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Hays spat propels talk of County Judge showdown

Thursday, June 18, 2009 by Jacob Cottingham

A press release from Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton’s office has led to a verbal shooting match between the commissioner and County Judge Liz Sumter and has Hays political watchers eying a potential Democratic primary showdown between the two in March 2010.

 

The origin of the press release, issued June 9, is a CAMPO meeting that the Judge and Barton attended on June 8. While Hays County came out of the meeting with some $9 million in funds for three projects, Barton noted that the Judge had missed a workshop and was an hour late to the meeting. Sumter represents Hays County on the CAMPO board and Barton is the alternate. After praising the work of several Hays County CAMPO representatives, Barton’s press release adds “County Judge Liz Sumter, who sits on the board, did not attend the workshop session and was an hour late to the follow-up meeting at 5pm before leaving town for a conference on South Padre.”

 

Blogs and online news organizations picked up on the tone of the release. “There’s speculation that I’m running for County Judge and it’s been going on for some time and I’m not the one fostering it,” Barton told In Fact Daily. “I’m flattered to be asked to the dance, I appreciate people thinking of me, and that’s a bridge I’ll have to cross at some point. Clearly I’m interested in what’s going on in county government. Just as clearly, there are some legitimate differences between Judge Sumter and I. So, when the time is right I’m going to weigh those options and meanwhile, I’ve got a job that keeps me really busy.”

 

For her part, Sumter questions the methodology of Barton’s press campaign. “We have a public relations officer that press releases should go through in terms of information from the county, so I would hope that if it’s a non-political press release, that he could have gone through them to get it done, and since he didn’t, my guess is that this is more political than it was informational,” she said Wednesday.

 

Barton took umbrage with the characterization of the situation as a “war of words.” He told In Fact Daily, “In this case, it has nothing to do with politics or who might run for county judge, it has to do with getting the job done…” He said the release merely “pointed out that she didn’t attend the workshop… I don’t know how to say it except that it’s the truth.” He asserted, “she walked in at 6 o’clock and the critical workshop on this issue was at 4, the regular meeting started at 5 and she came in at 6. I’m not making judgments about why, I don’t know why. But I was disappointed and frustrated that we didn’t have an advocate on the board.” He said that the Judge’s absence left him to answer the board’s questions.

 

Sumter told In Fact Daily, “I was supposed to leave for a conference that Monday afternoon, but since we needed to have the CAMPO meeting that evening, obviously I rearranged my schedule. But yes, I was late. Apparently there was an additional work session at four o’clock, at the very last minute, I was unaware of that. I did go to the workshop on June 3,” where she said they covered most of the information. She said the workshop was merely a “review.”

 

Judge Sumter said Barton’s “announcing that the county got money was certainly the right thing to do, the innuendo and bashing was certainly unprofessional. That certainly was the wrong thing to do. So, I do question those motives, I don’t really understand it. From someone who might consider himself a scholar and a gentleman, he didn’t display either one.”

 

Sumter dismisses any talk that a potential primary run against her from the dais would complicate the county’s business. “My decisions that I make in court have nothing to do with whether it gets me re-elected, who’s running against me or whatever,” she said. Sumter noted that official filing doesn’t start until December and concludes January 4. If Barton declares his intent to run before then, he would have to turn over his seat and allow Judge Sumter to appoint his replacement under the state’s resign to run statute.

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