Judge rules GOP law violates minority rights

By Ian White

AUSTIN’S Republican leadership was quiet on Monday after a federal district judge ruled for the second time in three years that the voter ID law they enacted in 2011 intentionally discriminates against some Texas voters.
But Democrats were quick to blast governor Greg Abbott, lieutenant governor Dan Patrick and attorney general Ken Paxton for upholding their defense of the law, which detractors say is a deliberate attempt to prevent African-Americans and Hispanics from casting ballots as they are considered more likely to vote for the Democrats.
Matt Angle, director of the left-leaning Lone Star Project political action committee, said: “Sadly, adopting laws that intentionally discriminate against minority Texans has become standard operating procedure for Texas Republican leaders.
“For the fifth time in five years, a federal judge has ruled that Greg Abbott, above left, and other Texas Republican leaders intentionally discriminated against Hispanic and African American Texas citizens.”
Angle was reacting to Corpus Christi judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos’ ruling that the Republican-dominated Texas legislature had enacted the voter ID law, known as senate bill 14, with the intent of discriminating against the minority-group voters.
She refused to accept the Republicans’ claim that the law was purely a device to prevent voter fraud and said the measure violates the US Voting Rights act, saying there was “no substance to the justifications offered for the draconian terms of SB 14”.
Ramos issued her ruling on Monday after an appeal by the Republicans against a ruling she handed down in 2014 had been remanded back to her court by the New Orleans-based fifth circuit federal appeals court with an instruction to determine whether the law had been drafted intentionally as a discriminatory measure.
Angle said: “Intentional discrimination is more than a trend; it is a sickening technique Republican leaders use to weaken and undermine the voting strength of minority Texans rather than lift one finger to earn their support.
“Every Texan is hurt when any Texan is the victim of discrimination by state leaders. Every Texan deserves an apology and a pledge from Greg Abbott and Republican leaders to end the court fights and settle the cases.”
But he doesn’t expect Abbott and co to take Ramos’ ruling lying down and decline to appeal again, saying: “Don’t hold your breath. It is near certain that Republican leaders will appeal this decision and spend even more Texas taxpayer money defending intentional discrimination.
“Their hostility against fellow Texans is unchecked. Rather than heal the wounds of discrimination, I expect Abbott, Patrick and Paxton to inflict even more damage on our great state.”
As The Post went to press on Monday evening, there was no official word on how the Republican leadership in Austin would react to Ramos’ latest ruling.

Photo: MGN

A new era as Post publisher hands reins to editor

THE POST is changing hands. Founder David Day, his wife Virgina and son Justin this week signed an agreement that sells the newspaper to editor Ian White’s company, Ian White Publications.
IWP is buying the title from the Days’ company, D & V Day Investments, which has published The Post throughout the county since forming the publication in Santa Fe in November 2003.
Founding publisher David Day is relinquishing his role as the paper’s chief executive, having decided that he would like to return to his first professional love, advertising sales, in a strategic move to optimize revenues as the county’s economy expands in the wake of the current national boom.
White took the journal’s administrative reins this week and began working with Day to complete the sale, which they hope will be concluded within the next few days.
Day said: “This is an ideal development for the newspaper. I have felt for some time that I would really like to get back into active selling and, when Ian said he’d like to discuss possible ownership, I knew that it was meant to be.
“Ian has worked tirelessly for The Post since joining us part-time in 2013 and then becoming editor in 2015. I know he will work with great enthusiasm to drive the paper forward and make it a force to be reckoned with in our county.”
White responded in like spirit, praising Day for his vision in founding the twice-weekly newspaper and leading it with a philosophical blend of Christian principles and open-minded respect for readers’ news requirements.
“David treats everyone as he would a member of his own family and it is obvious that he is loved far and wide for that wonderful trait,” he said.
“I have learnt a great deal about publishing from him and it is his eternal optimism even in the hardest of times that has given me the enthusiasm to take his mantle, although I’m sure I’ll never be able to match his many qualities as a publisher.
“However, I’m even more excited that David is about to rejoin the advertising sales team, as he is easily one of the most productive salesmen I have ever known. His ability in that respect truly is a gift from God.”

Founding publisher David Day, right, welcomes Ian White as his successor

             Terry Adams

Lawyer shocks courtroom as he tells state’s top justices that county commissioners took almost four years to fire Bonnie Quiroga after determining her fate in 2010

By Ian White

TWO COUNTY commissioners moved swiftly do deny suspicions that they had broken the law after being asked about an extraordinary claim by one of the attorneys in Thursday’s supreme-court battle between senior county jurist Lonnie Cox, below, and county judge Mark Henry.
Terry Adams, representing Henry in the dispute, told the Austin court’s justices that his client and other commissioners had privately discussed dissatisfaction with the work of the county’s court administration department director Bonnie Quiroga in 2010.
Adams was answering a question by justice Don Willett, who was following up an assertion by the lawyer to justice Jeffrey Boyd that Henry had been aware of “dissatisfaction by the majority” of the commissioners before “asking [Quiroga] to take another job or resign” in July 2014, even though the issue had not been discussed during a regular commissioners’ court meeting.
His answer left astonished observers from both the judicial and executive branches of the county’s local government wondering whether the meetings had, indeed, taken place and, if so, why it had then taken Henry at least 43 months to fire Quiroga.
Stephen Holmes, one of the two still-serving commissioners who were elected before 2010 gave an unequivocal and stern denial that he had been involved in any such meeting.
And Ken Clark, the other, said he had met with Henry and Kevin O’Brien in November and December that year but that the meetings had not broken any law because neither Henry nor O’Brien had yet taken their oath of office.
No other commissioner had been involved in the trio’s meetings, the precinct-four commissioner told The Post.
Meanwhile, asked if he had met with Henry, below, and other commissioners in 2010 to discuss Quiroga’s work performance, Stephen Holmes of precinct three said: “No”.
The mystery was caused in the last few minutes of Adams’ closing presentation to the court when Willett asked if meetings between the county judge and other commissioners outside the confines of regular meetings were “proper” under the state’s open meetings law.
Adams replied: “Yes; they met in 2010 before the act applied to them”.
That was a reference to the fact that Henry was elected to his office on November 2, 2010, and was not sworn into office until January 2011. It’s the oath of office, not electoral victory, that renders an elected official subject to the act.
O’Brien was also elected that November and so was also not yet subject to the act after replacing Bryan Lamb as precinct-two commissioner.
Although Lamb remained subject to the act until his term ended on December 31 that year, along with Holmes, Clark and Patrick Doyle of precinct one, told The Post that none of his constrained commission colleagues had taken part in his discussions with Henry and O’Brien.
Asked how Henry could assume from those meetings so long before that the majority of commissioners were in favor of firing Quiroga in 2014, Clark referred to Ryan Dennard, who replaced Doyle at the 2012 election.
He said: “Everyone knew my opinion against keeping her, then commissioner Dennard told the county judge that he could no longer support her. It’s perfectly legal for two members of the commissioners’ court to discuss matters outside our open meetings, so no law was broken either in 2010 or 2014.”
Whether it was Dennard’s opinion about Quiroga’s continuing value as a county employee that produced a majority upon which Henry could act is unclear. Holmes has supported his fellow commissioners in their legal spat with Cox, her champion in the affair, but it is not known whether Henry consulted him on her employment before terminating her.
Nor is it clear why the county judge felt it necessary to have a majority of the commissioners backing him on the firing.
That did not appear to be a requisite for his unilateral action in December 2010 when, before taking office and while vacationing on a sea cruise, he instructed a county employee to issue termination notices to senior officers including community services director Curtiss Brown, budget director Ron Shelby, human resources director Rosa Franco and San Luis Pass bridge director Dennis Byrd.
The supreme court is expected not to take too long before issuing its ruling in the Cox-Henry case, especially as the subject it raises of correct county governance is the topic of a statewide continuing-education seminar being organized next month by the Texas office of court administration.

County given huge fund in battle against insect disease

By Ian White

THE PERENNIAL local war on mosquitoes has been given a massive shot in the arm as the state and federal governments pour money into fighting their diseases, including zika.
The county health district announced on Friday that it has been awarded $613,380 in federal funding through the state’s health services department to spend on prevention of and response to the insects’ diseases, including $126,000 for mosquito control.
Officials said the health district will use the money on zika-virus surveillance, planning, response, outreach and education, including the purchase of equipment to be used in neighborhood spraying “in the event locally-acquired cases occur in the county”.
Among the equipment listed for purchase are handheld foggers, backpack sprayers, chemicals and traps that can be used in areas as small as homeowners’ backyards.
John Marshall, director of the county’s mosquito control division, said investing in such close-quarters equipment is critical because “the species of mosquito known to transmit the zika virus tends to stay close to homes and not travel far”.
The district said the rest of the funding will be used “primarily for surveillance supplies, prevention kits and public awareness”, adding that the prevention kits “will include mosquito dunks, mosquito repellents and condoms”.
Randy Valcin, the district’s director responsible for epidemiology and public-health emergency preparedness, said: “The kits will be distributed in the neighborhoods of locally-acquired cases so people at increased risk will have the tools to protect themselves”.
Fight The Bite, a year-old public-awareness campaign, is to be ramped up with billboard, website and newspaper advertising, along with messages on social media, and a health communications specialist is to be hired to emphasize the dangers of zika to county residents.
District communications director Scott Packard said the funding is a slice of $9.7 million the state is allocating to local health departments to fight the zika virus until mid 2018.
He said the district submitted a budget for its proposed use of the funding this week and expects approval by March.
County health authority Philip Keiser said: “Zika virus continues to be an emerging health threat we all need to take seriously”.
And health district chief executive Kathy Barroso said the funding will provide “even more resources to make sure that our response is fast, effective and provides the maximum protection to our county”.

Photo by Day Donaldson/MGN

Cox and Henry spat accepted by supreme court

By Ian White

A JUDGE’S battle with the county commissioners is to go before the state’s supreme court in early March.
The county’s senior jurist, Lonnie Cox, and county judge Mark Henry are locked in a legal argument about supervision of the local government’s justice administration department in a case whose repercussions have already reverberated throughout the state.
After losing the argument in district and appeal courts in 2015, the commissioners asked the supreme court last February to review the case and, on Friday, its Austin-based justices agreed to hear oral argument by both sides on March 9.
Both Cox, left, who presides in the 56th district court at the county’s justice center in Galveston, and Henry, below, said on Friday that they were looking forward to their clash in Austin.
Henry, who has courted support from his fellow commissioners as well as cities and local-government groups throughout Texas, issued a statement saying: “The fact that our petition will be heard by the highest court in Texas is very significant.
“I am very eager to have our side make the case that what we did was not only lawful but necessary to look out for Galveston taxpayers and to do the job we were elected to do.”
The statement referred to the case as “very significant” and said it “will have ramifications in every county in Texas regarding separation of powers as to whether a county judge and commissioners court can properly execute their duties, such as budgets, positions and salaries”.
Cox, who has similarly sought the backing of his colleagues on the Galveston benches, was equally bullish, believing that the issue is whether a local judiciary can properly execute its own duties if its chief administrative officer’s job and department are subject to the whim of the executive
On Friday, he called The Post from Washington, where he was attending the presidential inauguration to say: “It was us, not them, who requested an oral hearing, so I am very excited that we now have a date.
“I expect the supreme court to put this thing completely to rest because Mark Henry keeps interfering with the judiciary. It’s pitiful.”