Weatherford Democrat

April 29, 2014

Court hears public comments before meeting


Weatherford Democrat

— By JUDY SHERIDAN

Parker County commissioners heard a presentation about re-building Maddux Road from former district court judge Max Bennett at a very unconventional time Monday — right before the court’s regular session at 9 a.m.

The presentation was not listed on the court’s April 28 agenda, which was convened after Bennett concluded.

Parker County does not offer a public comment session during its regular meetings, requiring instead that requested items be placed on the agenda.

According to the 2014 Open Meetings Handbook, a public comment session is, in fact, a meeting — as defined by section 551.001(4)(B) of the Government Code — because the members of a governmental body “receive information from ... or receive questions from (a) third person,” and a governmental body must give notice of a public comment session.   

However, County Attorney John Forrest said the unposted presentation by Bennett was not illegal because the court had not called the regular meeting, commissioners did not comment publicly and the item wasn’t actionable.

Bennett, as a former district judge, “has earned the honor to be recognized,” Forrest said. 

Bennett may have stated more information than what he was limited to, Forrest said, namely stating his reason for being there and requesting that the item be put on the agenda in the future. 

“Max had not requested to be on the agenda,” County Judge Mark Riley said later. “He just showed up. He is a retired district judge, and I wasn’t going to tell him he couldn’t say something.”

Maddux Road

Bennett closed his presentation to the court by saying Maddux Road, located in west Parker County, is unsafe.

“Clark Gardens is on that road,” he said, “and thousands of people go into Clark Gardens every day.”

A letter he handed out to commissioners states that improvements to Maddux were promised as part of the Parker County Transportation Bond program, which Riley denies.

 The letter further states that Riley told Bennett the road would be rebuilt by Jan. 1, 2014, which Riley also denies.

An April 7 conversation with Precinct 2 Commissioner Craig Peacock is mentioned in the letter, stating that Peacock told Bennett that he’d heard the bid for the road had come in at $1.5 million, but only $1 million was available. Bennett said Peacock told him he thought Precinct 2 could do the work for the lesser amount and was considering getting started this summer.

“My neighbors and I want a proper road,” Bennett wrote, saying he asked Peacock whether the county had the expertise and equipment to deal with the road’s drainage and safety issues. 

“We presumed that we would get one when we voted for and supported the transportation bond issue,” he wrote. “There is a dangerous unbanked curve on the road where several accidents have occurred.”

Peacock later confirmed Bennett’s statements, saying between $800,000 to $1 million is all the funding that’s available.

“I think we could do it ourselves and do a good job,” he said, “but it might not be this week or the next.”

Peacock said his predecessor, Charles Brinkley, put Maddux on a list of potential transportation bond projects which included Poolville Cutoff Road and Old Agnes Road, both which have now been completed.

Bennett’s letter concludes with requests for the bid forms and engineering specifications for the road, as well as the bids received; motions and votes on re-bidding the job; the most recent traffic count for Maddux, as well as the pre- and post-construction traffic counts for roads that have been improved with transportation bond funds; and the amount of funds available from the sale of any authorized but unsold transportation bonds.

Maddux Road was never authorized as a transportation bond project by a specific vote, Riley said, and the public knew that to be the case.

“The Western Loop, Pojo Road in Springtown and FM Road 1187 in Aledo were the only bond projects [we committed to],” he said, “All the other ones the court said if the money’s available.”

Maddux Road did go out for bids, Riley said, and the bids came in around $1.4 million — “too high for a road of that traffic count.” In addition, the low bidder had been “slow” managing past projects, he said.

“We discussed and rejected it in open court,” he said.

“The road needs repair,” Riley said. “The matter is how much money should be put on a road that has mostly pass-through, rather than local, traffic.”

The court has authorized engineering firm Freese and Nichols to come up with a prioritized list of projects countywide, he said, and Maddux Road will be considered as part of that. 

‘We will look at how to approach it,” he said, “whether the commissioner does it or [the court] hires it done.”

Peacock will do a traffic count of the road, he said.