After officials expressed safety concerns, the Parker County commissioners approved the hiring of a part-time security officer for Justice of the Peace Precinct 2.
“I don’t want to get into the specifics as far as the details of it for security reasons, but what we need is to hire a deputy for the building to have somebody there,” Precinct 2 Constable Joe Harris, Jr. said. “We have a courthouse security fund and there’s money in there to fund this until budget time, and then it would be a budgetary issue. Given the current climate of our nation with law enforcement, this is an issue and in my opinion, it needs to be addressed.”
Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 Judge Kelly Green said his employees are currently working remotely and once they get some kind of security, they will reopen to conduct in-person business.
“There are certain things that people just have to come into the building to do and I do not think it is appropriate to have business under the circumstance we’re under without some type of security,” Green said. “Every other court building in this county has a security officer there.”
Parker County Auditor Brianna Fowler said for a full-time employee, the total cost with salary, uniform, taxes, retirement and insurance would be $87,541. For two part-time employees, the total cost would be $59,752.
“There is a special revenue fund, which is the justice court security fund, and they currently have $35,788 that is still in their fund balance,” Fowler said. “The only thing we would have to look at is what is actually aligned to be spent and so there is about $8,500 that’s available for JP 2. There are additional funds for some of the other JPs that are in program contingencies, so that would require a budget adjustment to move those lines from some of the other JPs into JP 2. So obviously that would be with their approval to do that.”
Parker County Judge Pat Deen said his concern was having the money available in the next fiscal year’s budget.
“The key of it is when you talk about the funding right now, when you hire somebody, it’s a recurring cost,” Deen said. “We have the court security funding to get this through October, but the problem of that is you bring somebody on, and then we don’t have the budget for it and you have to let them go and that’s not fair to them.”
Green said that although the Texas Department of Public Safety has an office in their building, there is not a stationed trooper available to provide security.
“Yes, we do have the department of public safety in our building. They are out working. The only person that’s typically in the office every day is their receptionist. There’s not anybody stationed in that office as a stationed trooper. We’re just wanting to make due until the budget starts so we can address this on a permanent level, but given the current state that we’re all working under I really do not think that it’s in the best interest of our staff or the people in the building to continue to operate without some kind of security in the building,” Green said. “If something happens and people get hurt, how are going to look if we’re just simply looking at this from a budgetary standpoint? There’s already been an incident late last month — I don’t want to get into it too much — and we all know that everybody is more tense and uneasy and on edge with the current situation we’re all working with.
“We all know that a uniformed presence is one of our greatest assets when it comes to preservation of peace. Most folks tend to not act up in front of uniformed officers.”
Parker County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Russ Authier was asked about a deputy being able to provide that security via funding that’s already provided by the county.
“We have eight deputies responsible for seven buildings and we manage six of the buildings currently,” Authier said. “There’s just not enough of us to go around.”
Green said they also wanted this employee for COVID-19 screenings and safety enforcement.
“We also have an operations plan that was approved by the administrative court that says we’re supposed to have somebody up front screening before we have any type of in-person hearings. We don’t have that person available either, so that was the second reason we were trying to get somebody in there temporarily so we could actually comply with the operations plan that’s been approved by this county,” Green said. “We need somebody there that can enforce the rules and regulations — the social distancing, whether or not masks are required, any rules. We have an opportunity to address this for a couple of months and then address it longterm in next year’s budget.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner George Conley made a motion to allow the hiring of a part-time employee until budget hearings begin and the motion was unanimously approved.