Gonzales County Commissioners Court unanimously voted to strike all qualifications for the chief clerk position following clarification from attorneys James P. Allison and Robert T. Bass of Allison, Bass and Magee, LLP. The chief clerk position policy is at the center of a subject of disagreement between members of the court and Gonzales County Judge Pat Davis.
The issue relates to experience requirements set by the court on the chief clerk position. On Aug. 13, 2018, prior to Davis’ tenure as county judge beginning, the court established a policy for the chief clerk position that required candidates to have four years of experience working in a specific county office, on top of 15 consecutive years working in the county. The court formally established the policy with this decision in August 2018. Though there were job requirements before the policy was formalized, the court previously handled the position on a budget-by-budget basis.
Davis believes this policy was created to prevent the person he wanted to hire from obtaining the position. The court is allowed to create or take away positions, as well as change salary compensations, but it cannot attempt to influence or bar a candidate selected by an elected official.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin La Fleur argued the policy was established to limit salary discrepancies between county employees and prevent legal action related to said discrepancies.
“It was never the intention of commissioners court to give the title of chief clerk to anyone with zero experience at a particular position,” La Fleur said. “The policy that we set affects everyone, not just one individual.”
Allison, an attorney Gonzales County has used on retainer, said he “does not believe that policy would be upheld by either the attorney general or the courts.”
At one point in the meeting, Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozowski made a motion to eliminate the chief clerk position with the caveat that the four chief clerks currently in the county retain their salaries until they leave their position.
“A lot of times you sit here and think you’re doing something good, and sometimes we create problems,” Brzozowski said. “We thought when we built this chief clerk position, we thought it would help people out. It’s caused a lot of problems.”
The motion was not seconded by any other commissioner and was later rescinded.
La Fleur and Brzozowski were the two commissioners Davis accused of attempting to circumvent the court at the June 24, 2019 meeting. Davis alleged that by holding a meeting regarding the chief clerk position with Allison, Bass and Magee, LLP after the court had made a motion on Feb. 11, 2019 to bring the attorneys in for a commissioners court meeting, and by not alerting the rest of the court to the meeting, the two and County Auditor Becky Weston acted improperly. However, that notion was challenged by both commissioners, as well as, Allison and Bass.
“When Commissioner Brzozowski and myself and the auditor came to visit you, did we do anything illegal?” La Fleur asked Bass.
“No sir,” Bass replied back.
Commissioners Brzozowski and La Fleur contested that Davis and Precinct 4 Commissioner Collie Boatright had also both contacted Allison, Bass and Magee, LLP without knowledge of the whole court. Both Davis and Boatright said they only spoke to the attorneys before the Feb. 11, 2019 motion and they had difficulty getting into contact with them afterward.
“I can only tell you that I talked to both gentlemen (Davis and Boatright) and they both expressed to me a problem with getting into touch with Allison and Bass,” Gonzales County Attorney Paul Watkins said.
Davis said on Feb. 26, 2019, at the request of the court from the Feb. 11, 2019 meeting, he emailed Allison, Bass and Magee, LLP, and they responded back and accepted the assignment.
Bass explained that his group and the county have a consultation agreement and they frequently discuss duty-related matters with various county officials. On top of the meeting itself, Davis had an issue with the attorneys initially only sending their findings on the issue to the two commissioners. The commissioners were not legally obligated to share the information they received on the matter, though Allison did mention normal protocol is for the attorneys to copy all members of the court on findings. Bass noted he “did not perceive there was an internal conflict that would require me to notify the whole court.” The rest of the court did eventually receive the law firm’s ruling.
“Best I can tell, no one’s done anything wrong,” Allison said. “I can tell you communication can be better, could be better our end as well. Going forward I encourage everybody to talk amongst themselves about what they’re doing, when they’re doing it and make sure everybody is on the same page.”