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County debates proposed revolving door policy

Plans for a program that could prohibit former Hays County elected officials and employees from conducting business with the county led to a lengthy debate on the legality, intent and specifics of the policy.

The idea, deemed a “revolving door policy,” was crafted by Hays County Judge Ruben Becerra and Chief of Staff Alex Villalobos. The item was discussed during a workshop at Tuesday’s Commissioner’s Court meeting, but no formal action was taken on the item.

The effort is meant to promote the fair treatment of all potential contractors by putting firms and consultants on a level playing field, while promoting transparency to the public, officials said. The proposal was inspired by neighboring jurisdictions that have enacted similar polices.

Kyle prohibits any former “member of a city body” from conducting business with the city for a two-year period.

“I believe we need a revolving door policy,” Becerra said. “…As a community, we have some work to do to fortify the confidence that our residents of the county have with Hays County’s way of doing business.” 

Villalobos said he wasn’t aware of other counties that have revolving door policies, but pointed to “cooling off” periods other jurisdictions have implemented

Based on the conversation with Becerra, Villalobos said this cooling off period could last four years since elected officials serve four-year terms. 

However, the proposal was met with criticism by other commissioners, specifically on the county’s authority to implement such programs. 

Hays County Pct. 4 Commissioner Walt Smith questioned how a revolving door policy would affect previous county employers from utilizing their expertise in the private sector. 

“I have a real problem with telling our employees that they’ve done a great job after 20 years, but you’re going to walk out the door and we never want to take advantage of your education—we don’t want to see you anymore,” Smith said. 

Smith said it could also be burdensome to taxpayers as it could limit the pool of experts who can provide services to the county. 

General Counsel Mark Kennedy did not believe there would be limitations on the county’s ability to implement such a policy. However, the county “cannot dictate what an individual can or cannot do after we employ them,” Kennedy said.

Becerra said he does not have the ill intent of hurting a former employee with this policy. Becerra argued that he didn’t want to create an advantage for those who have previously represented the county at a high level. 

Hays County Pct. 3 Commissioner Lon Shell suggested additional disclosure methods for former employees. 

“I don’t see a problem with disclosure if our concern is that somehow there is not transparency for the contracts we are entering into,” Shell said. 

Kennedy said the request for disclosure would be relevant in discretionary contracts but not in contracts where the county bids for projects. 

Under state statute, the county is forced to contract with the lowest bidder on a project regardless of what county policies are in place. 

The county could implement its own policy separate to the state’s disclosure documents to address any transparency issues, Shell said.

“I think the disclosure piece that has been moving through (this discussion) sounds like a perfect thing,” Becerra said.

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