In Bowie County Commissioners Court today, Sheriff James Prince pleaded with the Court to let him use the Courthouse security fund to pay the salaries of two deputies to be on duty at the courthouse. The Court refused – again.
In 2001, immediately after the 9/11 attacks, Sheriff Prince set up a metal detector and X-ray machine at the public entrance to the courthouse. It was staffed by various deputies, working overtime, outside their regular duties. In the summer of 2011, he placed a full-time deputy and a non-law-enforcement security officer at that position, paid from the Courthouse security fund.
The Courthouse security fund, and the Justice of the Peace security fund, are supplied using a portion of fines collected. The Courthouse security fund is supposed to receive three of every four dollars, and the Justice of the Peace security fund is supposed to receive one of every four dollars.
Two mistakes were made since the deputy and security officer were placed at the Courthouse in 2011. One, at some point, the ratios for supplying the funds was reversed – the Courthouse security fund received one in four dollars, and the Justice of the Peace security fund received three in four. That mistake was noticed by Judge Lacy’s staff last week, and we were told today the error had been corrected, and that the Courthouse security fund now has a balance of more than $300,000.
The other mistake was that, at some point, the courthouse deputy and security officer’s salaries began being deducted from the Sheriff’s payroll instead of the Courthouse security fund, and the positions thus became part of the ordered 15% reduction in his department’s salaries.
The same three commissioners – Blackburn, Whitten, and Stone – who refused to attend emergency sessions of Commissioners Court last Wednesday and Thursday to allow the fund to be used as originally planned, actively opposed it today.
Commissioner Blackburn asked Sheriff Prince what would happen if the fund was depleted, and the x-ray machine or metal detector needed to be repaired or replaced. Prince replied that there was no point in worrying if the machines wouldn’t wear out if no one was going to be using them. (As best I can tell, both the metal detector and the X-ray machine can be replaced with new equipment for about $20,000.)
Commissioner Whitten told Sheriff Prince that he has enough employees, and needs to make cuts like everyone else. Prince replied that he had already cut 15% from his department, and simply wanted to again use the Courthouse security fund for its intended purpose.
Commissioner Whitten read a letter from Mike Sandefur, the chairman of the Financial Advisory Committee, urging the Court not to fall for “accounting tricks,” stating that the Courthouse security fund was not “new” money, but is part of the general fund, and was included in the very low fund balance at the beginning of this fiscal year. When asked about this, County Treasurer Donna Burns said that the fund is actually a restricted fund, and seemed to say that the only place it would be considered part of the general fund balance would be on the year-end audit.
Sheriff Prince repeatedly stated that he understood that the County needed to make sure they could pay the bills, but that the Courthouse security fund could only be spent for courthouse security, and that there was no legitimate reason not to do so. This came up so many times that County Commissioner Mike Carter suggested the Court change the name of the fund to the “Fund to Make Bowie County’s Fund Balance Look Better by Not Spending It.”
At the vote, Commissioner Carter and Judge Lacy voted – again – to restore the fund to its intended purpose, and Commissioners Stone, Whitten, and Blackburn voted – again – not to allow it. The fund remains unused, and the Bowie County Courthouse remains without an armed deputy at the public entrance for the first time since September 2001.
Note – the constable and citizen involved in the (very minor) disturbance were seen talking with each other and smiling after Court was adjourned.