Commissioners debate potential patrol vehicle take-home policy


For the second time in two weeks, Gonzales County commissioners discussed the usage of county-owned vehicles by the Gonzales County Sheriff’s Office — particularly those that are taken home out of the county by deputies.

Several members of the court — in particular, Precinct 2 Commissioner Donnie Brzozwoski — have been especially vocal about not wanting to see county assets being taken out of Gonzales County.

“My thoughts are that it's hard to track somebody when they take a car out of the county to know when they’re on duty and when they’re off duty, where they’re driving, what time do they have a break,” Brzozowski said. “I think the simplest thing is, if you work for the Sheriff’s Department or you work for Emergency Services and you’re driving a car, as long as you're in the county, I don't have a problem with it.

“If you’re working here and live in Nixon or you’re working here and live in Waelder or you live in Harwood, as long as they’re in the county, I don’t have a problem with that, because they're in their service area.”

Commissioners had asked Sheriff Keith Schmidt to compile a list of what policies neighboring counties use regarding their patrol vehicles.

“Pretty much, in all the counties, it's at the sheriff’s discretion, but it looks like Karnes County is the only one that doesn’t let them take them outside to an adjacent county,” Schmidt said. “In Karnes County, they don’t leave the county, but with all of the others, they can go to an adjacent county.”

Brzozowski argued that the court had received “a list of people that showed taking a lot of cars out of the county, like 10.”

“If you work in the county and live in the county, you keep the car in the county. If you live out of the county, you get the car and when you’re done, you park it and you go back home,” Brzozowski said. “Not everyone gets a car furnished to drive home. Those people living out of the county, chances are when they get something closer to home, they’re going to move on anyway.”

Brzozowski made a motion to only allow deputies who live in the county to take their cars home, but it died for lack of a second.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin La Fleur said his only issue is that some places in neighboring counties can actually be closer to Gonzales than cities that are in Gonzales County. For example, it is only 19 miles from Gonzales to Shiner and 21 miles from Gonzales to Moulton, but it is 28 miles from Gonzales to Nixon.

“Some of them can be living in the county and take a car home and be driving further than those who live out of the county,” La Fleur said. “I know, as a group, everyone thinks it’s getting out of control. I’d like to leave it up to the sheriff, but let’s get a rein on this and we can get address it later on if we need to instead of making a rule right now. Let the sheriff address it and we’ll check back on it later and if things haven’t gotten better we can do something.’

Both La Fleur and Precinct 1 Commissioner Dell Whiddon said they like Caldwell County’s policy of allowing vehicles to be driven into the adjoining countI really like how Caldwell County does things.

“Once cars leave the county, you don’t know how far they’re driving,” Brzozowksi said. “Why not make the rule now and then see how it works, and if it doesn’t work, then change it? Because this way, we haven’t accomplished anything.

“You still have people driving cars out of the county, so we shouldn’t even talk about it, we should just let it run like it is? Why did we have all this discussion and waste our time? We’ve got to make a decision one way or another. This is business. We can’t have cars driving out of the county.

“We have 10 cars driving out of the county going as far as San Antonio and New Braunfels and one heading to Woodsboro and I know how far it is to drive to Woodsboro because I drive there every week for 20-something years. The taxpayers shouldn’t have to be footing that tab,” he added.

Schmidt denied anyone is driving to Woodsboro and said a list provided to commissioners of deputies who live out of county likely included home mailing addresses.

“I hired a deputy who used to live in and work for Refugio County, but he lives between Flatonia and Moulton today and he’s never driven the car to Woodsboro,” Schmidt said. “The one who lives between Marion and New Braunfels lives closer than the sheriff’s office in Guadalupe County or he would leave it there. His home is closer than that sheriff’s office, so we let him take it home.”

Schmidt said he has, at a maximum, “seven to eight” of his 24 deputies driving cars out of the county on a regular basis — just a little over a third of those on duty. He also pointed out that an opinion by the Texas Attorney General supports his having the final say over how he uses his assets.

“I am the Gonzales County Sheriff, elected to protect the citizens of Gonzales County and the state of Texas. I have to be able to do my job,” Schmidt said. “Y'all have given me deputies to work with and you have given me vehicles to work with and I am proud of both. We’ve got good employees and we’ve got good vehicles.

“Ultimately, in my opinion, and according to the state attorney general, it is my decision alone. You can make a ruling if you want and maybe there's another ruling, but it's gonna be mine because I have to report to the people of Gonzales about protecting them.”

“How are they going to protect anyone in New Braunfels, sheriff?” Brzozowski retorted. “By the time they get here from New Braunfels or San Antonio, it’s all going to be over with. The chicken killing is going to be done.”

“It could be, but he’ll get here a lot quicker in his county-owned vehicle with his lights and siren and vest and his gun,” Schmidt replied.

“I agree after Attorney General opinion that you are able to do what you want to with your fleet,” said County Judge Pat Davis, a former DPS trooper. “However, the way I read it is that as long as it is a purpose that protects the citizens of the Gonzales County or to that effect. Driving the vehicle home and then coming back, I think it can be argued whether that protects the citizens of Gonzales County. That's just my interpretation of it.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Collie Boatright said he believes the sheriff should have a policy that either allows “to the neighboring county or it must be within 25 or 30 miles — something that’s definite that we can determine.”

Schmidt said there are advantages to having deputies being able to have their vehicles at a moment’s notice.

“Anytime anything happens, we're calling them and saying, ‘Hey, you need to come in and work.’” Schmidt said. “They can respond directly from their house or wherever and they can go right to work. They have all their tools with them and they don't have to come into town to get something.”

Questioned by Davis, Schmidt said the deputies are off duty when they cross the county line and are not back on duty until they cross back over into the county, even though they may be in a county-owned vehicle. Davis responded that the use of vehicles when “off-duty” could be considered a “big perk” for those particular employees that could be viewed negatively by others.

Eventually, La Fleur made a motion to table the matter to give the court “more time to study” the legalities involved in creating a policy and to revisit it at a later date. That motion was approved by the court.