By Jim Allison
In the past 40 years, I have witnessed some extraordinary sights in Commissioners Court, ranging from audiences physically charging the podium, to shoving matches between members of the Court. I have also seen some commendable acts of courtesy and statesmanship. As the level of courtesy and respect declines in our society, Commissioners Court members should commit to a higher standard of ethics and behavior, setting an example for others. Here are a few observations of the best and worst practices.
- Offer Respect. Always begin with the Golden Rule. Every encounter with constituents or other officials is an opportunity to make friends and supporters. Spend more time listening than talking. Consider their point of view. If they are agitated or upset, give them some time to vent, and then ask a question. Do not attempt to debate or argue with the audience. Reserve your decision until the vote is taken. Address your comments to the Chair. Do not interrupt other members of the Court.
- Require Respect. The Commissioners Court is a place of business, not a debating hall. Maintain order and separation, both physically and verbally from the audience. Do not respond to public comment, except to thank the speaker, unless a question is necessary to obtain additional information. Do not allow comment, except to thank the speaker, unless a question is necessary to obtain additional information. Do not allow comment from the audience unless recognized by the Chair.
- Appearances Matter. You only have one opportunity to make a good first impression. Arrive promptly for Commissioners Court, and begin on time. Wear appropriate business attire. Speak slowly and clearly without unduly raising your voice. Be prepared. Review materials in advance, and make them available to the public and media.
- Follow the Rules. Adopt rules of procedure and decorum. Provide copies for the audience. Use basic parliamentary procedure. Do not argue with the other members. Recognize members fairly and impartially.
- Follow the Law. Do not engage in the “walking” quorums. Allow all members to place items on the agenda. Post the agenda as required by law, and maintain records. Review and revise minutes as needed. File affidavits, and abstain when required by the conflict of interest statute. When in doubt, bid it out. Obtain legal advice. Be sure that you are right, then go ahead.
- Think Ahead. Consult other local, state, and federal officials on future infrastructure and capital project needs. Budget for the unexpected; maintain sufficient reserves. Hold community workshops, and appoint advisory committees on large projects. Don’t keep score or hold grudges. Enjoy each day.
For more information, please call me at 1-800-733-0699.