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Keep Houston Press Free
4

Things Get A Little Testy At Commissioners Court

Harris County Commissioners Court met this week, and the subject of which law firms get hired to handle bond business came up.

County Judge Ed Emmett tried to ask about spreading the business around or getting a discount. Things didn't go all that well.

EMMETT: Okay, I just noticed that you know one firm is in on all three of these this week.
[County budget guru Dick] RAYCRAFT: Well, that's probably---you're talking about Andrews Kurth.
EMMETT: No, Greenberg Traurig.
RAYCRAFT: Oh, Greenberg.
[County commissioner El Franco] LEE: Is this the first time you ask that question?
EMMETT: Yes, it is.
LEE: You want to hold the item?
EMMETT: No I don't, but the point I'm getting to, are law firms like engineering and contractors? In this economic downturn you know and the toll road business we're getting some better deals. Is that a feasible thing to also get in our bond sales?
RAYCRAFT: Better deals from law firms?
EMMETT: Yes.
[County commissioner Sylvia] GARCIA: As a lawyer at the table I will not be offended by your answer.
[County commissioner Jerry] EVERSOLE: They're not used to that term. That's a foreign term for a lawyer I find.
EMMETT: That's why I thought I'd mention it because and obviously, no Commissioner I'm not planning to hold these three items, but I think it's something...
LEE: My question wasn't what you were planning to do; my question was the action that's to be taken because usually we don't take up this time in open court on...
EMMETT: Well, this isn't much time it's only 10:28 a.m. Commissioner, I just wanted to get this out on the table and ask Dr. Raycraft.
LEE: Well, as I was saying, we don't normally take up this time with innocuous questions like this...
EMMETT: They're not innocuous I think the public has a right to hear this discussion.
LEE: I'm not debating about how you feel about the question, I'm asking you what action you want to take on it.
EMMETT: I'm trying to get answers to my questions as to whether...
LEE: I'm still asking about the action item.

[So far, not all that bad. But soon Lee is accusing Emmett of taking "gibberish."]

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EMMETT: Dr. Raycraft,...
RAYCRAFT: Yes, sir.
EMMETT: ...is this something that you can go back and look at and discuss with these law firms to see if maybe in this economic situation the percentage that they charge for doing what is relatively routine work on bond disclosure or bond counsel and disclosure counsel if that's a way that perhaps we could save some money.
LEE: And would that be legal?
RAYCRAFT: Yes, sir we can always try to do that, Judge.
EMMETT: Okay, so it would be legal obviously.
RAYCRAFT: Yes, sir.
LEE: No, it's obvious when he tells us it's legal. When the County Attorney expresses a legality. It's subject to...
EMMETT: County Attorney, would it be legal for a law firm to give us a better rate than they might otherwise?
[Assistant county attorney Terry] O'ROURKE: We will review it.
EMMETT: Thank you. Alright anything else under Management Services? (No Response)
[County commissioner Steve] RADACK: Are you going to review that?
LEE: Are you recommending that that item be held?
EMMETT: Did you hear me do that? No, okay then I'm not.
LEE: No, I didn't hear you say nothing but a lot of gibberish.
EMMETT: No, it's not gibberish I think when you're talking about millions of dollars...
LEE: Yes, it is. Well, if you don't have an action on it; if you don't want to take action on it, it's not an action item. So, you're just talking about it and playing politics with it.
EMMETT: We talk about a lot of action items and no it's not politics it's millions of dollars, Commissioner.
LEE: Yes it is. That's what you're doing.
EMMETT: Think what you will.
LEE: Yes, I will.

Oooh, snap!

The court then took up the next item on the agenda, entitled "I know you are but what am I?"

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