Ex-members question committee roles

Sharna Johnson

Just a month after they were created, a pair of county committees have been downsized, with members resigning while questioning their roles.

Six committee members walked out of a Thursday meeting, and another sent a letter of resignation Friday.

An eighth, Wayland Thomas, a retired journalist on the citizen’s jail committee, said Saturday he is mulling options this weekend, but is leaning toward resignation “unless the commission opens it up so we can do what we were initially appointed to do.”

The committees were created after voters overwhelmingly defeated general election bond issues creating tax increases to raise $33 million aimed at building a new courthouse and jail. The bonds would have paid for the first of a multi-phase judicial complex construction project estimated to cost $90 million if completed.

Given a deadline of March 15, the all-volunteer committees are tasked with studying issues plaguing the jail and courthouse — cited by court and county officials as space, security and outdated facilities — and presenting the Curry County Commission with recommendations for solutions.

County Commission Chairman Caleb Chandler said everybody who applied for positions — two for the jail committee, five for the courthouse committee and nine for both committees — received an appointment.

Resignees quit following a Thursday courthouse committee meeting where members invited media, but were told by county officials the meeting was closed to non-members.

The jail citizens committee on Jan. 5 chose not to open its meetings to the public after a 5-5 vote on the issue, County Manager Lance Pyle has said.

At least two of those who resigned — Ben McDaniel and George Krattiger — had been outspoken supporters of two failed bond issues which prompted creation of the committees.

“At this time, I feel we need much more transparency than ever before, especially on this matter,” said McDaniel, who worked with an organization that helped with advertising for the bond measures. “I think people are more ticked off about things being kept ‘behind doors’ than just about anything else. I think it is and will be a disaster for the county commission.”

Paul D. Barnes, who also resigned, said he didn’t believe the majority of members were aware of the decision to close the meetings and felt it was their choice and they had the right to open them to the media so the process could be shared with the public.

According to county policy, committees created by the commission can be closed, provided a quorum of county commissioners is not present. Pyle is a non-voting committee member.

Chandler said the commission has taken a hands-off approach to the committees.

“To my knowledge, there are no County Commissioners who have suggested, directed or tried to influence any member of the committee to pursue or not to pursue any option,” he said. “The county manager has been instructed to fully cooperate with the committee(s) and furnish them with any information in the possession of the county.”

The committees only have authority to make recomendations which would still have to be adopted by the commission.

The members who remain — four on the jail and six on the courthouse committee — are a tax professional, a retired journalist, a community outreach leader, a health care administrator, a retired farm owner, a banker, a retired railroad employee and an attorney.

Gloria Wicker, one of six remaining courthouse committee members, said she understood why people left, but chose to stay.

“I did not consider leaving,” Wicker said. “I want to see exactly how this is going to turn out. We have excellent people (on the committees, but) how much excellent, excellent knowledge walked out of that room?”

Wicker said the deadline is nearly impossible to meet with only two meetings a month, and the group’s second meeting consumed by issues of open meetings.

Pyle said members have expressed concerns to him about making the March 15 deadline, which he plans to forward to the commission. The March 15 meeting, Chandler said, is open to the public.

Fast facts

Who’s resigned

• Both committees: Ben McDaniel, George Krattiger, Doug Reid, Paul D. Barnes, Henry Bruner, Dr. James Moss, Steve Boyd.

Who’s still serving

• Jail committee: Don Bonner, Wayland Thomas

• Courthouse committee: Marcy Anaya, Gloria Wicker, David Briseno, Richard Rowley II

• Both committees: Sistar Gloria Yancy, Mary Hernandez.