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Hays Judge candidate Barton holds rally to deny anonymous allegations

Tuesday, October 26, 2010 by Michael Kanin

Hays County Pct. 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton responded Monday to a series of allegations leveled against him via email. His action comes as his heated campaign against Bert Cobb, M.D., former chief or surgery at the Central Texas Medical Center, to replace sitting Hays Judge Liz Sumter enters its final week.

 

Barton and his supporters held a rally couched as a debate with his anonymous detractors. At the rally, he refuted electronically-delivered allegations that, as County Commissioner, he’d voted to give himself a pay raise in 2008 without input from Hays residents and that he’d gone back on a promise not to take that pay increase. He also denied accusations that he’d awarded millions of dollars in no-bid contracts to his friends, and that he lied about being an urban planner.

 

Though no one stepped forward to claim responsibility for the emails, several Hays residents took the opportunity to lash out at Barton. Some of those citizens had signs or shirts that advertized Cobb’s candidacy.

 

Barton’s camp set-up an outdoor debate station for the participants. After Barton took his place, he pointed to an outsized question mark taped to the front of the space left for his could-be opponent.

 

“Here’s the rule of the debate,” he said. “We have an affidavit—for anybody that’s willing to step up and sign it—saying that they represent the emails….If anybody wants to step up and sign (it)…or swear on video right now that they (are responsible for) the emails, we’ll remove the question mark and let them (debate).”

 

No one took Barton up on the offer.

 

The charges about Barton’s pay raise came most recently in an email that was made to look as though it had come from the Hays County Democratic Party. Barton is a Democrat; Cobb is a Republican, and has denied any involvement with the emails.

 

Barton first pointed to an affidavit of his own, which he signed in 2008 in the presence of the county’s treasurer. In it, he says, he refused to take a pay increase “unless there was a citizens’ committee appointed (to vet the idea).”

 

That group would later unanimously voted to offer a raise to Barton and his four court colleagues, which Barton accepted dating from December 2008. The commissioner then held up a letter from, as he emphasized “Republican Treasurer of Hays County” Michele Tuttle, which confirmed that Barton didn’t take the raise until that time.

 

He next looked to a letter from the chair of the Hays Democrats, Katie Bell Moore, which refutes the idea that the party was behind that communication. Barton told rally attendees that Moore had filed a complaint over the email and that the Hays County District Attorney’s office was looking into it.

 

As for the accusations about the no-bid contracts, Barton pointed to an email from Hays County Auditor Bill Herzog to Barton campaign aide Kara Bishop. There, Herzog wrote that “the county does not enter into contracts unless it has followed the requirements of the State purchasing statutes. For contracts of less than $50,000 that are not referenced in the statutes, the county follows county policy as set forth by the Commissioner(s’) Court for such purchases.”

 

Barton sought to read those statements as evidence that he couldn’t have rigged the system. 

 

In response to the accusations that he had misrepresented himself as an urban planner, Barton had Bishop hold out an award he’d received this past summer for his work in that field in both the public and private arenas.

 

Barton opponents, who seemed under the impression that the debate would be somewhat more open, were left with little room to participate. Instead, they mostly shouted questions at Barton, who deftly brushed them aside.

 

At one point, a Cobb supporter who held a campaign sign for Republican U.S. House candidate Donna Campbell, called for his compatriots to leave. That move drew applause from the Barton crowd.

 

Barton told In Fact Daily that he thought his event had accomplished what it had set out to do. “At least I got to lay out for the record what’s going on and inform some supporters—and some average citizens—about it,” he said. “I think we also illustrated what kind of campaign we’re up against.”

 

Barton defeated Sumter in the Democratic primary in March. Early voting continues through Friday for the Nov. 2.

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