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Commissioners Court wants a lapdog, not a watchdog

Back in June, we learned that County Attorney Vince Ryan was going after polluters that had been ignoring court orders to clean up their acts. You would think this would be a good thing to do – you know, enforcing the law while helping to make Harris County cleaner – but apparently not if you’re a County Commissioner. They want a County Attorney that does exactly what they tell him to do, nothing more and nothing less.

Members of Commissioners Court this morning informed County Attorney Vince Ryan that he is to come to them for permission to do anything that costs money or employee time.

Ryan had already signed a deal with the city to help it prosecute polluters in exchange for use of experts and monitoring equipment with which the county can build cases.

“I think that it’s your responsibility to do those things that we, Commissioners Court, ask of you, and I see that you’ve got the cart in front of the horse,” Commissioner Jerry Eversole told Ryan.

The county attorney’s office is the legal counsel for the Court and receives its budget from the five-member board. The county attorney is elected by voters, though, and Ryan did not agree that his office is wholly subservient to the Court.

“In most cases you are correct,” Ryan responded to Eversole, “but there are items all through the responsibilities of the county attorney’s office that we are independently charged by state statute or even federal (regulations) in some cases to look at.”

To put it bluntly, Eversole and El Franco Lee, who was quoted later with the same attitude, are full of it. Ryan is an elected official, not an appointed employee of the Court, and he answers to the voters. The Court certainly has the right to question how he’s spending money, and can try to rein him in if he’s acting irresponsibly, but otherwise should defer to him on how he runs his office, not demand that he defer to them. The subtext I get from this is that they don’t want Ryan to think he has any real independence, lest he get it into his head some day to take a critical look at some of the stuff they do. Sorry, fellas, but checks and balances are supposed to work both ways.

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