Hays County Commissioners Court may soon consider implementation of new ethics practice

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The Hays County Commissioners Court will likely soon consider the implementation of a new practice which would obligate contractors to provide disclosures that go beyond what the state already requires.

Because the Texas Legislature adopted House Bill 1295 in 2015, contractors who bid on government projects are already required by state law to fill out a disclosure form that lists all of the interested parties in a project—in other words, any party that will be affected by or make money from the project.

Following an ethics workshop during an April 16 meeting, county commissioners decided that it may be in the county’s interest to consider creating a local disclosure form—which would have to be filled out in addition to the existing state disclosure form—that would call for bidders to divulge whether or not they employ any current or former county employees or elected officials.

The form would only be used for discretionary contracts, which the county is permitted by state law to grant to the lowest responsible bidder. Bidders would not have to fill out the form for non-discretionary contracts, which make up most of the county’s contracts; the county is required by state law to award non-discretionary contracts to the lowest bidder.

I think that [the court’s potential]request for disclosure would be relevant,” said Hays County’s General Counsel Mark Kennedy, in regards to whether or not it would be reasonable for the county to create a local disclosure form. “I think there’s an aspect of that in the way Travis County does their business. I think it would be relevant in discretionary contracts but not contracts where low bids win the day.”

Commissioner Lon Shell said the potential advantage to creating a local disclosure form would be increased transparency as the disclosure forms would become public record along with their accompanying bids. Then, he said, bidders would be able to see if the county is awarding companies who employ past or present county employees or elected officials contracts—and if a bidder feels a company is at an unfair or improper advantage because of that, they can bring a complaint to the Commissioners Court or the county auditor.

If someone wanted to make an issue and say, ‘Hey we noticed that so-and-so bid on this project; you’re about to select them; we notice that they employ so-and-so and we think that’s a conflict, then that would be something for us to address at that point to see if we believe there’s a conflict that matters,” Shell said.

Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra, who initiated the workshop in the first place, said his goal is to increase transparency and to reinforce the code of ethics the county already has on the books.

“I think the disclosure piece sounds like a perfect thing,” Becerra said.

No action was taken during the workshop, but the commissioners came to a consensus that they would like to consider and take possible action to create a local disclosure form in a future Commissioners Court meeting.

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Anna Herod
Anna Herod covers local government, education, business and the environment for the San Marcos and Hays County communities. Born and raised in Texas, Anna moved from North Texas to San Marcos in 2014 where she has been covering local news ever since. Her bylines have appeared in the Austin American-Statesman, Hays Free Press and The Burleson Star. She is a graduate of Texas State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication.
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