Talk about wasting time. That’s exactly what Fort Bend County Commissioners Court did by meeting in closed (secret) session to discuss whether Sheriff Troy Nehls had violated the state’s “resign-to-run” provision regarding his possible run for retiring U.S. Rep. Pete Olson’s seat next year.
County Judge KP George said his office had received numerous inquiries about Nehls, who would have to give up his sheriff’s seat if he formally announced his candidacy for Congress because he has more than 13 months left on his term.
The problem with that nutty theory is Nehls hasn’t announced for anything.
He’s formed an exploratory committee and raised more than $100,000, but that’s not an announcement and doesn’t violate Article 16, Section 65(b) of the Texas Constitution. The last time and maybe only time a Fort Bend elected official had to leave office for “resign-to-run” was former Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Jim Scott in the mid 1980s.
Our rookie county judge is showing his inexperience.
If George didn’t understand what the state constitution says well enough to explain it to concerned constituents, he could’ve called County Attorney Roy Cordes and then given people an answer. It ain’t hard to understand.
The constitution says an officeholder must not announce his or her candidacy more than a year and 30 days from the end of his or her term.
Nehls’ term ends Dec. 31, 2020, and he’s not running for re-election. But if George and enough members of commissioners court wanted to discuss Nehls and get advice from Cordes, they should’ve done so in open session, not in secret.
George also made it clear in a statement that he doesn’t understand the Texas Open Meetings Act when he said a secret session was “the appropriate platform for such a discussion.”
No, it wasn’t.
What the heck did he have to hide? Perhaps his ignorance. The Open Meetings Act allows governmental bodies to get legal advice — and in this case, meet with the county attorney — in private, but it doesn’t require them to do so.
There was no good reason to discuss Nehls’ political future in secret, and it undermines public confidence. Even Republican Commissioner Andy Meyers, a Nehls supporter, misstated the Open Meetings Act, saying he couldn’t go into detail about what was discussed in closed session.
Sure, he could.
He can discuss anything he wants to the press or anyone else, but the law doesn’t require him to do so. It’s his choice.
At least Commissioner Vincent Morales appears to get it. He said Cordes said there was no evidence that Nehls did anything wrong and at no time did anyone mention removing Nehls from office during the closed session.
For those of us keeping score, that’s talking about what happened in closed session.
Perhaps a refresher course on the Open Meetings Act is in order for commissioners court. It’s important for them to understand.
For his part, Nehls is playing politics, mostly on Twitter.
He claimed Democrats on the court were meeting to discuss removing him from office. He also claimed George met with other Democrats to see who would replace him, but didn’t present evidence of that. Then, in his best Donald Trump imitation, Nehls channeled the Mueller Report and the Ukraine controversy by tweeting the court’s discussion was a “witch hunt” and “Sad!”
If and when Nehls runs for Congress, he’ll face a big Republican primary field and a challenging general election.
In addition to Fort Bend, the 22nd Congressional District includes large swaths of Harris and Brazoria counties. It’ll be a long, expensive grind and not anything like running for county sheriff.
Reach Fred Hartman at fbh@ hartmannews.com.