Howell referees court conflict with reason
The memory of James "Jim" Sinclair was evoked Monday by County Commissioner Kenny Howell as an example for commissioner's court to follow.
Sinclair, an equipment operator for Howell's Precinct 2 staff, "suddenly and unexpectedly" died Friday, as a contentious court session on the fiscal year budget was releasing. Howell dwelled on both activities throughout the weekend, he said.
"Last Friday was probably a low point in my time on this court," Howell said. "I think we lost a little of the dignity of the court."
He seemed to allude to an exchange between County Judge Roger Harmon and Commissioner Jerry Stringer.
Harmon had expressed his displeasure that his experience in six terms as county judge was given no credibility in budget discussions.
"I'm tired of digging holes. I want to run this county the way it should be run," Harmon said. "Three of you take it upon your own to run the county. You are running it towards the ground."
Stringer responded: "Judge, it sounds like you are running against us for a campaign. It sounds like you're setting us up to lose an election."
"Do what?" Harmon asked. "You're way out in left field, commissioner."
Stringer responded: "I know how you feel judge."
Harmon called to take a break in the court session.
"We're going to get into a verbal conflict here and let's not do that," Harmon said.
"Good idea," Stringer responded.
Howell left the court with the interaction fresh in his mind.
"That was really not the worst part of my day," Howell said.
His phone rang on the way back to Burleson. He learned Sinclair had died while helping to plumb a friend's home. It had most likely been a massive heart attack.
"He was a part of our family," Howell said. "He had very little family of his own."
A memorial service for Sinclair is 10 a.m. today at Crosier-Pearson Funeral Home in Cleburne.
Howell considered the demeanor he always witnessed from Sinclair throughout the weekend.
"He was one of the nicest and most polite persons you could want to meet," Howell said. "He was very well liked. He was just a good guy that you wanted to be around."
With another court budget session called for Monday and with his employees in mind, Howell considered both situations over the weekend.
"Something I realized is that none of us has a guarantee that we're going to be here tomorrow, this afternoon or an hour from now," Howell said. "That means we don't have the chance to make something right. For myself, I intend to respectfully listen to a question, and respectfully listen to an answer."
Tensions in court were high Friday because of an inability court members realize to provide for an employee salary increase, fund jail construction, an ambulance subsidy and avoid a tax rate increase.
"We should be more professional," Howell said. "I don't want us to bring our personal differences into the courtroom. We owe that to the taxpayers."
Harmon followed Howell's lead and apologized for his role in Friday's discourse. No one else commented.
"I do get aggressive about the court," Harmon said. "We all have opinions and say things we probably shouldn't say. Sometimes in this courtroom we don't win friends and influence people.
"My main concern is looking out for the taxpayers. They are the ones who put each of us in this office. We have to be conservative and give them the services they want."
It is the toughest financial year Johnson County has experienced in terms of setting a budget, Howell said.
"I think everyone is concerned," he said.
Where his wisdom should be recognized, Harmon alluded, is in fiscal conservatism.
"I was criticized for building up too much of a cash reserve," he said. "I think you can see what I did has been extremely beneficial to this county. It has helped us keep from having to raise taxes drastically in one year."