After a few expenditures for anticipated needs and deaths were made without Williamson County Commissioners Court approval, the court made a motion April 14 that all financial expenditures related to the coronavirus would be made by the court and would no longer be at the discretion of County Judge Bill Gravell.
A motion made by Commissioner Cynthia Long stated that all coronavirus-related expenditures must be brought to and voted on by the court. The motion applies to all financial decisions, including overtime pay, contracts, the county alternative care site and any security costs.
“I wanted to make it really clear that no expenditure should be made in particular in those areas until our votes to approve those,” Long said in her motion.
Meal deliveries to the Emergency Services Operation Center and to the Williamson County and Cities Health District will also be suspended after April 15.
“At this point, we want to bring the budget and the expenditure discussions back to sort of this body ... versus having to make those individually,” Long said.
This decision came after Judge Gravell took criticism for some of his executive purchases.
The first such purchase was for the $18,340 rental of 10 travel trailers for temporary housing purposes to be used by the ESOC, per the agenda. The contract, executed April 6, was for a 60-day term.
The second was for five refrigerated trailers to be used to house those who had died from the coronavirus at the cost of $13,020, the item read. The contract was for a 30-day term executed April 7. As of April 14, the county has reported just four coronavirus-related deaths.
Gravell said he made the decisions at the time believing the county would need them.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Russ Boles asked Gravell why the decisions were made without clear reasoning or projection models to confirm the need.
While the court voted on items related to Gravell's purchases, the money had already been spent, which led some to question as to why they needed to vote.
County legal counsel Hal Hawes said the court could vote to end the two contracts early, but First Assistant County Auditor Julie Kiley said the county would still be charged the full amount.
The court voted to turn off the electricity in the freezers until needed and to bring the items back on the agenda to terminate both contracts after 30 days.
Gravell said the court can expect two more expenditures to come to court on its April 21 agenda: one for mask-making supplies and one for the construction of a rack system to be used in the trailers and in the county warehouse following.
“The one thing I regret through this is that we haven't been able to better communicate to all of you as members of the court,” Gravell said. “I do believe that in the beginning, we were in reaction mode, ... and I would say in some instances that we’re overprepared.”
The motion to give the court full authority on spending was unanimous. The votes to approve the expenses were 3-2 with Long, Gravell and Commissioner Terry Cook in favor.
Williamson County commissioners scold Judge Bill Gravell for executive spending during coronavirus crisis
Williamson County commissioners scold Judge Bill Gravell for executive spending during coronavirus during an April 14 meeting. (Screenshot courtesy Williamson County)