More transparency is good. Beyond that, we’ll see what happens.
Incoming Waller County leaders are pledging more transparency in the wake of a jury’s verdict that sitting county commissioners illegally discussed a contentious landfill project in closed-door sessions and in private with the project’s developer.
“Transparency and open government were significant issues during the recent campaign,” said County Judge-elect Trey Duhon. “This jury verdict sends a statement that we must do a better job of operating our county government… Business as usual will no longer be tolerated in Waller County.”
Duhon was one of three landfill opponents elected to the commissioners court in November – elections that followed victories by two other landfill opponents in 2012, John Amsler and Jeron Barnett. Come January, landfill opponents will have a majority on the commissioners court.
While the outgoing county judge and commissioners maintained they had little choice but to agree to host the 250-acre landfill just outside the city of Hempstead, a county jury found after a three-week trial that the panel’s majority had violated the state’s Open Meetings Act and Public Information Act on multiple occasions.
Incoming commissioners say they plan not only to step up the fight against the landfill but to change the way that the county does business.
“It’s the dawn of a new era in Waller County,” Amsler said after Thursday’s civil verdict. “For many years, we’ve had a reputation of questionable politics. Now, we’ve turned the lights on in Waller County.”
Thursday’s verdict does not block the landfill, but nonetheless creates momentum for those opposed to the project, who fear it would hurt property values and pollute an aquifer that serves the Houston area.
Retired Judge Terry Flenniken is expected to rule on the jurisdictional question of the case on Jan. 21. He also could invalidate the 2013 ordinance based on the finding that commissioners met illegally.
Armed with the civil court’s ruling, landfill opponents, including incoming county leaders, also will seek to convince the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to reverse its preliminary decision to issue a permit.
Brent Ryan, attorney for Pintail Landfill, a subsidiary of Georgia-based Green Group Holdings, said he is confident the project will move forward.
“We’re in full compliance with the law,” he said. “We’re used to seeing people who don’t want us to build a landfill. We’ve dealt with that before. What we’re not used to is the kind of vicious attacks on local officials that we’ve seen here, and who frankly made it clear from the beginning they would have stopped us if they could.”
Cry me a river, dude. Background on the story is here, here, and here. As I said up front, more transparency is always good, but if the TCEQ doesn’t agree to at least review their decision to grant a preliminary permit, it will be hard to be all that cheerful about it. That landfill is a bad idea even if everything had been done on the up and up. I hope this verdict gives its opponents the ammunition they need to make the TCEQ see that.