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2015-08-06

Interlocal agreements Rn't us!

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

What should have been a pro forma decision for Bandera County Commissioners quickly morphed into something quite different during the meeting on Thursday, July 23.
At that time, Bandera County River Authority and Groundwater District General Manager David Mauk asked the court to approve an interlocal agreement enabling telecommunicators with the Bandera County Sheriff's Office to provide dispatch service for peace officers employed by the district. The agreement would allow 9-1-1 operators to offer access to the Texas Law Enforcement Telecommunications System and Texas Crime Information Center and associated systems.
County Attorney Janna Lindig had already given her stamp of approval to the proposed interlocal agreement.
Mauk explained that Chapter 49.216 of the Water Code authorizes the combination river authority, groundwater district and Water Control and Improvement District (WCID) to employ certified peace officers to assist in investigations that focus on protecting the county's water quality. "The river authority is charged with protecting the surface and groundwater of Bandera County, particularly the pristine Medina and Sabinal rivers," Mauk told the court. "These officers would be only involved in investigations, not patrol." They would also continue executing their regular dutie with the districts.
Recently, the BCRAGD Board of Directors authorized two current employees to be trained as peace officers. Jeff Jilson, a former sergeant major with the United States Army Special Forces, currently serves as operations manager and Michael Redmon is the district's natural resources coordinator and code enforcement officer.
As Mauk explained, an interlocal agreement with the county would enable 9-1-1 dispatchers to run license plates and drivers' licenses for the BCRAGD investigators, as well as execute criminal background checks as needed.
"I don't anticipate we would need this service more than once a month - if that," Mauk said. "For 10 years we've been doing investigations in-house with the sheriff's office and constables."
Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Wilkerson immediately raised an objection, referencing the cost of insurance and liability for the proposed project. However, Judge Richard Evans noted, "This is not [the court's] decision. The BCRAGD board has already made the decision although we might not completely agree with it." Evans reiterated, "The agenda item is only about the interlocal agreement."
Sheriff Daniel "Dan" Butts said that Mauk had previously spoken to him about the issue. "There would be minimal traffic for the emergency operators and no liability for the sheriff's office. We would just answer the radio and assist as needed," Butts said, adding, "Any peace officer doing an investigation has a right to run (queries) through the sheriff's office."
Evans noted that the county emergency dispatch supports the City of Bandera Marshal's Department without having an interlocal agreement. "Do we even have to have an interlocal agreement with the river authority?" he asked. Mauk answered, "We were told to request it by the state. They gave us the wording of the agenda item."
Evans added parenthetically, "We're budgeting for a new (telecommunications) console and no one's going to help us with that."
Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris said, "Officers need to know who they're dealing with in any investigation. They're going to need the ability to run background checks, criminal histories and vehicle registrations." Harris made a motion to approve an interlocal agreement between Bandera County and the BCRAGD for dispatch services only. However, his motion died for a lack of a second and no action was taken on the agenda item.
Afterward, Butts assured Mauk his office would still provide dispatch services - even without an interlocal agreement, pointing out, "We don't have an interlocal agreement with the city law enforcement officers and we still assist them."
In a later interview, Wilkerson said he had opposed Harris' motion because he felt, "We have enough law enforcement in this county and plenty of deputies and constables to do the same job." He also indicated that the river authority "has enough employees already" and expressed concern that after the current employees with peace officer certifications retire "[the district] will have to hire someone with the same qualifications."
Wilkerson went on to say that it was his understanding that dispatch services would still be provided to anyone with a peace officers license. "We don't need an interlocal agreement to do that."
Since being denied the interlocal agreement, the river authority staff and administrators are pursuing other avenues in an effort to protect the surface and groundwater in Bandera County. "This request was just to help with public safety," Mauk said.