting on Commissioner Grayson to fulfill campaign promise

Photo by Dave A. Vance.
Precinct 2 Ellis County Commissioner Lane Grayson taking the oath of office on January 1, 2015.

ELLIS COUNTY — Newly elected Precinct 2 Ellis County Commissioner Lane Grayson ran his campaign on the idea of transparency and said he was adamant about having an evening Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting.

"That is one of the things that we talked about often during the campaign is bringing one of the two meetings to an evening time so that it would be easier for local folks to attend. I am going to be adamant about that," Grayson was quoted by the Waxahachie Daily Light in a December 31, 2014 article the day before Grayson was sworn into office.

"I think that is an important decision for our court. It makes us more transparent and more accessible. Does it make it more convenient for those who serve in that capacity? No absolutely not. That is not what it is about. It is about bringing county government and the decisions that are made closer to the constituents."

Commissioner precinct 3 resident and Ellis County Republican Party Chairperson of voting precinct 102 Ashley Sellers believes the time is now for Grayson to follow-through with his campaign promise.

"He needs to hold up to his word. He does not need to rely on everybody reminding him what he campaigned on," Sellers said. "If he's just not sure he has the support of it, that's not a reason to not bring it up. He needs to bring it up like he said he'd be adamant about."

Multiple attempts to reach Grayson via text messages and phone calls to his personal cell phone Saturday as well as attempts to reach Grayson about another county issue since May 7 were unsuccessful. Previous conversations weeks ago between the publisher of Ellis County Citizen and Grayson were not clear on the priority of this issue with Grayson.

Former candidate for Ellis County Commissioner Precinct 2 and precinct 2 resident Tim Berneking, who supported Grayson during Grayson's runoff with previous Precinct 2 Ellis County Commissioner Bill Dodson, also ran his campaign on government transparency and still supports an evening meeting.

"If I was an employee of the people, I should be willing to work late a couple nights a month and be able to communicate with them, see them and have them come out and be a part of things and give their opinion," Berneking said.

Since the end of evening meetings on March 11, 2013, new county commissioners have been elected. Precinct 4 Ellis County Commissioner Ron Brown was replaced by Kyle Butler and Grayson replaced Dodson.

Attempts to reach Butler via his cell phone Saturday were unsuccessful. Conversations with Butler last year during his campaign indicated that he would vote depending on the feedback from constituents.

Sellers is encouraging her friends and fellow Ellis County residents to contact their county commissioners to express support for reintroducing an evening meeting once per month.

Residents can find contact information for their commissioner using the links on the left column of the Ellis County website located at http://www.co.ellis.tx.us/index.aspx?NID=450.

"People are getting involved and people want to know what's going on so I think it is a good time to allow these meetings to open back up after working hours so people can really get involved," Sellers said.

Precinct 3 Ellis County Commissioner Paul Perry has supported evening meetings during his tenure and still supports evening meetings.

"Most of Ellis County works during the day so if we offer one evening meeting per month we can interact with more of the public," Perry said. "We are more of a commuter county than ever before. It's a lot easier for someone to take off work a little early to come to a 6 p.m. meeting than to take off half a day of work to come to a 3 p.m. meeting."

Sellers, a stay at home mother who home-schools her children, finds the daytime meetings inconvenient.

"Stay at home moms like me who do home-school, I have young children and I'm not bringing them into court. Out of respect for the court, I'm not bringing them in there," she said.

"This issue to me is a no-brainer. We should interact with the public; we should have one evening meeting per month. It's our job to serve the public," Perry said.

Grayson and Butler were sworn into office on January 1, 2015 and have been in office for 143 days, or four months and 23 days. Residents are still waiting for Grayson to uphold a campaign promise to place the topic of evening meetings on an Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting agenda.

Grayson, who focused his campaign on county government transparency as a primary issue, defeated a number of candidates during the race to become Ellis County Commissioner Precinct 2.

Grayson (779 votes) and Dodson (1,234) headed into a runoff after coming out on top of opponents David Gardener (644), Darren Bravenec (263) and Tim Berneking (251) during the March 2014 Republican primary.

Grayson defeated Dodson in the May 2014 runoff with 1,450 votes while Dodson finished with 1,245 votes.

Grayson finalized his election run with a victory over Democrat Tommy Aguilar during the November 2014 general election. Grayson secured 4,811 votes with Aguilar coming up short with 1,642 votes.

Prior to March 11, 2013, the Ellis County Commissioners' Court met twice per month with the first meeting of the month at 10 a.m. and the second meeting at 6 p.m.

On February 11, 2013 during a 10 a.m. meeting, Brown introduced an agenda item to change all meeting times to 10 a.m. Dodson, Grayson's predecessor, made a motion to change the 6 p.m. meeting time to 4:30 p.m. but the motion died for a lack of a second.

"I feel it is very important that we can interact with the public and that we are convenient to the public and that we offer as much access. I think the court before I got into office was doing the right thing by offering at least one evening per month," Perry said.

Eight residents provided verbal or written opposition to the change with no residents offering support for the change.

"I don't think the court should be allowed to decide what their agenda items are going to be on a meeting depending on who may or may not show up if they've got something that they think they're gonna want to throw a hissy fit over or act childish over a particular agenda item," Berneking said.

On March 11, 2013 during a 10 a.m. meeting rather than the evening meeting held two weeks prior, Dodson reintroduced the topic proposing to change the 6 p.m. meeting times to 3 p.m. The proposal passed with Dodson, Brown and Precinct 1 Ellis County Commissioner Dennis Robinson voting yay and Perry casting the only nay vote.

14 residents provided verbal or written opposition to the change, including then Ellis County Republican Party Chairman Dan Davis. No residents offered support for the change.

Perry reintroduced the topic during a January 27, 2014 public meeting but no action was taken by the court because Ellis County Judge Carol Bush changed Perry's agenda item to be a discussion only item. The Ellis County and District Attorney later released a memo to the court stating the commissioners have the legal right to have whatever topic they want placed on the agenda without significant changes made by Bush.

Grayson attended the public meeting and voiced his support for evening meetings stating early meetings make it hard for people to attend and that people want to come to these meetings to share their voice and opinion.

Berneking, one of Grayson's opponents during the primary election, also spoke in support of evening meetings stating residents like him who work during the day are unable to attend daytime meetings. He said a later meeting time would allow people to share their voices and opinions with the court.

Perry again pushed for an evening meeting time during a February 10, 2014 public meeting and made a motion to change the 3 p.m. monthly meeting to 6 p.m. The motion died for a lack of a second.

"I still hear more from people who prefers the 6 p.m. meeting than who don't care. I don't know if it is a top issue for everyone but it is an important issue for a lot of people," Perry said. "I will always support at least one evening meeting per month."

Perry said he would prefer holding one meeting at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. but would be willing to compromise with other commissioners on a 6 p.m. meeting. Berneking, who works until 6 p.m. in Ellis County, prefers an evening meeting later than 6 p.m. because of his and other residents' work schedule.

"They need to be at 6:30 p.m. or 7 p.m. so people coming back from Dallas can make it," he said.

Full Disclosure: The publisher of Ellis County Citizen, Dave Vance, prior to the creation of Ellis County Citizen, publicly endorsed Lane Grayson and volunteered for his campaign during the runoff election.