Three Commissioners Decide Courthouse Security Not As Important As… ?

Bowie County TexasAs we noted yesterday, Bowie County Judge Sterling Lacy called for an emergency session of Commissioners Court at 4:45PM. At 4:50, he made the following remarks.

I have called an emergency session of the Bowie County Commissioners Court to address an urgent public necessity due to an imminent threat to public safety created by a combination of three factors:
1. A lack of funds, terminating continued security at the public doors of the courthouse after midnight, July 31, 2014;
2. The influx of foot traffic into the courthouse starting Friday, August 1st;
3. The discovery that the Court made a decision Monday, July 28th based on erroneous numbers regarding the amount of restricted funds available for courthouse security.

The convergence of these factors has arisen suddenly, are not caused by any neglect or omission of this Court and call for immediate action.

However, Commissioners Kelly Blackburn, Tom Whitten, and Sammy Stone did not attend. Lacy finished with the following statement:

Since a quorum of the Court is not present, I declare the session adjourned.

The lack of funds resulting in terminated security at the front door of the courthouse is due to the budget cuts enacted by Bowie County Commissioners Court earlier this month. A spokesman for Sheriff Prince said that the department typically loses four employees a year to normal attrition, and he was meeting the Court’s order to cut 15% from his payroll by not replacing those officers, and instead reassigning existing officers as best he can to ensure an adequate number of deputies on patrol in the county. The deputy who has been stationed at the metal detector at the front door of the courthouse will be one of those reassigned.

The “influx of foot traffic into the courthouse” is for the trial of Tucker Strickland, accused of murdering Bowie County deputy Sherri Jones in 2011, at the courthouse.

Yesterday, staffers in Judge Lacy’s office noticed that over $200,000 had been mis-allocated to funds for security in outlying Justice of the Peace offices, and should have been available for courthouse security. According to Texas Criminal Code section 102.017, those funds can be used for salaries. When those funds were thought to be available for outlying courts, Sheriff Prince asked for permission to use the fund to cover the salaries of two patrol deputies for one year, who would be tasked with bailiff and security duties when needed. Prince’s plan would have allowed two more deputies to remain on patrol, and wait for normal attrition to reduce his payroll. Since the funding would come from outside Prince’s department, he would have been in compliance with the ordered 15% cuts. Commissioner Carter and Judge Lacy voted to allow Sheriff Prince;s request, but Commissioners Blackburn, Whitten, and Stone voted against it, and the motion was defeated.

The emergency session of the Court was to allow Sheriff Prince to use the (now properly allocated) courthouse security funds to cover the salary of the deputy who has been stationed at the front door of the courthouse. Judge Lacy, Commissioner Mike Carter, and County Auditor William Tye were present. Commissioners Blackburn, Whitten, and Stone chose not to attend.

Judge Lacy contacted the Commissioners again today (July 31) in an attempt to schedule an emergency session to ensure courthouse security. Commissioners Blackburn, Whitten, and Stone refused to attend. Because of the inaction of these three, today will be the last day for an armed deputy inside the entrance to the Bowie County Courthouse.

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