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Sheriff resigns, new appointment pondered

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

Bandera County Sheriff Weldon Tucker submitted his resignation to Judge Richard Evans and county commissioners on Monday, April 25. Tucker's resignation will take effect Thursday, May 5, the date he is expected to plead guilty to misuse of county property and abuse of official capacity in the 216th District Court.
According to Evans, an item: "Review and consider for action, develop a plan of action to fill possible vacancy in Sheriff's position," had been added to the court agenda last week "without knowledge of the sheriff's intent." Evans continued, "Now it's reality and not supposition." Tucker's resignation was dated Thursday, April 21.
After accepting the resignation, the commissioners explored methods of selecting a replacement to serve Tucker's 19-month unexpired term of office.
"We have the option of filling the position," Evans said, adding, "If it's not filled by May 5, the Chief Deputy Richard Smith assumes the role. In that capacity, Smith will have to execute a bond and re-deputize officers."
Smith had, in fact, hand delivered the resignation in a sealed manila envelope to the court that morning. "Sheriff Tucker just handed it to me and told me to give it to the judge," Smith said, disavowing knowledge of the contents of the envelope.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Bobby Harris recommended that Bandera County advertise the position for sheriff as soon as possible and begin collecting resumes and applications. "Resumes should be submitted no later than Monday, May 16," he said. "Meanwhile the chief deputy can serve as interim sheriff."
"I think the applications ought to include a plan for what [the candidates] are going to do to fix the sheriff's department," Precinct 3 Commissioner Richard Keese added.
Evans noted that only resumes would be solicited since the county has no application form for elected officials. He anticipated as many as nine law enforcement officers would apply for the recently vacated office.
The judge and commissioners would prefer that the process be done with full disclosure.
"We want to be sure there will be no questions about the selection process. We want this to be as open and public as possible," Evans said.
Harris said, "We owe it to every applicant to do an interview." However, conducting interviews in an open court session would, commissioners felt, create a problem by eliciting "the same answers from each candidate."
"We don't want all the candidates in the same room," a commissioner noted.
To a suggestion that prospective candidates be given a series of advance questions and have them submit written answers to the court, Evans said, "I'd rather watch their reaction to the questions and gauge body language."
Harris recommended that the applicants be segregated from one another during the interviews, but Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug King said, "I don't see how you can do that."
"We owe it to the taxpayers of this county that the process used to select the next sheriff be as open and transparent as possible," Harris reiterated.
"Too bad we just can't have an election," Keese said. "We need some guidance out there [at the sheriff's department] big time and quickly."
After discussions ended, commissioners noted that Smith would assume management of the sheriff's office on May 5. Resumes for prospective candidates for the sheriff's position should be forwarded to Evans' office by May 16. Interviews would begin during a regular court meeting on May 26. "Having Richard Smith in charge takes some of the pressure off and allows us to take our time during the selection," Evans said.
To a commissioner's assertion that an interim sheriff would have a undue advantage in the 2012 election, Harris said, "There'll be no advantage. If the interim sheriff's doing a good job, he'll be re-elected. If not, the people will rise up and un-elect him."
Meanwhile, it was reported that Evans would ask legal counsel to research whether candidates for the sheriff's position could be legally segregated form one another during an open session of commissioners court.
Tucker's recent resignation stemmed from a 2010 felony indictment for alleged misuse of county property and abuse of official capacity, regarding his personal use of a county rescue boat. During a Thursday, March 31, pre-trial hearing, however, the felony charge was amended to a Class A Misdemeanor. In this type of judicial transaction, a defendant usually agrees to plead guilty to the lesser charge. Tucker's last court appearance will apparently take place at 9 am, Thursday, May 5, at the Bandera County Justice Center on Highway 173 North.
For his part, Smith intends to "keep the department going," adding, "Continuity will be the key, and at this point, it's paramount. We have good people, but unfortunately, they haven't had much direction lately."