The Cooke County Commissioner Court voted to end the burn ban, defend two county employees in a lawsuit and set the process in motion for an interior renovation of the courthouse in its Monday meeting.

In business, the Commissioners voted unanimously to end the county-wide burn ban and to rescind the state of emergency for Cooke County.

“The weather forecast, just like the weather, changes,” said County Fire Marshal Ray Fletcher.

He said a two-inch rainfall, followed by a snowstorm and even more rainfall Sunday night provided for a gradual “greening up” of ground vegetation. Fletcher said the county is now “out of the frame where we would have a devastating fire.”

Fletcher said he still warns residents to be careful with outdoor burning and welding, as high winds are predicted for Wednesday and there will come dry days as spring begins.

Overall, he said, compliance with the burn ban was good, with 20 citations given by law enforcement agents for violating the ban. He congratulated county fire departments for a job well done in controlling blazes and responding to complaints.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Al Smith said the Era Volunteer Fire Department has scheduled a fund-raising barbecue from 5 to midnight Saturday, and urged southwestern Cooke County residents to be extra careful as local firemen would be preoccupied that evening. His comment met laughter.

In other business, the Commissioners approved a few items of business concerning the Cooke County Courthouse renovation project, including amending the contract with Komatsu Architecture for adjustment of compensation to the architect (as the exterior renovation project took longer than expected), approving a resolution supporting the restoration of the courthouse, and approving a Texas Historical Commission funding agreement for the interior renovation project.

Carl Komatsu, architect, spoke on the project, and said it comes on the “fifth round” of a statewide courthouse renovation program originally implemented by Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock and Gov. George W. Bush in the late ’90s.

Komatsu said 118 courthouses have qualified for some form of funding and 60 have obtained funding for construction. He said Cooke County qualified for an 85 percent matching grant.

“That’s virtually unheard of, but at the time the governor and the lieutenant governor wanted to make the same dedication to the counties that was made in 1895,” he said. “... Texas is distinguished to have the kind of courthouses that it does ... and they put their money where their mouth is, so to speak.”

Komatsu said Cooke County has the second highest total amount of state funds for courthouse renovation. He said the renovation is not only for aesthetic improvement but also for fire prevention and public safety. Cooke County’s courthouse was built circa 1910, and Komatsu said that the building has lasted so long is a testament to the sound construction methods and materials used. He said modern buildings are expected to last about 30 to 40 years, and a solid building such as the Cooke County Courthouse is worth preserving.

Freeman asked Komatsu to comment on accusations that the courthouse would only be used as a museum due to “functional insufficiencies” for housing county government. Komatsu said the courthouse could continue to serve as a headquarters for county government, and predicts all offices would be able to return. Maintenance and utility costs, he said, would be reduced as better insulation and more efficient infrastructure would be introduced to the courthouse.

“It’s really an investment that pays dividends in the long run,” Komatsu said.

Smith congratulated his colleague, Precinct 4 Commissioner Virgil Hess, in spearheading the renovation plan. An exterior renovation was largely completed in 2006, and an interior renovation is being planned by Commissioners currently, and no offices have moved as of press time.

In other business, the Commissioners voted 4-1 to approve the appointment of legal counsel for Billie Jean Knight, tax assessor-collector, and Shelly Saunders, county auditor.

David Hansmeyer, a resident of County Road 189 near Callisburg, requested to speak on two consent agenda items (which are non-controversial business items approved as a set) and, with his objection, County Judge Bill Freeman took a vote to move the matter of legal counsel for the two county officials to regular business.

“It would be irregular for the county taxpayers to pay for it,” Hansmeyer said of the legal counsel for Knight and Saunders.

Hansmeyer said Knight and Saunders, to his knowledge, were sued as individuals.

Freeman said the county has a legal insurance policy and that Knight and Saunders were sued based on an incident which occurred while in service to the county.

Details on the lawsuit were not discussed. However on Feb. 1 Knight reported being poked by an un-named person at the courthouse. Later that month, then-Commissioner candidate Wayne Dodson of Callisburg sued for injunctive relief against Knight, Saunders and a Callisburg store owner. Dodson’s suit claimed Knight and Saunders were aligned with Precinct 1 Commissioner incumbent Gary Hollowell and accusations against Dodson were politically motivated. Dodson’s suit sought monetary compensation to pay for legal fees and to donate to charity.

According to Friday’s Register, Dodson’s attorney filed a notice of non-suit with non-prejudice — effectively calling off the lawsuit. Freeman said the “non-prejudice” aspect of the notice implies Dodson may sue again, and that the county is justified in defending Knight and Saunders.

“Because it asked for damages, we have to protect the county’s interest,” Freeman said.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Steve Key voted against the measure, questioning why some county employees have legal insurance and others do not.

In proclamations, the Commissioners voted unanimously to honor Tom Carson, former station manager of KGAF-AM, 1580, with a proclamation noting his service to the community.

Making a few comments, Carson said he came to Cooke County around the same time as Freeman, when Gray Underwood was County Judge.

“Bill, we’ve been through a lot, and through a lot of Commissioners,” Carson said. “But it’s still Cooke County, and it always will be.”

Carson, noting his role as a broadcast journalist, described journalists as “on a passing train — voyeurs to the events going on.” He said journalists may not be the movers and shakers of a community, but they chronicle the efforts of others.

“And that’s good enough if we’re good enough at telling their tales,” he said of his fellow broadcasters.

In other proclamations, Freeman presented Texoma Area Chapter of the American Red Cross director Sharon Watson and former Commissioner Bill Cox, now a Red Cross board member, with a proclamation naming March as American Red Cross Month.

Watson said disasters happen more often than the average person may believe. She said house fires are the no. 1 disaster in the U.S., as an example.

The Commissioners also declared March 16-22 as Poison Prevention Week in Cooke County.

In other business, the Commissioners voted unanimously to:

• Replace carpet in the Department of Public Safety Building in the amount of $3,269.17.

• Approve an indemnification agreement with Wolf Ridge Wind, LLC., for the expansion of roads leading to industrial wind generator construction sites in northwest Cooke County.

• Approve voting machine rental service agreements between Cooke County and the city of Gainesville, and North Central Texas College for the May elections.

• Approve Cooke County Sheriff’s Racial Profiling Report for the period of Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2007.

• Accept a Humanities Texas mini-grant in the amount of $1,308; a donation of $10 to be used for research from Bernice Doyle; a donation of $50 to be used for memorial books from Danny and Dana Knight; a donation of $10 to be used for research from David Strickland, all for the Cooke County Library.

• Accept a Texas Department of Health Grant in the amount of $7,967 for the Cooke County EMS.

• Approve a photocopier lease for Highway Patrol Office.

The meeting adjourned at 11:09 a.m.

Reporter Andy Hogue may be contacted at andyhoguegdr@ntin.net

Trending Video

Recommended for you