Commissioner Robinson advises elected official to ignore state law

Photo by Ellis County, Texas

WAXAHACHIE — The Ellis County Commissioners' Court discussed and voted during Monday's commissioners' court meeting to enter into contract negotiations with Dunbar Armored Inc for the purpose of picking up money from the county and transporting it to the bank for deposit.

County treasurer Cheryl Chambers raised concern that she may not have the legal authority to release county money to a third-party armored vehicle service. Chambers stated she was seeking the advice from the county attorney's office and requested the office seek an opinion from the Texas Attorney General.

"When I took my oath of office, I swore that I would follow the law and so that's what I'm trying to do," Chambers said after continuous hounding by Ellis County Commissioner Precinct 1 Dennis Robinson.

Robinson accused Chambers multiple times of attempting to halt the use of armored vehicle services. It also appears that he was attempting to coax her into ignoring state law.

"I'm not big on just, you know, doing everything the State or Federal Government tells me to do. I'd rather use my own commonsense and decision and wait until they tell me no you can't do it before I just say well I'm not going to do it because," Robinson said.

Robinson was elected judge pro-tem earlier in the meeting prior to his admission that he is not concerned about following state law as an elected official.

Like the county treasurer, Robinson swore in his oath of office to preserve, protect, and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States and of this State.

Commissioner Precinct 3 Paul Perry issued a statement later in the week supporting Chambers' efforts to ensure she is following the law as an elected official.

"Certain discussions have come before the commissioners’ court recently regarding the proper way for different officeholders to deal with taxpayer monies," Perry wrote.

"As stewards not just of public tax money but also of public trust, I think it is always desirable for our employees and especially our officeholders to consider the legal basis and all applicable federal and state laws concerning the decisions they are asked to make. I appreciate that Ellis County Treasurer Cheryl Chambers is going the extra mile to do just that."

County Judge Carol Bush inquired during the meeting why Chambers was just bringing up the possible legal issue.

"I'm curious though, why is this an issue now 18 months later versus before," Bush said.

"Until Friday, I did not know that the armored car was back on the table. I've been totally left out of any discussions or negotiations or things that were set up about the contract. I haven't read it, I don't know how it involves me, I know nothing of what is included. I was intentionally left out of that," Chambers responded.

"I would just think that it would be part of common courtesy to include the offices in negotiations."

Despite the commissioners' court's decision to enter into a contract with Dunbar, Chambers may have the option to opt-out of using the armored services. It appears the commissioners' court does not have the authority to require Chambers or any other elected official to use Dunbar or any other third-party money courier.

The Texas Attorney General's Office has cited multiple court cases when issuing opinions on the authority and powers of commissioners' courts.

"[t]he Commissioners Court may exercise only those powers vested by the Texas Constitution and the Texas statutes, and those implied powers to the minimum extent necessary to carry out the express powers." Canales v. Laughlin, 214 S.W.2d 451 (Tex. 1948).

"We are fully in accord with respondents in pointing out, as they do, that the County and the County Commissioners' Court are not synonymous nor are they one and the same. We quite agree that the County Commissioners' Court is not charged with the management and control of all of the County's business affairs. Each of the various elected officials, including the Assessor-Collector, has the sphere that is delegated to him by law and within which the Commissioners' Court may not interfere or usurp." Pritchard & Abbott v. McKenna, 350 S.W.2d 335 (Tex. 1961).

"Because of the unique structure of county government in Texas, the judge - like other elected county officials, such as the sheriff and treasurer - holds virtually absolute sway over the particular tasks or areas of responsibility entrusted to him by state statute and is accountable to no one other than the voters for his conduct therein. Thus, at least in those areas in which he, alone, is the final authority or ultimate repository of county power, his official conduct and decisions must necessarily be considered those of one "whose edicts or acts may fairly be said to represent official policy" for which the county may be held responsible under section 1983." Rhode v. Denson, 776 F.2d 107, 109 (5th Cir. 1985).

Finally, the Texas Association of Counties states, "As with all elected county officials, the treasurer has ultimate authority over the operations of the office."

Ellis County Tax Assessor-Collector John Bridges also addressed the commissioners' court to raise concern over potential personal liability by transferring money to another department prior to pickup by Dunbar.

"I have a little bit of a problem with transferring my personal liability to somebody else," Bridges said.

Dunbar has not been without incident.

The Los Angeles Times reported a Dunbar employee and friends made off with $18.9 million during a heist in 1997. The heist is reported as the one of the largest robberies in Los Angeles history.

CBS DFW reported about a Dunbar robbery incident in Fort Worth in May 6, 2011. reported a lone gunman infiltrated a Dunbar armored truck on July 21 of this year and made off with an undisclosed amount of cash.

KWTX-TV in Waco, TX reported a Dunbar armored truck was robbed in November 2007 in Miami, FL.

According to the Buford Patch, Dunbar Armored was robbed in Georgia three times by the same suspects during October, November and December 2010.

WFAA-TV in Dallas reported a suspect was killed during an attempted robbery of a Dunbar truck in November 2013.

The Dallas Morning News reported in March 2012 about a Dunbar guard who was shot and returned fire killing a attempted robbery suspect.

Chapter 113 of the Texas Local Government Code supports Chambers' and Bridge's concerns until legal clarification can be obtained as Chambers requested.

Both the treasurer and tax assessor-collector are personally responsible for county money until it is deposited into the bank. The language used in state law also states "shall" rather than "may" in regard to whom is responsible for depositing funds.

Section 113.005(a) states, "The county treasurer is not responsible for any loss of the county funds through the failure or negligence of a depository. This subsection does not release the treasurer from responsibility for a loss resulting from the official misconduct or negligence of the treasurer, including a misappropriation of the funds, or from responsibility for funds until a depository is selected and the funds are deposited."

Section 113.006 states, "A county tax assessor-collector and any surety on the assessor-collector's bond are relieved of responsibility for safekeeping funds collected from taxes after the funds are deposited as required by law with the county depository."

Section 113.021(b) states, "The county treasurer shall deposit the money in the county depository in the proper fund to the credit of the person or department collecting the money" and ASection 113.022(b) states, "(b) A county treasurer shall deposit the money received under Subsection (a) in the county depository in accordance with Section 116.113(a)."

Video source Ellis County, Texas