Bee County Judge David Silva and all four commissioners agreed to the new policy after they found out the county had been billed by an attorney for his service.
The $376.60 bill from Corpus Christi attorney Philip McKinney & Associates came as a surprise to the Commissioners Court.
“What could he be doing for the sheriff’s office that we are not aware of?” asked Precinct 1 Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr.
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ronnie Olivares said McKinney submitted the bill for advising the sheriff’s department on a matter concerning the termination of an employee.
Salazar said he had no doubt McKinney’s service was needed, but the commissioner thought the people who will pay the bill — the commissioners — should have been informed first.
“What I’m thinking is any time we have an attorney, the county hires an attorney — be it the sheriff, the tax office, the county attorney — don’t you guys think the Commissioners Court should be aware of why an attorney was hired? It’s just something I think the court should made be aware of. I think that the commissioners should be made aware any time anyone in (county government) hires an attorney for any reason.”
Even though he and other commissioners saw the bill on Monday — it was included with many other bills that commissioners had to approve for payment — Salazar said he believes the court should know in advance that a county department or elected official wants to seek the advice of an attorney.
“You obviously knew (about McKinney’s service to the sheriff’s department) but I didn’t know,” Salazar told Olivarez.
Bee County Auditor Susanna Morón said after the meeting that McKinney billed the county for two hours of service at $185 per hour and copying expenses associated with his service to the sheriff’s department.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Susan Stasny wondered aloud if the sheriff’s department had money budgeted for legal expenses.
Salazar, Olivarez and County Judge David Silva said they didn’t know.
No one from the sheriff’s department attended the court meeting on Monday.
Silva said it was his understanding that similar situations have come up in the past and McKinney’s firm offered advice without charging for his service, “so they called him but then they got a bill.”
“I think it was something that was done before and there was never any charges made but he charged them this time,” Silva explained.
Salazar was adamant that commissioners know beforehand that a county department was planning to seek the advice of an attorney.
“I guess when we’re paying an attorney for something it’s our business to know (why),” Salazar reiterated. “I think we should know why we’re paying him. I want to know what’s going on (in advance) because I don’t want to be sideswiped when I’m out (in public) by someone asking me, ‘What happened?’ That’s all. Bottom line is, we pay the bills.”
Silva said he would pass the word along to other elected officials and county department heads. “We’ll make it clear.”