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Election Discussion Highlights Commissioners Court

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Cancellation Notice Received for Inmate Medical Services

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted many parts of life. One area which has been affected is the 2020 election process.

While both the Democratic and Republican primaries were able to be held in Houston County before the state began to close, when the votes were counted, the GOP primary tallies resulted in run-offs for the Houston County Sheriff’s position and the Precinct Three County Commissioner’s position.

Before the run-offs could be held, Gov. Greg Abbott issued a statewide executive order pushing the date of the run-off elections from May 26 to July 14.

As a result, county officials have been forced to make several changes in the election cycle and during a meeting of the Houston County Commissioners Court held on Tuesday, May 26, Houston County began to further address this matter.

The first measure considered by the commissioners was to accept a grant award as part of the Help America Vote Act (HAVA) Emergency Funds to assist with additional election costs due to COVID-19.

The grant is in the amount of $23,263.78 with a required 20 percent match of $4,652.76. Elections Administrator Cynthia Lum explained this would allow the county to hire additional poll workers during early voting “… which will be very beneficial in implementing the mandates which have come about because of COVID-19.”

County Auditor Melissa Jeter added this was a part of the CARES Act which had specifically been earmarked for elections. She listed several expenses related to this including hand sanitizer, facemasks, poll pads, signage and other safety precautions.

After approving the grant award, the next matter was the receipt of information by the court pertaining to the change in the start date of early voting from July 6 back to June 29.

Following the early voting date discussion, the extension of hours for early voting on June 30 and July was discussed.

Lum explained, “We are asking for these extended hours due to the federal holiday in the middle – July 4. This means Friday, July 3 and Saturday, July 4 we would not be holding early voting. To accommodate those voters who come out on the weekend, we want to extend voting on both of those Tuesdays until 7 pm to let those people come in after work.”

A motion was made, seconded and unanimously approved.

The ensuing election matter concerned moving the early voting location from the Houston County Courthouse basement to the Houston County Senior Center.

Houston County Judge Jim Lovell explained, “Because of COVID-19 – social distancing – it’s pretty crowded in that basement. There is no way to follow CDC guidelines. I think the Senior Center will be a much better choice for early voting under the circumstances.”

A motion to move the early voting location was unanimously approved. The final election item covered during the Tuesday morning meeting was for the commissioners to receive as information the list of early voting clerks from the Elections Administrator.        

Prior to the election discussion, the commissioners were asked to consider applying for the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act (CARES Act) and the Coronavirus Relief Fund (CRF) grant from the US Treasury through the Texas Department of Emergency Management (TDEM) for reimbursement of eligible and associated program expenses.

Jeter indicated the county was eligible for $744,000, however, she cautioned, 75 percent of the funding must be spent on testing, which has already been done by TDEM. The remaining $186,000 could be used for areas such as reopening the court system, Jeter said.    

The auditor went on to say, “We do need to accept the grant and come up with eligible uses for it. If we don’t, the funds will be sent back and reallocated to other areas in the United States.”

Following a brief discussion, the court approved the grant applications.

As the meeting continued, Sheriff Justin Killough informed the court he had received a cancellation notice from T&A Medical Solutions/Taket LLC for inmate medical services, effective June 30.

“I did meet with one company so far to replace T&A. My concern is – and what I have found out since then – is I don’t think our services are going to go until June 30. We received this letter from Taket on May 19 and since then we have been trying to get in touch with them, but we haven’t been able to make contact,” the sheriff said.

Killough added, “Their current employee who provides medical services for our inmates has tendered his resignation to the company at the end of the month. The owner of the current company – T&A – has gone to work for another company that has sent us proposals offering their services to us for a substantial increase in cost. I’m trying to find other solutions. Being it was a long weekend, I’m trying to get some proposals put together today to see what will best suit our inmate medical needs within our budgetary limitations. It’s probably going to be really hard because right now we are looking at a little over double our costs.”     

No action was taken on this matter because it was for informational purposes only.

In other matters brought before the court:  

  • The commissioners approved the minutes from previous meetings.
  • The payment of bills and expenses incurred by the county were approved.
  • The Houston County Compensatory and Treasurer’s Reports were received as information by the commissioners.
  • Salaries for new and/or transfer employees were approved.
  • The court approved an order allowing fireworks sales for the Fourth of July holiday.
  • A 2005 Dodge truck was declared as salvage by the county and approved for sale.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at wjohnson@messenger-news.com.

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