Hays County Commissioners Covert Judge’s Criminal Justice Taskforce To County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, Approve Bylaws

By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor

On Tuesday, the Hays County Commissioners Court voted unanimously to combine the two entities working on Criminal Justice Reform and establish bylaws.

After a long discussion, commissioners decided to merge and rename the County Judge’s Criminal Justice Taskforce the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission and approve the bylaws and Commissioners Court representatives for the commission.

Commissioner Lon Shell placed item 29 regarding the bylaws and Commissioners Court representatives for the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission be brought to the agenda. The coordinating committee has been active on and off for at least the last ten years; however, Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe Gonzales, who served on it, noted that the commission had gone “stale.” 

“There seems to be confusion that I am proposing that we change anything,” Shell said. “I am proposing that we make it clear and formalize it so that it is effective. I don’t really see the difference in the memberships of the two committees, the potential membership of the commission, the committee of the past or the task force that’s been created today…I think what we’re trying to do is create a formalized process so that we make sure all the people that should be involved are involved.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Walt Smith said last week the commissioners asked Commissioner Shell to look at the bylaws and see how the commissioners could create a more formalized system.

“I believe every single person on the dais discussed the need for criminal justice reform,” Smith said. “So, I commend Commissioner Shell for doing what we asked him as a commissioners court last week and doing that. I think the greatest thing about putting something on paper is that it’s debatable…we can look at it, and if you don’t like it, we can change it.”

Hays County Judge Becerra said the similarities between the two groups was why the conversation was necessary, but “to bring something back that wasn’t doing anything at the time because someone else is doing something does look wasteful.”

Becerra read off the names of the people on his criminal justice task force and asked commissioners if there was anyone they had a problem on the list.

Members of the task force include Kyle police chief, the county district clerk, Sheriff Gary Cutler, Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Andy Cable, former chief prosecutor Gary Cobb, Precinct 3 Constable Ray Helm, District Judge Bill Henry, District Attorney Wes Mau, District Judge Gary Steel, defense attorney Chevy Pastrano, County Court at Law 3 Judge Tacie Zelhart, Justices of the Peace Beth Smith and Maggie Moreno, Becerra’s chief of staff Alex Villalobos and Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe as well as an immigration attorney and representatives from a local community service organization, namely Hays Caldwell Women’s Center, the county resolution center and the adult supervision and juvenile supervision departments.

Shell said he didn’t have any problems with anyone on the task force’s list of members, but he felt the commissioners needed to formalize the confusion on how people get on the committee.

“I think the discussion that we’re having is that it would be best if the court agrees on how that committee is formed,” Shell said. “I don’t have a problem with anyone on this list; they can all be included…they will be included. But I think there needs to be a process for doing that, so you have the full support of the county whenever we’re asking action to be taken.”

Smith said he was fine with the single representative for the commissioners’ court on the committee, but he still had a problem nominating anyone for something when he didn’t know what he was asking them to do or be a part of.

Becerra suggested the commissioners “create the buy-in for whatever has been done instead of doing something else” and make some tweaks to the task force that will support the commissioners’ ideas. 

Becerra told commissioners he would have no problem turning the task force into a commission that represents the court if that is what it would take.

“I’m results-oriented,” Becerra said. “I have no problem with what you guys are saying. I’m grateful for your efforts and your conservation.”

Shell amended the proposed bylaws to include the task force’s mission statement and objectives and made a motion to convert the judge’s criminal justice reform task force into the Hays County Criminal Justice Coordinating Commission.

However, following the executive session, Judge Becerra returned and reopened the item to discuss restoring two members, who had been removed from the list of voting members.

In the initial discussion, commissioner Shell suggested removing the immigrant legal resource center representative and former chief prosecutor for Travis County, Gary Cobb, as voting members.

Shell said committees formed by the new commission could handle those issues, and the two individuals could continue to attend and contribute to the conversations; the two representatives would merely not be voting members. 

Commissioners voted to appoint Commissioner Debbie Ingalsbe and Shell as representatives to the commission. If the Hays County Judge is not nominated to serve on the commission as a voting member, the approved bylaws state the judge’s chief of staff would serve as a voting member and his representative.


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