Citizens are upset after their county judge attempted to have people thrown out of public comment sessions during Commissioners’ Court hearings for simply voicing critical opinions.
A couple weeks ago, local activist Ashley Whittenberger attended a Hays County Commissioners’ Court meeting to address commissioners during the public comment period. Whittenberger was concerned about the recent ballot integrity issues discovered during the November election and what local officials would do to ensure problems were not repeated.
After her three minutes were up, she made one last brief comment, saying, “Statement of fact, he was issued an incorrect ballot.”
“That’s enough, you’re out of order,” responded County Judge Bert Cobb, who then ordered a deputy to follow Whittenberger to make sure she “not do that again.”
That exchange prompted another activist, Sam Brannon, to return during the following week’s public comment period to deride the Judge’s heavy-handed oversight of court proceedings.
“Judge, you can’t do that to people, who take the time out of their day to talk to you in public comment… Then as they make their comment on the way out the door you send a man with a badge and a gun to follow them out the door,” said Brannon during the meeting.
“That is official oppression, in my opinion -” Brannon continued before he was ironically cut off by Judge Cobb ordering the court bailiff to escort him out of the room before his allotted time was finished.
“I will leave under arrest,” Brannon replied. “You can cuff my wrists and take me with you, I will not resist.”
“If you are arrested you cannot come back in this courthouse,” said Cobb.
“I will not resist if that is what you choose to do. But I’d like to finish my three minutes sir, and you are violating my rights under the Texas Open Meetings Act – and that happens a lot in here.”
Ultimately, Brannon was not arrested and was allowed to finish his three minutes of comment – during which he lamented the declining level of respect for the court, due in part to both Cobb’s behavior and the recent issues with ballot integrity in the county.
During last year’s November election, approximately 1,800 ballots went missing and weren’t counted. Since then, citizens such as Whittenberger and Brannon have been asking questions – and not receiving much in the way of solid answers.
Since the interaction, County Commissioner Will Conley attempted to cover for Cobb, saying the judge, “has chronic back pain, was not feeling very well, he has good days and bad days and yesterday he was not feeling well and frankly took the bait.”
Conley did go on however to state that the judge’s actions were out of line and that people can only be thrown out when they are a physical threat or disruptive.
“As bad as this behavior is, the exchange with Cobb is a secondary issue,” Sam Brannon told Texas Scorecard. “The primary issue is addressing the voting irregularities. I’m very concerned that the Commissioners Court, the Elections Commission and our Elections Administrator refuse to answer to the public’s very valid concerns.
“Two others who had spoken in favor of steps to ensure election integrity have been talked over, and had comments thrown at us by members of the Commission after their speaking time was through. When they respond to what they feel are hostile or slanted comments, they’re threatened with removal. This behavior undermines the legitimacy of our county government,” he added.