Conference of Urban Counties, the statewide organization representing the largest counties in Texas, unanimously adopted a resolution supporting Galveston County Commissioners Court’s defense of a lawsuit filed by local District Judge Lonnie Cox.
In the resolution the CUC stated that “there exist almost 90 years of judicial precedent holding that a district court may not invoke its own supervisory authority over a commissioner court.”
Judge Cox invoked his own authority in issuing an order against Galveston County Commissioners Court last year without filing any lawsuit, issuing any notice or holding any hearing.
The CUC applauded Galveston County Commissioners Court’s efforts and warned that the pending case is likely to have statewide impact of profound importance to all Texas counties, and their ability “to defend the well-defined authority of county commissioners courts in budget matters and principles of due process.”
County judges and county commissioners from across the state expressed dismay that Judge Cox has attempted to assert judicial control over local budgets and staffing and enforce it through a motion for contempt.
As the CUC’s assembled membership began speaking over each other in protest, a county judge from one of the state’s largest counties stated, “Maybe we’ll be held in contempt now too.”
Both the policy council and the general body of the Conference of Urban Counties, following a summary presented by the CUC’s executive director and its general counsel, approved the resolution of support. Both times the resolution passed unanimously.
“It’s unusual for our organization to issue a resolution like this,” Don Lee, Executive Director of the Conference of Urban Counties said. “I don’t know if we’ve ever done it, but this is an issue of such profound importance we need to be engaged, and other counties need to be engaged in preserving the integrity of county government.”
Glenn Whitley, County Judge of Tarrant County (Ft. Worth), warned that if Judge Cox succeeded in his effort to exercise unilateral authority, it would threaten the constitutional duties of elected county officials statewide.
“If they’re successful, as elected officials in the judiciary, what prevents that from flowing over into the district clerk, the county clerk, the tax assessor-collector?” Whitley said. “The Legislature has given the checks and balances of the budget to commissioners courts.”
County Commissioner Ken Clark said the CUC is simply recognizing the profound negative impact that Judge Cox’s actions potentially have on representative local government across the State of Texas.
“I’ve been hearing from local leaders across the state, that are deeply troubled about Judge Cox’s actions,” Clark said. “The CUC’s resolution simply echoes those widespread concerns.”
The suit between Judge Cox and Judge Henry is currently pending before the First Court of Appeals in Houston.
About the CUC:
The Conference of Urban Counties was formed in 1975 by the six most populous counties in Texas, but has grown to include 37 member counties today. The CUC is a non-profit organization whose member counties represent nearly 80% of the state’s population. The CUC supports and coordinates communications among member counties, studies policies and programs for the State of Texas that affect urban counties, advocates county issues primarily at the state level, and provides training and education programs appropriate for urban county officials.