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Budget discussion reveals conflict between judge, county attorney
by Joe Baker
Aug 30, 2012 | 1537 views | 0 0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
KARNES CITY – Although Commissioners Court asked the county auditor to eliminate the position of assistant county attorney at an earlier budget workshop, Karnes County Attorney Robert Busselman made the case for putting the position back in the budget during a Commissioners Court budget workshop Aug. 22.

All members of Commissioners Court were present at the Aug. 22 meeting except Precinct 3 Commissioner James Rosales.

Busselman asked why the funds for an assistant county attorney had not been included in the most recent version of the proposed budget for the coming fiscal year.

“I was instructed by the court to delete that position,” County Auditor Lajuana Kasrzyk said.

“Well, go ahead, but you know you can’t do that,” Busselman responded.

“They (Commissioners Court) make the final decision,” Kasprzyk said.

Busselman said he planned to bring an injunction to stop the court from eliminating the position. He said that due to health reasons, he anticipates he can only continue to work for a very short time.

“I am going be out in September,” Busselman said. “Currently I am out because my blood pressure has gone out of sight. I’ve been told either don’t go to the office, or get ready for another stroke. I need someone here. (Assistant County Attorney) Betty (Yarter) has been here and the idea of cutting that line item to zero – I’d like to know the reason for it.”

County Judge Barbara Shaw said that when Herb Hancock worked as an assistant attorney, he was paid a portion of the county attorney’s salary.

“The only thing that I get from you is you want to sue the Historical Commission,” Shaw said.

“Oh, for Heaven’s sake,” Busselman responded. “Judge, you know that is not correct. I suggested this is a good time – if you want to sue the Historical Commission – now is the time to do it.”

“No,” Shaw said.

Busselman said that while the county didn’t need two attorneys at the time Hancock worked as an assistant county attorney, the additional position is needed now.

Shaw said that very few criminal cases have been prosecuted by the county attorney’s office recently and the expense is not justified with such a small number of cases currently being filed and prosecuted.

Busselman said that the county attorney, by law, is counsel for Commissioners Court, but Shaw said the court is entitled to its own outside counsel.

According to Busselman, the county judge needs to put cases on the docket to clear off the backlog.

Shaw said the docket is made by the county clerk’s office, but it is up to the county attorney’s office to set backlog cases on the docket.

According to Shaw, county court happens only twice per month and on those days, court only typically lasts two to three hours.

“It should be a full day,” Shaw said.

Shaw asked County Clerk Carol Swize to explain how the docket is handled.

“The backlog... those are yours to set,” Swize told Busselman. “You have to tell us which ones you want on there. Once they miss a court date, it is up to you to tell us when you want them back on – if they’ve missed a court date.”

“That, I was not aware of,” Busselman said, adding that he understood a special docket would be more appropriate for such cases.

“You know what, Bob?” Shaw said. “A lot of they time, y’all don’t get things together – you don’t prepare – and that’s not our fault. It’s not my fault and it is not Carol’s fault. If you want an assistant county attorney, we will give you your dates – we will give you your court date and give you your docket. But when we give you those dates, and we give you that docket, we do expect you to show up and be ready.”

The conversation continued at length before one of the commissioners expressed an opinion on the topic.

Commissioner Pete Jauer suggested including $6,000 in the budget to finish the year.

Commissioner Carl Hummel recommended including an amount sufficient to catch up with the backlog and also allow for keeping up with the anticipated future caseload.

According to Commissioner Tracey Schendel, the same amount as last year should be put back in, a total of $25,000 for the purpose of paying an assistant county attorney.

The court instructed the county auditor to include $25,000 in the proposed budget for this expense.

Earlier in the meeting County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk explained that pay increases last year varied from 2.36 percent up to 38.39 percent.

Kasprzyk said she was instructed by the court to calculate a three percent pay increase for all county employees, including elected officials.

The proposed pay raises will cost the county $305,028, Kasprzyk explained.

Kasprzyk discussed expenses associated with the establishment of a new county elections department. The total estimated expenditures for the new department is $70,500, Kasprzyk said.

The court also allowed for a couple of big ticket items, asking that $500,000 be included in the proposed budget for the construction of an EMS building and another $500,000 for expenses related to the construction of a new road and bridge department facility.
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