And the first victim could be none other than the Coastal Bend Crime Stoppers.
“We got a letter saying we would not be able to get a grant this year,” said Cathey Brown, Coastal Bend Crime Stoppers president, at Monday’s Commissioners Court meeting. “Our grant could be up to $10,000, but it is usually around $8,000. It pays our bills, and it pays us going to training.”
At issue is that the county is required to report the disposition of criminal cases to the state.
According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, the biggest problem is with the 2011 data at the county court level.
Convictions and dismissals are not being filed and reported in a timely manner. Nearly 450 cases of the 619 total still outstanding from 2011 are not completed by the county clerk’s office, according to the DPS. That amounts to a completion percentage of only 55 percent — well below the state required 90 percent.
Commissioner Dennis DeWitt said, “It is my understanding that this is not only going to affect your operation, but it is going to affect all state grants coming into Bee County – it could be several hundred thousand dollars in grants.”
Lt. Ronnie Jones, with the sheriff’s office, gave even worse news to the court.
“I was always told it is both federal and state grants,” he said.
DeWitt added, “If it is federal and state grants, that would totally shut BCAA down.” The Bee Community Action Agency operates largely on state and federal grants.
Jones added that the sheriff’s office received $160,000 in grants last year, and over the past four years, the grants totaled more than a million dollars.
County Clerk Mirella Escamilla Davis said that her office has done its part to raise the percentage.
“The county clerk’s office has done everything we can,” she said.
“I don’t want the public to say that it is the county clerk’s office that didn’t do it.”
Mary Fritz, with the county clerk’s office, said, “There are a lot of cases that are sitting in the county attorney’s office that are either pending or have never been filed.
“Now if they are pending, we need to get these people into court and get dispositions on these cases. If they have not been filed, then you need to ask Mr. (Mike) Knight what he is going to do with those cases.”
Judge David Silva echoed the words of others on the court that their hands are tied when it comes to the office of another elected official.
“All we can do is ask and prod and let them know,” he said.
“I think we are past the asking stage,” DeWitt said.
Commissioners all agreed that if additional staff is required to get the numbers up, then hiring a part-time employee is possible.
Silva said that he would speak to Knight about the situation and, if additional staff were required, a special meeting would be called by the court to approve the hiring.
DeWitt said that he hopes the low number of completed cases was simply an oversight or a lack of staffing at the county attorney’s office.
“I cannot imagine an elected official allowing the county to lose several million dollars in grants.”
Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.