During the Jan. 31 meeting of Commissioners Court, the court voted unanimously to move the county attorney’s office from its current location in the juvenile probation building to office space at the Karnes County Offices on the Square.
The court also approved moving the county judge’s office from the juvenile probation building to the Karnes County Offices on the Square, into the space currently in use by the AgriLife extension service office.
The court approved the move on a 4-1 vote with County Commissioner James Rosales voting against because of concerns about negative consequences of relocating the extension service office.
The next vote concerned moving the extension service office from the Karnes County Offices on the Square to the juvenile probation building located at 115 N. Market in Karnes City. The court voted to move the office unanimously.
About a month later, at the Feb. 28 meeting of Commissioners Court, during the public comments part of the meeting, several people expressed opposition to Karnes County Judge Barbara Shaw’s decision to move her office, which made it necessary to move the extension service office.
The reasons expressed at the Feb. 28 meeting resurfaced in more detail four days later in a special meeting of Commissioners Court under an agenda item for discussion placed by County Commissioner James Rosales.
Rosales said he placed the agenda item at the request of several local residents and then recognized individuals who asked to speak to the court.
“I have concerns for many reasons,” said Maria Mohr. “We would like some of those concerns addressed.”
Mohr said there is a cost to moving the offices and none of the costs are in the current budget.
“Why is this an emergency?” Mohr said. “Why are county tax dollars going to have to be paid? I know good and well that no one works for free. It is not a free move.”
Privacy issues, were another concern expressed by Mohr.
“There has got to be some privacy issues with this,” Mohr said. “If a child who is on juvenile probation goes to school and tells them, that is his right, but when 4-H kids are coming in and out of this building and they see the kids that are in here that are on probation, and then they go say something, that is a privacy issue. Has that been addressed?”
Security and safety of 4-H club members coming into close contact with juvenile offenders was another concern expressed by Mohr.
In response to Mohr’s comments, Commissioner Shelby Dupnik said the extension service is not part of county government.
“I understand and the safety of the kids concerns me as well,” Dupnik said. “But the safety of the kids concerns me more at the school than at this building.”
Dupnik said the workload of the county court has increased since Jan. 1 and it is important that the county offices connected with the county court system be under the same roof.
County Auditor Lajuana Kasprzyk made the point that while the extension service is not a county office, it is partially funded with county tax dollars.
County Commissioner James Rosales said that the privacy of juvenile offenders was a concern because they would be visible to 4-H club members attending meetings at the juvenile probation building.
“They are all children,” Rosales said. “They are all our children,” Rosales said. “None of them are better than the others. They are all our children and they should be treated equally. They should both have privacy.”
Mohr told Shaw that she thought the whole plan was not very well thought out.
“It is not fair for us to have to pay for something that is a mere convenience for you,” Mohr said.
Maurice Yarter told the court that when construction of the Karnes County Offices on the Square neared completion, Judge Shaw was encouraged to join in the planning process and have space allocated for her office in the new building.
“She resisted to the point that you could not believe,” Yarter said. “To the point where she said, ‘Not now. Not ever. I am never going to move to the new annex.’”
Yarter said the expenditures associated with the move do not meet the legal standard required of making emergency budget amendments to allocate funding the expenses.
Former County Attorney Robert Busselman told the court that Shaw’s lack of understanding of how county courts work contributed to a backlog of cases. He said that Shaw’s court met twice per month, which was different than Judge Alfred Pawelek’s court that met twice per week.
“So where is the problem here?” Busselman said. “I think the problem here is that we have a judge who thinks that her powers are absolutely unlimited, and that’s not correct.”
“She’s a narcissist,” Busselman continued. “I have heard her talk about ‘my people’ and ‘my roads’ – These are not her roads. These are the county’s roads and you people have got to wake up.”
Phyllis Krause told the court that her main concern was for the children.
“I am also here for the extension agent,” Krause said. “I know he probably agreed to this move, because this is his job, and he doesn’t want to lose it.”
Krause asked the court how temporary the extension office move to the juvenile probation would be. Commissioner Jauer, in response to Krause’s question said that there is not a specific timeframe for making the old annex building space above the tax office ready for to be occupied again by the extension service. Jauer said the county’s long range plans include moving the offices of the county judge, county attorney, county clerk and district clerk back into the courthouse, but that move may be two to four years from now.
4-H Parent Courtney Hodges told the court that the street in front of the juvenile probation building is a poorly lit street and might present problems with the night meetings of the clubs.
“I feel like people feel that this was very deceitful,” Hodges said. “There are people who want answers. If you are in public office, you should be a servant to people. If it is for personal reasons, then you should find something else to do because there are plenty of jobs where you can serve yourself but public office is not one of them.”
AgriLife Extension Agent JD Folbre said that the extension service office is provided by the county, wherever office space is available. He said the safety issues were discussed with the juvenile probation office who assured him that since the juvenile offenders are under supervision at all times, he believes they would be as safe or safer than when they attended meetings at the Karnes County Offices on the Square.
“4-Hers were exposed to worse offenders at the new annex than at the juvenile probation building,” Folbre said during an interview last week.
AgriLife Extension Service District Administrator Donnie Montemayor told The Karnes Countywide during a phone interview Monday that he was not concerned about potential safety issues associated with moving the office at this time.
“We appreciate the support of the county’s Commissioners Court,” Montemayor said. “We can’t do our job without this support.”
Montemayor explained that the county is under a cooperating agreement with AgriLife to provide office space and other types of support.
“Hopefully there is an opportunity for outreach,” Montemayor said. “We may be able to work hand in hand with the juvenile probation department to provide some programs that could help them.”
“We have to abide by the county Commissioners Court,” Montemayor said. “They provide us a tremendous amount of funding and support. If they want us to move, then we need to move.”
Karnes County Extension Agent JD Folbre said his preference for office space would be at the location in the old annex building on the second floor, where the office was located before the move to the Karnes County Offices on the Square.
The problem with that, Folbre explained, is that the office can not return to the building until it comes into full compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Commissioner Pete Jauer said funds are in the budget to install an elevator in the building, but to bring the building into full compliance could significantly more expensive than just adding an elevator.
Commissioner Dupnik suggested that the multi purpose room at the Karnes County Offices on the Square perhaps could be used for club meetings, but comments were made that there are materials needed for the meetings that would need to be moved back and forth.
Judge Shaw told Mohr that there are many bills that the commissioners never see.
“All the sudden this big issue of $1,500 or whatever it is to move phone lines – if that is what it is – is minimal compared to some of the other bills that come through here,” Shaw said.