The vote was a reversal of another vote that happened on Nov. 12, which at that time failed with two commissioners voting in favor, and the county judge and two commissioners voting against.
Commissioner Tracey Schendel, who voted against approving the budget amendment on Nov. 12, this time voted in favor of the motion which carried on a 3-2 vote. Schendel, Commissioner James Rosales and Commissioner Shelby Dupnik voted in favor while County Judge Barbara Shaw and Commissioner Pete Jauer voted against.
While Jauer didn’t explain his reasons for voting against the budget amendment, Shaw, during the Nov. 12 meeting said the item didn’t meet the criteria required for an emergency budget amendment because it was neither an emergency or an unforeseen expenditure.
County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk disagreed, saying that the item was unforeseen because the district judges had not yet set the salary before the budget was adopted.
Before the vote on the auditor’s salary item was considered, the court considered another related item – hiring Allison, Bass and Associates as legal counsel for the county.
Before any discussion, Schendel made a motion to approve the item as presented. Jauer seconded the motion and Shaw called for an immediate vote.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,” Commissioner Dupnik said. “What are we doing?”
“I have some concerns about this,” Commissioner Rosales said.
Dupnik asked if hiring the firm was related to a pending road grant.
Jim Alllison, an attorney representing the firm then stepped forward.
Allison said that he was asked to be at the meeting about the county’s need for legal counsel regarding the duties of the county auditor and specifically the salary of the county auditor.
The county attorney, Allison explained, is prohibited under the code of professional responsibility, from involvement in a matter in which there is a conflict between county officials unless under certain circumstances.
“This is regarding... the county auditor?” Rosales asked.
“Right,” Allison responded.
Allison said his firm was initially approached to help the county with the auditor’s salary issue, but his firm has also offered to work for the county for a flat fee of $5,000 for legal work related to the county’s application for state funding of county road repair and construction.
“I guess I am here to help you in any way that I can,” Allison said.
Rosales asked Allison if his firm would represent the county in both the issue of the auditor’s salary or the road grants.
“You need to make that determination,” Allison said.
Shaw again called for a vote and announced that the motion to hire the firm carried on a 3-2 vote.
“I am going to explain the reason I voted against,” Rosales said. “I really just think that we are going to be spending money... I have been here 14 or 15 years... She is going to get... because it comes from the district judges... we have paperwork right here and it is going to pass either way. I think the county is just going to be spending money that we don’t need to spend. I know better than that.”
Rosales also questioned how the firm could represent Karnes County while also representing many other counties vying for the same grant dollars.
Allison said the county could take on the grant on its own, or do as other counties have – hire their firm to assist with the paperwork.
Shaw then announced the motion to hire the firm carried 3-2, with herself, Jauer and Schendel voting in favor while Rosales and Dupnik voted against.
The next item on the agenda was a possible executive session with Allison as legal counsel.
Commisioner Jauer made a motion to go into executive session. Schendel seconded the motion and the court voted to go into executive session on a 3-2 vote with Jauer, Schendel and Shaw voting in favor while Rosales and Dupnik voted against. Rosales said the agenda item was not specific enough to support going into executive session. Dupnik said he voted against because he was unsure of whether or not it would be legal to do so.
Three members of the court then went into executive session with Allison while the other two members did not.
After three members of the court spent about 15 minutes in executive session, the court reconvened in open session.
The court then considered the item regarding the budget amendment for the auditor’s salary.
County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk then began to address the court before Allison interrupted.
Allison asked if the court had recognized Kasprzyk to speak.
“She is the author on that agenda item,” Shaw responded.
“No one can author an agenda item except a member of the court,” Allison said. “No one can be recognized to speak during a business session of the court without the court’s action.”
Rosales said he was recognizing Kasprzyk since she was the author of the agenda item.
In regard to how high the salary increase is compared to others, as questioned by Commissioner Schendel, Kasprzyk pointed out that several county employees salaries were increased beyond the five percent increase approved for most county employees and officials.
The elections administrator, Kasprzyk noted saw a salary increase from $28,000 to $37,200 – an increase of 32.9 percent.
The court approved raising the county road and bridge administrator’s salary from $44,397 to $66, 200, Kasprzyk noted, which is an increase of 49.1 percent.
“Neither of those individuals filling those positions have proven county experience,” Kasprzyk said.
Kasprzyk said the court approved pay increases for male road and bridge employees ranging from six percent up to 17 percent while the one female road and bridge employee was given a five percent raise just like most of the county’s female clerical workers.
Kasprzyk presented an attorney general’s opinion that contradicted Allison’s assertion that the district judges missed a statutory deadline in setting the auditor’s salary. She presented other documents in support of allowing the budget amendment.
Quoting from the local government code, Kasprzyk said that, “...the district judges appointing the county auditor shall set, by a majority vote, the auditor’s annual salary as compensation for services and the auditor’s travel expenses and other allowances. The action of the district judges must be taken by order and must be recorded as prescribed by section 152.905 and in the minutes of the district court. The Commissioners Court shall certify the order for... its observance. The Commissioners Court shall cause the order to be recorded in its minutes.”
“The salary shall be paid to the county auditor,” Kasprzyk emphasized.
Shaw asked Kasprzyk which judges were at the public hearing where the salary was set.
“Saxon was on the bench,” Kasprzyk responded.
Kasprzyk read from an attorney general’s opinion that stated that Commissioners Court was under a ministerial duty to approve salaries set for the auditor’s office.
Commissioner Jauer said he was told that only one of the two district judges was present when the salary was set.
“Is that correct?” Jauer asked.
“Judge Saxon was on the bench,” Kasprzyk said. “There is not a requirement that they both be present.”
Shaw asked Allison to brief the court on what was discussed in executive session.
Allison said that a majority vote is required and since only one of two judges was present at the public hearing, a voting majority did not exist.
After further discussion, Commissioner Rosales made a motion to amend the budget to allow for the salary increase. Commissioner Dupnik seconded the motion.
The motion carried with Rosales, Dupnik and Schendel voting in favor while County Judge Barbara Shaw and Commissioner Pete Jauer voted against.