Certificates of obligation may be used for capital expenses and must be approved in open meeting of the county commissioners court, with certain public notice being posted that the county intends to issue the certificates. Time warrants also must be approved by the commissioners. Yet there is no record in the commissioners’ court minutes of the $460,800 loan being discussed. Judging from the audited yearly statement, the loan is not a certificate of obligation but rather falls in the general category of “installment loans.” \(I made several phone calls in the week before Observer press time to ask further questions about the loan, but Judge Carlow did not Carlow maintains he was not concerned about whether the county’s fiscal year would end in a deficit, simply because restrictions on deficit spending are never enforced. “Why is the state gonna enforce something like that?” he asked. “State’s not gonna come in here and shake their finger at a county for being a little bit [in a] deficit when they’ve got huge deficits. As far as what some state law is gonna do to me for having a deficit, that never concerned me at all still doesn’t,” Carlow said. “My only concern is to have a sound fiscal policy for this county,” he said. On the enforcement question, Carlow appears to be right. It is not the attorney general’s role to challenge local governments on such matters, according to David Brooks, who used to run the county affairs division at the attorney general’s office. Brooks, the author of a forthcoming book on county law, said the state would have no standing to challenge a county’s financial methods. The more likely risk counties run if they violate debt and spending laws is that a taxpayer in the county might challenge the practices in court, he said. I asked Carlow in October how big the county’s debt was. “Ask Paul Addington,” he responded. “He’s the one who spent all day over there [at the courthouse] looking at it.” He said it was not something he was particularly concerned about. Why not? I asked. “Because we got it well in hand,” he said. Paul Addington did, in fact, spend a day in the treasurer’s office, poring over financial records. If you ask him about the debt, he will show you a list of the county’s bank loans steadily increasing over the last three years. He has shared his information with other preservationists, including Ida Lou Ames. The reaction of Ames, as she expressed it to Ine, was, “When you keep spending more and more and more, how can you ever catch up?” DEMOLITION ’88 ONE ANSWER county officials might give to that question is simple enough: they would not “catch up” by spending upwards of a million dollars to renovate a gutted old courthouse. Whatever might be disputable about the budgeting and indebtedness questions, this much is obvious: county officials were, from the first, not inclined to spend tax money or insurance proceeds on the old courthouse. The insurance money was deposited directly into the county’s general fund, according to Judge Carlow. I asked him in October if it would be fair to say the money has been spent. “It’s fair to say that money has lost its identity,” he said. To Carlow ; the fate of the courthouse was sealed as soon as the structure was ruined by fire. “Any rational person would realize it’s so impractical to think of complete restoration,” he said. “We wanted to tear it down as soon as possible.” But the county’s attempts to get permission from the authorities in Austin to demolish the building stretched from the winter of 1987 into the summer and fall of this year. After its six-month waiting period lapsed in March, the Texas Historical authority to stand in the way of the wrecking ball. Now all the county needed to do was appear before the Texas Antiquities Committee in Austin and request a demolition permit. A-hearing on the permit was scheduled for September. The wheels of power in Bowie County began turning again in the summer to push the matter toward resolution. The New Boston city council gave the county 90 days to either tear down or to begin to restore the courthouse, citing citizen complaints about the “eyesore.” The Bowie County Citizens Tribune reported that “there are rats the size of cats coming from the ruins along with king size roaches, and large mosquitos.” \(Just how large the mosquitoes were And the Gazette editorialists were fed up with foot-dragging. In their view, county officials were being subjected to “the whim of the state’s hysterical preservationists.” The editorial rejected a compromise proposed by the county to tear down the walls and make a memorial park as a “silly” solution. “Let’s be realistic,” said the Gazette. “The shaved-off stumps of a building’s walls and a granite marker do not make a historical site an eyesore with a fence around it, a joke, a monument to bureaucratic bullheadedness, maybe, but not a piece of the past worth preserving.” Then, in a concluding paragraph that appalled local preservationists, the Gazette wrote, “those who follow us just might wonder why county officials didn’t crank up the bulldozer, and say, Oops, ‘ after conveniently forgetting to consult the THC before razing a historical nuisance.” Historian Donald Preston of Texarkana referred to the Gazette’s opinion as a “vigilantist editorial.” “Can you believe,” he wrote in his newsletter for retired federal employees, “a recent editorial that suggested that Bowie County officials should have violated the law and bulldozed the old county courthouse! Surely this is a paragon of irresponsible palavering.” \(The Gazette’s editor, Les Minor, told me the editorial was written by city editor Ethel Channon and that it represented the policy of the paper. By this time, both sides were preparing for the September hearing as if it might be the final showdown. Preservationists assumed that if the county were, granted the demolition permit the walls would fall the next day. At the Texarkana “arsonomics” press conference on September 6, Paul Addington announced the formation of the Historic Bowie County Foundation, Inc., which listed 13 members. Two days later, the foundation hired a lawyer, Tom Newman of the Texarkana firm Lesher Newman & Lockhart. Newman sought to make the group a full party to the hearing which would give them the right to call and cross-examine witnesses and to appeal the committee’s ultimate decision. At the same time he realized he needed more time to prepare his case and he filed a motion to have the hearing postponed. The county objected to both motions. On September 15, Judge James Carlow and Bowie County District Attorney John flew from Texarkana to Austin to meet with Attorney General Jim Mattox. It would be an attorney from Mattox’s office who would preside over the hearing and recommend a decision to the Antiquities Committee. In fact, attorneys from Mattox’s office would play a part in all sides of the dispute: Judy Qadim’asil would serve as hearings officer, Bill Conover would advise the Antiquities Committee, and Victoria Guerra would represent the Texas Historical Commission, which continued to oppose demolition of the courthouse. According to. Carlow, Mattox’s role in the September 15 meeting was brief and the county officials spent most of the time talking with Conover. Conover said that Mattox quickly realized that the courthouse issue was hotly contested on both sides and has not played a role in the matter since. On September 22, the day before the scheduled hearing, both parties met around a table in a room on the first floor of the State Bar building in Austin. As Newman and Miller argued back and forth, their points bounced in different directions around the AG Triangle: Qadim’asil presided at the head of the table, with Conover off to her left and Guerra to her right. Conover took an especially vigorous role. Step by step, he buttressed the arguments that Miller was making on the county’s behalf. And he argued against allowing the preservationists full party status in the hearing, warning that those who were attempting to use the Antiquities Committee to keep the county from proceeding with demolition threatened to “blow the Antiquities Code out of the 16 DECEMBER 23, 1988
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