Court of Appeals rejects Smith County Commissioner's Court reque - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

Court of Appeals rejects Smith County Commissioner's Court request to recall closed meeting videos

Source: KLTV Staff Source: KLTV Staff

The Twelfth Court of Appeals has denied a petition sought by the Smith County Commissioner’s Court following the release in April of video recorded during a closed session.

County Judge Nathan Moran had requested the review amid concern about the precedent set by the release of video recorded during a closed session.

The  videos were part of exhibits intended for use by the Texas Attorney General’s office during a criminal trial of former County Judge Joel Baker. That trial never happened, as Baker took a plea agreement over violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act just before the trial was set to begin. Baker allegedly struck a deal without public input, committing the county to a 10-year contract with American Traffic Systems.

Grassroots America We the People obtained the records through a public information request filed in March by director JoAnn Fleming. Those documents and videos were posted on the organization’s website.

The Twelfth Court of Appeals ruled regarding the Smith County Commissioners Court's Appeal in which Smith County sought a writ of mandamus directing the trial court to vacate its orders of April 17, 2017 and May 12, 2017, compelling disclosure of three closed sessions of the Smith County Commissioners Court. The Court has denied the petition for writ of mandamus as moot.

On Friday, July 21, Grassroots America We The People released the following statement: 

The following statement is in response to the ruling by the Twelfth District Court of Appeals of Texas rejecting the attempt by the Smith County Commissioners Court to recall videos of the illegal speed camera deal struck behind closed doors in 2014.

The Smith County Commissioners Court’s decision to fight District Judge Jack Carter’s order, which released the videos of three closed-door meetings that he ruled as violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, was unfortunately another example of how elected officials sometimes squander tax dollars.

We wonder if the new County Judge and Commissioners even read the AG investigator’s report, which describes what is found on the videos, or watched them before they voted to spend more tax dollars on more attorneys. Surely, if they had, they would not have pursued this appeal. 

The only response the Commissioners should had after the facts were exposed was a sincere apology to the people of Smith County for their participation in the illegal meetings. A couple of the Commissioners can be seen disagreeing with the former county judge, but they never walked out of the meetings. They never raised a public objection; therefore, the meetings went on, a contract was signed, and thousands of dollars later, we still have some county officials who insist the whole thing was a “witch hunt.”

Facts are stubborn things. The indisputable facts about what actually took place are readily available for anybody who cares about the truth. The commissioners and the former county judge can be seen and heard saying many most unfortunate and disrespectful things. There is no doubt both the law and the public trust were violated. 

Grassroots America pursued the release of the videos and the trial evidence because we believe the people of Smith County have a right to know exactly what happened in this issue. There is a long-running pattern in Smith County of elected officials not wanting to hold each other accountable. When those we elect will not hold themselves or each other accountable to the rule of law, somebody has to do it. We did.

Now that the Appeals Court has ruled, in response to numerous requests from Smith County citizens, Grassroots America will post transcripts of the videos on our website in the very near future. 

We again call on the Smith County Commissioners to publicly apologize to their constituents for their participation in these illegal meetings. Asking forgiveness is the right thing to do. 

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