|Trinity Standard - Local News
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Debate over county contract grows tense
Trinity Standard -
GROVETON – While the two sides remained respectful, a debate over a proposed contract involving the Precinct 1 Constable’s office became close to heated during the Aug. 8 meeting of the Trinity County Commissioners Court. The tension that developed occurred between Pct. 1 Constable Woody Wallace and County Attorney Joe Bell, who was asked by commissioners to review the terms of the contract proposal. At issue was a request from the Westwood Shores Property Owners Association (WSPOA) to contract through the county for the services of the Precinct 1 deputy constables. No final decision on the contract was reached Monday. It is expected to be discussed again by commissioners during a meeting scheduled Aug. 22. The bone of contention that has developed involves the fact that Westwood Shores is in Precinct 2 – a fact that Bell says would prohibit the Precinct 1 constable’s office from the type of service being proposed. WSPOA is offering to pay the county up to $1,000 per month for the deputies to patrol and answer calls inside the subdivision. The deputy constables, who currently receive no salary from the county, would in turn earn an hourly fee for the time they spend inside the subdivision. The county would use the money from WSPOA, make the standard withholding deductions, and pass it on to the deputy constables. This type of arrangement also is being done under a contract with the Harbor Point subdivision, which is in Wallace’s Precinct 1 area. Bell said that the state law that authorizes such a contract limits constables to contacting with subdivisions “in the area from which they were elected,” which he said means Wallace is limited to subdivisions in Precinct 1. Wallace disputed that interpretation and argued that such contracts are being used by constables’ offices across Texas. “Under Mr. Wallace’s interpretation, he would be allowed to contract as far out as El Paso County,” Bell said. “That’s ridiculous,” Wallace countered, adding that he is a Trinity County official, and as such, should be allowed to contract with subdivisions anywhere in Trinity County. Wallace noted that in the past, WSPOA has contracted with the county to use sheriff’s deputies and later Precinct 3 deputy constables and no objection by Bell arose. The county attorney noted that those prior contracts were somewhat different because the officers were assigned to work in Westwood Shores and were only called upon to work outside the subdivision in emergencies. He noted that in those contracts, WSPOA selected two officers, who were then commissioned through either the sheriff’s or Precinct 3 constable’s offices. The WSPOA paid the county the cost of their salaries and benefits and the county wrote the two deputies their monthly pay checks. “Here you’re talking about using your patrol deputies to work part time outside of your precinct and the law doesn’t allow that,” Bell said. During the discussion, Pct. 2 Constable Sterling Johnson came forward and noted the feels the best solution to the problem would be to hire more sheriff’s deputies and have them upgrade patrols within Westwood Shores and other subdivisions. Johnson noted that while deputy constables are not paid, the constables are paid about a “half-time” salary, which he said is enough to pay them for handling their “core responsibilities.” Those core duties include serving civil and criminal court papers and providing security for the justice of the peace courts. Johnson noted that the county’s currently pays the constables for about 960 hours of work per year but that during the past year, he put in an additional 809 hours without pay. Johnson noted he was approached by WSPOA about two years ago about a similar contract but declined. Wallace noted that while it would be desirable to hire more sheriff’s deputies, until there are enough on duty to handle the needs of the public, he will continue to provide service when ever he is called. “I have been serving warrants for justices of the peace in both Precinct 1 and Precinct 2 because they have asked me,” he said. “I have been answering calls in Westwood Shores and Trinity Cove (both in Precinct 2) because they have called me. “And regardless of whether or not this contract is approved, if the residents of Westwood Shores call me for help, I will respond,” Wallace said. Noting that the WSPOA was willing to pay for the service, he asked commissioners why they would want to turn them down. Pct. 1 Commissioner Grover “Tiger” Worsham said he was in favor of the contract, but said Bell’s opinion that it was illegal was a major factor in whether he could vote for it. Pct. 2 Commissioner Rich Chamberlin suggested the contract be approved and that Bell be asked to obtain a formal opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s Office on the “geography question” as whether “area of election” for Wallace is defined as Precinct 1 or Trinity County. “If the attorney general concurs with Mr. Bell’s opinion, we can came back and cancel the contract,” Chamberlin said. When commissioners asked to read the formal contract, they learned that the document has not yet been prepared. They then decided to wait until Aug. 22 to act to give Bell time to prepare the contract. Election preparations In other business Monday, commissioners approved the consolidation of voting boxes as well as the list of election judges for the Nov. 8 Constitutional Amendment Election. A total of 10 changes to the Texas Constitution will be on the ballot this year but a low voter turnout is projected. During the meeting, County Clerk Diane McCrory suggested and commissioners agreed to the “standard” voting box consolidation plan used in the past for low voter elections. The plan would reduce the election-day voting locations from 19 down to 10. The plan, by commissioner precinct, is as follows. PRECINCT 1 Box 1 – Groveton High School. Boxes 2 & 3 – Chita Baptist Church. (Normally, the consolidated location would be the 356 Volunteer Fire Department, but that building burned down last month.) Box 14 – Trinity Pines Baptist Church. PRECINCT 2 Box 11 – Risin’ Sun Cowboy Church. Box 17 – Trinity Community Center. PRECINCT 3 Boxes 4, 5 & 19 – Trinity City Hall. Boxes 6 & 12 – Friday Community Center. PRECINCT 4 Boxes 8, 9 & 18 – Apple Springs Volunteer Fire Department. Boxes 7, 15 & 16 – Baldwin Chapel Church. Boxes 10 & 20 – Centerville School. In other election activity, the early voting sites and dates were approved. Early voting at both the Groveton Volunteer Fire Department and Trinity City Hall council room will be held from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Oct. 24-28 and Oct. 31-Nov. 4. An early voting location at the Apple Springs Fire Department will be open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Oct. 24-28 only. Commissioners also approved the list of election judges and alternate judges for the voting boxes and the central office election officials who will handle the ballot count. Other business During the meeting, commissioners also: • Approved the placement of 30 mile per hour speed signs, no passing signs, load limit signs and other traffic control signs on Pinecrest Road south of Trinity. • Accepted a $1,000 donation from the delinquent tax collection firm of Perdue, Brandon, Fielder, Collins and Mott. Tab Beall, a representative of the law firm, noted the money was to help offset the county’s costs incurred during the Bearing Fire back in June. • Appointed Carl Dyer as a part time Emergency Operations Center officer to assist in developing and implementing emergency plans for the county. Dyer, a 17-year veteran of the public works and engineer department for the City of Houston, helped draft emergency plans for that metropolitan area. • Issued a public “thank you” to the Friends of the Trinity County Historical Commission. The group organized and funded the July 22 rededication ceremony held for the Trinity County Courthouse. • Learned from Worsham that the damaged Port Adventure subdivision bridge has been torn down and that two tank cars were scheduled to be installed this week as a temporary replacement. The county had previously applied to the Texas Department of Transportation to have the bridge off FM 356 replaced as part of the off-system bridge program. Worsham said plans for the bridge replacement are now being expedited by TxDOT.