More than a week after setting themselves up to vote on whether to eliminate the county’s six-person legal department, county commissioners Monday will talk about whether that’s a good idea and about how much privatizing legal work would cost.
But they won’t vote on it.
Commissioners are scheduled to hold a workshop meeting to discuss the possibility of eliminating the department and instead directing the county’s legal task to a group of outside law firms.
Monday’s posted agenda does not include a proposed action item allowing commissioners to vote on eliminating the department. Commissioners do, however, plan to meet with county legal department Director Bob Boemer in a closed door meeting to discuss personnel matters related to his job, according to the agenda.
Monday’s regular meeting comes 10 days after commissioners met in a special session and took their first votes concerning the legal department. Citing a dissatisfaction with the responsiveness and performance of the in-house legal team, Precinct 1 Commissioner Darrell Apffel and County Judge Mark Henry spoke in favor of making the change.
Commissioners in a 4-1 vote chose to retain eight law firms that could act as the county’s legal representatives, if they ultimately decided to eliminate the department.
Commissioners also received an 18-page plan outlining the ways a privatized legal department would work.
The plan was written by attorney Paul Ready, a Houston lawyer and one-time attorney in the county legal office. Henry in March said that he had directed Ready, who was already contracted with the county, to come up with the plans.
Under Ready’s proposal, most work done by the county legal department now would be sent to the outside law firms. Ready, as the county’s general counsel, would coordinate the work assigned to the outside lawyers and would personally handle “matters that are not well-suited for assignment,” according to the plan Ready provided to commissioners.
Other work, including public information requests made to the county’s law enforcement offices, would be made the responsibility of the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, according to the plan.
A memo written by Ready and sent to commissioners also suggests the county would make more use of a legal helpline run by the Texas Association of Counties for researching “statutes, regulations, opinions and court cases relevant to a particular county situation.”
During the March 29 special meeting, Precinct 3 Commissioner Stephen Holmes questioned whether commissioners could make a decision to eliminate a department with the short notice they’d been provided. Ready’s plan did not include a cost estimate about how much more it would cost the county to have an entire outside legal team.
Apffel during the special meeting said it’s likely the move would cost more, but said that it wasn’t the only factor commissioners should consider.
The commissioners court meets for its regular meeting at 9:30 a.m. on Monday.