Wednesday, June 12, 2024

Commissioners Court heats up

Shirley’s deputy choice sparks complaints among residents

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Hood County Commissioners Court got a little heated Tuesday morning as members of the public spoke out against Precinct 2 Constable John Shirley wishing to appoint William Jensen as reserve deputy constable. After a 20-minute debate between members of the public and the court, the action item was later removed from the agenda as the court discovered it had no jurisdiction in the matter.

During the meeting May 14, Precinct 2 Commissioner Nannette Samuelson explained that Shirley was asking the court to approve Jensen as volunteer reserve deputy for Precinct 2.

“This is National Police Week, so I want to highlight Mr. Jensen's service,” she said. “He has 24 years of law enforcement experience as a police officer, a deputy and as a reserve constable for Precinct 3 as well, so thank you, Mr. Jensen, for your service.”

"In addition to being a respected business owner in our community, Mr. Jensen has repeatedly shown that he takes this community seriously,” Shirley said. “He served with both the Hood County Sheriff's Department and as the chief deputy of Hood County Precinct 3 Constable’s Office. I would ask the commissioners to approve him today to be my reserve deputy.”

Jensen, owner of Willie & Dick’s Grill, is known in Hood County for his strong opinions on social media — something resident Michael Davis pointed out during public comments.

"He used to talk trash about John Shirley, and he actually led a little coalition against you to say that you don’t live in Oak Trail Shores,” Davis said, addressing Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle. “Yet you guys want to all of a sudden embrace him? You think his opinion has changed? But you know, all of a sudden he flips sides saying, ‘Oh hey, guess what? We're going to give you another deputy for a precinct that's the slowest one in the county,’ and he wants another one? If Randy Ellis (Precinct 3 Constable) did this, you guys would lose your minds. You'd be crying police state and wah, wah, wah, acting like the Marxist state. You claim everybody else is. More recent on Facebook that Willie said five days ago, ‘When you can't make them see the light, make them feel the heat.’ Wow, that makes me want to deputize him, huh?”

“I’m going to make a point of order, sir,” Samuelson said. “You are outside of the code of conduct for me. You are disrespecting members of the public.”

“I’m reading what he wrote,” Davis responded.

“I’m making a point of order,” Samuelson repeated.

“Oh, I’m sure you’d love to silence me,” Davis said.

Samuelson then pointed out that the Hood County Commissioners Court Code of Conduct states that disrespecting members of the public will not be tolerated.

“I second that point of order since the judge don’t want to stop it,” Eagle said.

“I don’t think that he’s out of order,” Hood County Judge Ron Massingill said. “He’s repeating what Willie Jensen said on Facebook.”

“He called someone a Marxist,” Samuelson said.

Eagle then read a paragraph of the code of conduct that states it is not the intention of the court to allow a member of the public to “insult the honesty or integrity of this court,” and how any “insulting, threatening language toward the court or any person in the court’s presence and/or racial, ethnic or gender slurs will not be tolerated.”

"Now if you have a specific criticism that goes to the appointment of Mr. Jensen...” Eagle said.

“I just said that,” Davis replied. “I can repeat that if you’d like.”

“You’re so out of order,” Eagle said.

“I made a motion, and there’s a second,” Samuelson said to Massingill. “You need to call a vote.”

Massingill then put the point of order against Davis to a vote with Eagle, Samuelson and Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews voting in favor, and Massingill and Precinct 3 Commissioner Jack Wilson voting “Nay.”

Zachary Maxwell, candidate for the Hood County Republican Party Chair, also voiced some reservations about Jensen being appointed as reserve deputy.

"I have absolutely no problem with John Shirley having a reserve deputy,” Maxwell said. “I think it's very important for his job. I think that it's important for our community for him to have the same rights that all the other constables have. It's just this particular individual draws out a lot of vitriol in our community. Our concerns are not just grievances. They are pleas for leadership that shares justice over factionalism. The role of a deputy, reserve or otherwise, is pivotal and should transcend mere titles or status. Unfortunately, Mr. Jenson rallies profound questions, not about political affiliation, as corruption knows no political ideology or tribe, but about his acknowledged approach in instigating intentional chaos within our community — and he's done that many times."

Maxwell continued that although he does appreciate Jensen’s past service, he doesn't believe that Jensen has changed for the better.

“The question we must ask ourselves is fundamental: will appointing Mr. Jensen unite or only deepen the divides?” he said. “A decision of this nature should bridge gaps, not widen them and promote cohesion within our community, not conflict.”

Maxwell concluded that a government position should not be a “pedestal for personal gain,” but a platform for service and sacrifice.

"This appointment as it stands seems to diverge from this path,” Maxwell said. “Let us not seek to fill such a role as a means to endorse credibility at taxpayers' expense. Let us choose leaders who embody the spirit of service, who act with common good as their guiding principle. Let this decision reflect not just the will of the few but the needs of the many in Hood County. Thank you for allowing me this time to express my concerns, and I hope that you remember that the left doesn't have exclusivity on corruption and abusing police power.”

Following Maxwell’s comments, Samuelson then pointed out that the reserve deputy constable position is volunteer-only and that it will not use any taxpayer dollars.

Resident Tina Brown also spoke during the meeting and asked how much Jensen’s volunteer position would cost the county. Shirley came up to the podium and explained that the position would more than likely entail some uniforms and some training.

“Give me a round figure,” Brown said. “$1,000? $5,000?”

“Probably about $200,” Samuelson said. “It’s all part of his current budget. There’s no additional charge.”

“He has room in his budget for all those things?” Brown asked.

“He has a supply budget that he will have to take this out of, yes,” Samuelson responded.

Brown also asked why Jensen left his previous deputy job. Precinct 1 Commissioner Kevin Andrews explained that Jensen served under former Precinct 3 Constable Kathy Jividen until she left office.

"Have you, like, vetted him, like, do you know why he's no longer with the county in any kind of capacity?” Brown asked. "Another thing: does he already have his law enforcement credentials?”

“He’s been a police officer for 24 years and a deputy constable,” Samuelson said.

“It is not at all uncommon for somebody in law enforcement to (become a) reserve volunteer with an agency in order to maintain those certifications — and that's what's going on here,” Andrews said.

Brown then brought up the Texas Local Government Code which states that an elected constable who desires to appoint a deputy must apply in writing to the court. She asked if Shirley had done that.

“It's on the agenda. Yes, it's in writing,” Precinct 4 Commissioner Dave Eagle said.

“It says you must apply in writing to the court. Did that happen?" Brown asked.

“He sent it in writing to me,” Samuelson said.

Brown then explained how according to the government code, the constable has to prove that the appointment of a volunteer reserve deputy is necessary.

“Does he have the workload?” Brown asked. “Is it necessary?”

“A man that's elected in that position by his constituents says that it's necessary,” Andrews said. “It's a free volunteer position. It is not okay to come in here and use the strong arm of the government over somebody that you don't like.”

“I did not say one word about Willie Jensen and how do you know that I don't like him?” Brown asked.

“It’s a pretty obvious thing,” Andrews replied.

“It’s obvious you’ve been talking to Commissioner (Jack) Wilson over this,” Eagle said.

“I want to call a point of order,” Brown exclaimed. “You’re calling me a liar. This is ridiculous. I am going by a statute, and you are not. Where's the application? It says right here that there has to be an application. Did you read this? Do you know what the rules are that you're not following?”

County Attorney Matt Mills then came up to the podium and said that he didn’t know why this situation needed to be an agenda item, as the Texas Local Government Code does not state that a court needs to vote on who to appoint.

He explained that Brown was quoting Texas Local Government Code 86.011, but said this situation actually falls under Code 86.012, which states:

“(a) The commissioners court of a county may authorize a constable of the county to appoint reserve deputy constables. The commissioners court may limit the number of reserve deputy constables that a constable may appoint.”

"Under 86.012, the commissioners court may authorize having reserved deputy constables, and they may limit the number of deputy constables that a constable may appoint,” Mills explained. “If you want to say across the board, you get two constable reserve deputies, y'all can make that decision, but within that, I don't see how you have any authority to say, ‘Well you do or do not get to put Willie Jensen in there.’ Just like you can tell me how many clerks I can have in my office, but you can't tell me who I can hire as a clerk. If you say, ‘Look, two is the max, we're doing two for everybody,’ y'all can do that, but I don't think the rest of this is even appropriate or valid — and the part about the application and the necessity is for 86.011 not 86.012.”

“Apparently, we don’t even need to have this as an agenda item,” Eagle said.

"What it invites is this very kind of thing. ‘I don't like him,’ or ‘I do like him,’ or whatever," Mills said. "I think that what y'all have the authority to do for reserve deputy constables is captain only. Policy wise, you could say, ‘Look, y'all don't need more than two,' and then they appoint, but I don't know why it needs to be up for discussion on the agenda.”

Samuelson said the court does not have a policy regarding how many reserve deputies a constable can appoint at this time and recommended that the court not take any action on the agenda item.

“Based upon what the county attorney just said, that it's not up to the commissioner's court to decide who Shirley appoints as his reserved deputy, this is not within our purview,” Hood County Judge Ron Massingill said.

Samuelson pulled the item from the agenda, and no action was taken by the Hood County Commissioners Court.