I didn’t plan to mention anything in this space about our elected Aransas County District Attorney (CDA) Kristen Barnebey, but the CDA’s “veiled” threat toward duly elected Precinct 4-4A Commissioner Wendy Laubach at Monday’s commissioner’s court meeting, in Barnebey’s dual role as county attorney, cries out for comment.
Unfortunately, I missed Monday’s meeting because I was not in town during the morning hours, but my staff reporter covered the meeting and recorded it.
I wrote the story in today’s paper off the recording (one didn’t have to be there in person to write this one) and I was shocked (well, not really) to hear what Barnebey said in that meeting, I guess in an attempt to intimidate Laubach.
If that was her intention, I don’t think it worked.
Just listening to the recording, without watching body language, etc., was quite interesting.
Based on Barnebey’s comments to commissioners, one would have thought a wild maniac wielding an AK-47 was threatening everyone in the courtroom and at anytime Sheriff’s deputies would have to be called, in force, to restore order.
Nope, it was just Laubach asking questions.
At the end of the story, which begins on the front page, as Laubach pursues clarification about a motion being considered, Barnebey stands and says, “So, at this point commissioners, we could invoke, or at least go back to your policies, maybe have your bailiff ready, if a commissioner is not going to listen to the things being said.”
Laubach responded, “I don’t think the bailiff is going to need to arrest me …”
I almost fell out of my office chair listening to that back and forth between two attorneys!
What’s even more shocking to me is any public official who doesn’t want to be as transparent as possible.
Now, whether or not Laubach’s proposal is the answer (read the story), I think is a moot point.
The point that each and every one of you should understand, as well as every public official (because, one day, every public official is not going to be sitting in that seat), is that transparency, and access to public records, is paramount to a democracy.
This current “discussion” taking place by commissioners about documents anyone in public, including newspaper reporters, should have easy access, is, to the point, pretty juvenile.
This argument isn’t about whether something should be made available to the public.
It’s about power, control, and probably a bit of vindictiveness.
The bottom line is open records law doesn’t mention anything about a public official’s thoughts about the person requesting the information, or his or her concerns about why said individual wants a document.
Quite frankly, it’s none of the public official’s business.
Just provide the damn document, unless one can’t, due to a clear reason, which should easily present itself in almost every case.
I would ask Aransas County Judge C.H. “Burt” Mills, of whom I have much respect for his public service through the years, and especially after Hurricane Harvey, to not let the tail wag the dog.
I believe every bruise the commissioner’s court receives in the public’s eye is directly related to actions, directions, or advice given by Barnebey.
Folks, this stuff isn’t rocket science. It goes back to what I wrote a couple of weeks ago in this space.
If nobody ever had a problem releasing information in the past, the common sense question that must be asked, is, “What has changed?”
Again, the idea of not making easily accessible all documents used by any and all public officials, in any government entity, to make a decision (except in extremely rare cases), is ludicrous.
A red flag should be raised high, and repeatedly, until such practices end.
The county is nobody special when it comes to government entities.
In all the years I’ve tried to serve you, I’ve never, that I can recall, been witness to such needless shenanigans.
My uncle shared with me a saying posted on a picture he has of Snoopy and Woodstock sitting in front of a nice fire in a fireplace. It says, “Enjoy the little things in life because one day you’ll look back and realize they were the big things.”
Freedom of speech, open access to public information, and other such things we once took for granted are some of the things we may one day realize “were big things.”
Don’t take them for granted under any circumstances.
Until next week, have a good week.
Mike Probst can be reached at email@example.com.