Early voting begins Monday in the county’s $39.5 million road bond election. It’s expected to see historically low turnouts. And the election comes just a few short months after the idea of a bond package to pay for road repairs was floated.
There’s no doubt we need a plan to fix our roads. But this election feels rushed, and the Commissioners Court has not had adequate time to rebuild the trust it needs from the community.
Let’s start with the timing.
Judge Moran has been in office for a little more than a year. He was appointed to the position following the suspension of County Judge Joel Baker, who had been indicted for violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act (Baker later pleaded to a single misdemeanor charge).
But Baker wasn’t the only member of the Commissioners Court in those meetings that resulted in indictments against him by the Texas Attorney General’s Office. As tapes of those meetings make plain, members of the court were complicit in the violation on the issues of openness and accountability. And even following Baker’s resignation, some members of the court continued to refer to the charge as a “technical violation” of the important Open Meetings rules.
Commissioners knew they needed to rebuild the community’s trust. And that takes time. That’s why Nov. 7, 2017, is simply too soon for what was initially presented as a $100.1 million bond package (it was later broken up into phases and maintenance items were removed).
The court did hold public meetings, starting in July. And that’s commendable. But much more public outreach and engagement are needed. How many people even know there’s a bond election slated?
The voters of Smith County also need to see a renewed commitment to fiscal responsibility.
There’s a perception that Tyler and Smith County voters hate taxes and won’t pay for necessary improvements. But as recent bond packages for a new jail and for new Tyler ISD schools demonstrate, that perception is false. Smith County voters simply want to be able to trust the leadership. When sustained patterns of leadership - and transparent processes - are in place, voters will respond overwhelmingly to well-communicated plans for improvements.
For these reasons, we must recommend voting against the $39.5 million county road bond proposal.