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Burnet County commissioners finalize conduct and decorum rules

Burnet County Commissioner Damon Beierle

Burnet County Commissioner Damon Beierle shows a copy of the county’s 2007 Rules of Conduct and Decorum with a few highlighted changes. The rules were approved on Nov. 28. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey

The Burnet County Commissioners Court on Nov. 28 concluded a months-long debate over rules of conduct and decorum during meetings by sticking with its original policy with a few minor adjustments, including extending the length of time for public comment from two minutes to three. 

The court approved the rules during its Tuesday meeting, following the recommendations of a committee that included three Burnet County residents who claimed recently proposed changes violated their right to free speech.

The process for establishing written rules of conduct and decorum started at the Oct. 10 meeting when Burnet County Judge James Oakley proposed adopting a revised version based on guidelines from the Texas Association of Counties. His recommendation was in response to an increasing number of disruptions from audience members ranging from threats of harm to speaking out of turn and on unrelated agenda items

Some residents and commissioners said Oakley’s version was too restrictive, which led to the formation of a joint resident and commissioner committee on Nov. 14. 

The court eventually adopted its existing rules of conduct and decorum, which were established in 2007.

“There have been a few cases lately where people have stepped over the rules, we aren’t denying that,” Commissioner Damon Beierle told after Tuesday’s meeting. ”We want people to stay with what they need to do in our courtroom and maintain a level of respect and decorum, and we feel like this accomplished that goal.”

Beierle and Commissioner Billy Wall represented the court on the committee alongside residents Claire Nybro, Patricia Cope, and Charlie Parker. The three residents were openly critical of Oakley’s proposed changes during several Commissioners Court meetings. Commissioner Joe Don Dockery recommended forming the committee to hash out the issues.

“It was a very, dare I say, democratic process,” Nybro told “It was the right thing to do after those many meetings and all that time trying to work it out. It was a pleasure to work with commissioners Wall and Beierle.”

Cope agreed with Nybro’s assessment of the process.

The biggest difference between Oakley’s proposed rules and the 2007 version is that public comment would have been more structured, meaning it would be scheduled for specific times during the meeting rather than throughout the court’s discussion of agenda items. Oakley’s rules also included language from Section 81.024 of the Texas Local Government Code, which cites penalties and definitions for contempt of court. These penalties still apply, but the committee decided it was unnecessary to include the legal language of the statute.

Oakley told that reaffirming, while also cleaning up the 2007 rules, was a positive outcome. 

“I want that interaction,” he said. “It helps. It just has to be done in a structured way.”

He also explained that the 2007 rules weren’t widely known or on the record until they were rediscovered by Dockery when the topic came up in the last few meetings.

The Burnet County Commissioner Court rules of conduct and decorum will be made available online and printed out for future public meetings.