Williamson County judge denies using COVID-19 outbreak to go shopping on county dime

Hobby Lobby locations have been closed for several weeks because of the COVID-19 Stay at Home orders, but locations in Round Rock, Cedar Park, and Georgetown were open by the district manager for a special shopping trip. On Tuesday, during the online Commissioners Court meeting, Williamson County Judge Bill Gravell addressed how the trip came about.

"A few weeks ago I called the manager of Hobby Lobby and he graciously opened up his store and one, I want to say publicly to Hobby Lobby you were amazing,” said Gravell.

The items purchased were materials for the Williamson County Mask Brigade. Almost 500 local volunteers are making face covers and masks for first responders, essential county employees and individuals deemed to be high risk. So far, with additional donations, a little more than 8,000 masks have been made according to Judge Donna King, who is managing the effort.


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"The original investment that was made at Hobby Lobby produced about 5,000 masks,” said King.

King explained there are two different masks: a Ranger, which has increased filtering capability, and a basic safety mask.  They cost about $1.50 to $1.70 to make, according to King.

"In the original purchase, 1,167 yards of fabric were obtained, it was discounted at 40% and then another 10% off the total purchase,” said King.

The materials were paid for with a personal check from Judge Gravell, totaling about $8,300. He used a check because the credit card machines were not on. That’s why several receipts he submitted for reimbursement were done with a calculator and some were handwritten by the store manager.

RELATED: Williamson County seeks volunteers to help sew masks

A critical article posted from an online site called thepatch.com prompted questions about the shopping trip. Commissioner Terry Cook asked about some of the itemized notations on the receipts that she found confusing, like a reference to a loom. Judge King provided the explanation.

“Looms are, that’s a great question, so you've been making masks, you know how difficult it is to acquire elastic, and things for ties, or ear pieces, so looms are, if you go back to when you were a kid," King said.

Cook interrupted before King could finish when she realized the looms were a reference to strings on potholders. Those items are being used for the masks. The questioning went on for several minutes until Judge Gravell asked King the pressing question as to whether or not anything else was purchased other than what was needed for the masks.

RELATED: Williamson County mask brigade starts production of masks to help with COVID-19 response

“No sir, everything that was purchased at Hobby Lobby was reflected in these receipts,” answered King who did the shopping with other volunteers.

To end the controversy Gravell said he and his wife decided they didn't want the money back.

"And so what I'd like to ask, to do with Agenda Item 40 is absolutely nothing, other than to challenge our community and our leaders, what gift can you make back to Williamson County,” said Judge Gravell.

The commissioners were told a little more than a thousand masks have already been delivered. Another thousand is expected to go out before the end of Tuesday.


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