Upshur County Commissioners came under some criticism from three of the county’s four Constables during a presentation to the Cherokee Rose Republican Women here Monday.
Constables Gene Dolle (Pct. 1), Jason Weeks (Pct. 2) and Stanley Jenkins (Pct. 3) voiced complaints about such matters as court-supported state legislation which could eventually lead to reducing the county’s number of constables, and the possibility that the court might reduce retirement benefits for county employees and officials.
Pct. 4 Constable Phillip Hill, also scheduled to participate in the program, was unable to attend.
The commissioners are “fine people,” but three of the four have other employment and “they don’t understand county government,” Jenkins charged during the program at the Round Table Cafe, attended by 14 persons besides the constables.
“You cannot run county government like a business,” Jenkins argued.
The constables expressed unhappiness with a joint resolution introduced in the Texas Legislature by State Rep. David Simpson (R-Longview), who represents Upshur County.
If passed by a two-thirds majority of both the Texas House and Senate, it would let voters statewide decide whether to approve a Constitutional amendment giving counties of Upshur’s size the option to have as few as two Constables and two Justices of the Peace (the county now has four of each).
The court recently voted 3-1, with Pct. 1 Comm. Paula Gentry dissenting, to back the legislation at the urging of Pct. 2 Comm. Cole Hefner (Pct. 3 Comm. Frank Berka and Pct. 4 Comm. Mike Spencer supported the resolution). Hefner has said reducing the number of Constables and JPs could save the county between $175,000 and $220,000.
But Weeks argued that wouldn’t save money.
He said the county would pay an attorney to redraw precinct lines if it reduced the number of Constables and/or JPs. He also predicted Upshur’s population would swell past 50,000 during the next two years, forcing the county to reinstate Constable/JP positions.
“Instead of supporting us, they’re (commissioners) trying to get rid of us,” Weeks asserted.
Dolle charged that Simpson and Hefner “want to tell the people who they can vote for,” and that some commissioners are “wanting to cut two of us (constables) out.”
Jenkins added that “if they (Commissioners) don’t like one (a certain Constable), he’s gone.” (Hefner has said that any elected Constable or JP must be allowed to finish their term if a county reduces the number of those officials.)
In addition, Dolle told the GOP women’s group it was untrue that county voters would get to decide whether to reduce the number of Constables and JPs if Simpson’s proposal passes statewide. That would leave the decision in the hands of the County Commissioners Court, consisting of the four Commissioners and County Judge Dean Fowler.
Weeks said he believed Simpson’s proposed Constitutional amendment would affect 62 counties besides Upshur, and “the other counties are not for it.” In fact, they “wonder why Upshur County wants to make the decision,” the Pct. 2 Constable said.
He alleged the bill “was slid in under the table,” and said he should have been consulted about it. Added Jenkins, “According to some of the (Upshur) Commissioners, only one Commissioner talked to Simpson.”
Concerning another matter, Weeks charged the Sheriff’s Office has had “gaps” in personnel because of the threat that employee retirement and insurance benefits might be cut.
He said he assisted the office with working burglaries and homicides, and was called out once when the office was “short-handed” while a murder suspect was in a wooded area.
Dolle said the Sheriff’s Office “can’t cover” the county.
Weeks added that Upshur County has paid more than $100,000 in compensatory and vacation time to workers who have resigned, and he said Upshur County only has four or five deputy sheriffs with more than two years’ experience on the streets.
“It’s not the Sheriff’s Office that’s the problem. It’s the threat” to benefits, Weeks argued.
Jenkins said investigators have left the Sheriff’s Office because “they’re (Commissioners) going to try to do away with our retirement.”
He said he helped the Sheriff’s Office by riding with a mental patient in an ambulance, and that he answered a call to Glenwood Acres, where he found one officer who “had five people yelling at him.”
Asked by a representative of The Mirror about citizens who complain about the amount of county taxes they pay, Jenkins said one man who regularly complained about his county taxes only paid $305 in such taxes last year, but that he didn’t complain about the $2,000 in Harmony ISD school taxes he paid.
Weeks said school taxes constituted two-thirds of his overall ad valorem tax bill.
On another issue, Dolle said he has almost exhausted his fuel budget, which he said was only $1,500 for the fiscal year. While Commissioners said “they’d work with me” and “I’m trying to save gasoline,” he observed, it is a “headache . . . trying to get the money to operate.”
“You have to encourage the Commissioners to fund the Constables,” said Dolle.
When Cherokee Rose member Sherry Breedlove said from the audience that citizens “need to start putting pressure on the Commissioners,” Jenkins responded, “That would be my suggestion.”
Weeks and Jenkins also indicated they were embarrassed by news media attention to controversy in the county government.
Jenkins said he called a constables’ school, and when he told the woman there he was from Upshur County, she replied, “You poor dear.”
“With all the negative media that this county has generated . . . it’s not appealing” to locate a business here, Weeks said.
“They (Commissioners) ought to make this county attractive to outside businesses and outside residents” to help keep down taxes, he asserted.
Before the aforementioned issues surfaced during the question-and-answer part of the Constables’ 79-minute presentation, they discussed matters ranging from the history of their office to their duties.
“We can do anything the Sheriff can do. We just don’t have to deal with (running) the jail,” Weeks said. While Constables deal with evictions, arrest warrants and civil process, Weeks said, “Our first and foremost job is law enforcement,” including making arrests and patrolling.
Among the misconceptions about their work, the men indicated, are that they are responsible for road work (the county Road Administrator has that duty), that they pronounce people dead (Justices of the Peace do that), and that they cannot give traffic tickets.