Gilmer law firm pays for Christmas decorations
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Nov 09, 2014 | 2178 views | 0 0 comments | 19 19 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A Gilmer law firm will pay for providing Christmas decorations at the Upshur County Courthouse this year after the county commissioners court cut off funding because of a decades-old state attorney general’s opinion that such county funding was illegal.

Goudarzi & Young will pay the $1,500, Upshur County Pct. 4 Commissioner Mike Spencer announced Friday morning. The law firm volunteered the funds after news reports that the county’s funding cutoff might mean the courthouse would have no holiday decorations.

Gilmer Area Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Joan Small had said Thursday she did not know whether the courthouse and lawn would have decorations since the court did not include the usual $1,500 in this fiscal year’s budget. She said the county had provided that amount all 24 years she has managed the chamber and had funded the decorations even before that.

“It was really upsetting,” she said, since “They’ve (county officials) given us something to decorate their courthouse” for those 24 years.

The chamber has nowhere near sufficient funds for it, she said, as the annual Yulefest does not make money for the organization. Thus, Small had said she did not know whether the courthouse and lawn would have decorations this year “unless we come up with something” to fund them.

And while “I have no idea where the money will come from,” she said, where “there’s a will, there’s a way.”

The way surfaced Friday morning when attorney Brent Goudarzi contacted the county.

County Auditor Brandy Lee said Thursday she had advised County Judge Dean Fowler of an opinion issued in 1940 by then-Texas Attorney General Gerald Mann that funding for the decorations was illegal.

“But there’s (been) a lot of similar opinions since then (from the attorney general’s office),” Lee told The Mirror. “This is just the one that specifically talks about that” (funding Christmas decorations on a courthouse lawn.)

She said she came across Mann’s opinion as “I’ve been reading a lot of attorney general’s opinions.”

Pct. 2 County Commissioner Cole Hefner said Friday that concern had arisen here because of a controversy over the legality of other counties funding such decorations. The Upshur commissioners were “absolutely not” against providing Christmas decorations and “if it had been up to us, we’d have kept doing it,” Hefner said.

Fowler said Thursday that the Upshur commissioners court discussed the matter during the budget process after “she (Lee) just frankly told me that it was illegal and that we could not do it.”

Although the attorney general’s opinion does not have the force of law, said Fowler (who is an attorney), such writings are the attorney general’s opinion at the time “as to what he believes the outcome of litigation would be, and I simply just agreed with that interpretation of the law.”

Thus, “It was not my decision” to remove the funding, said Fowler, who prepares the county budget for the court’s consideration.

Small said the chamber used the funds to pay an electrician to restore lights after squirrels chewed the wiring, “and he hangs up the wreaths on the courthouse.”

Putting out the decorations also costs money, she pointed out.

Chamber President Steve Stewart added, “I’m disappointed that the county’s not gonna’ support us like they’ve always done.”

Stopping the funding “wasn’t a choice of ours,” Spencer said Friday. In fact, “We searched for various ways to get the courthouse decorated” and commissioners had planned to do the labor until Goudarzi called, he said.
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