County judge receives criticism for circumventing commissioners’ court

Photo by Dave A. Vance
Ellis County Judge Carol Bush.

ELLIS COUNTY — Ellis County Judge Carol Bush told members of the Ellis County Commissioners' Court, "I think I am the court," during a Monday, Jan. 26 public meeting.

Discussions became heated during the Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting when it was revealed Ellis County Judge Carol Bush attempted to overstep her authority and circumvent the commissioners' court.

Information was presented stating Bush previously demanded Precinct Two Constable Terry Nay turn his lowest mileage vehicle into the purchasing department for reallocation to another department.

Bush accused Nay of not cooperating with her request. However, Nay presented email exchanges between himself and the purchasing department showing that he had responded to the demand stating the vehicle was currently being utilized by his department. Nay cited email exchanges that show he responded to the initial email within 34 minutes.

"I'm going to let Constable Nay do most of the elaboration since he's been here today for quiet a while cooperating with the court," Precinct Three County Commissioner Paul Perry said at the beginning of the discussion.

Bush quickly interrupted stating, "Today, what about before? No, Commissioner Perry, that's not a fair statement. Do you think it's appropriate when someone issues a request for the court's information for them to simply deny the request?"

Perry responded, "Well, the court didn't ask for it."

"Well, my office asked for it. I think I am the court," Bush said.

Laughs could be heard before Bush corrected herself.

Video Source: Ellis County, Texas

"I am the presiding officer of this court," Bush said.

Perry defended Nay's accused lack of prior cooperation because of the unreasonable and inappropriate demand.

"You may be the presiding officer but if I were in Constable Nay's shoes and somebody out of the blue tells me I need to transfer a vehicle when I have two high-mileage vehicles and one low-mileage vehicle and they request I transfer my high-mileage vehicle (correction — low mileage vehicle)," Perry said before Bush interrupted him again.

"Do you think it really would have made a difference which vehicle," Bush asked.

Perry responded with his own accusation that Bush's request was in retaliation for past disagreements between Bush and Nay.

Precinct Three County Commissioner criticized County Judge Carol Bush for circumventing the commissioners' court.

Precinct Three County Commissioner criticized County Judge Carol Bush for circumventing the commissioners' court.

"I'm not sure Judge because I try not to deal in past animosities but in the reality of the moment and the reality of the moment is I served this county years ago as a Justice of the Peace, my father is a retired law enforcement officer and I don't think police officers should get everything they request that's unreasonable but I don't see anything unreasonable when your vehicle fleet includes two high-mileage vehicles and one newer vehicle to having one of those higher-mileage vehicles in reserve, if possible," Perry said.

Nay was vocal against Bush in Feb. 2014 when accusations surfaced about Bush applying for and receiving a $15,000 salary supplement from the State of Texas for duties she later confirmed she had not performed. A special prosecutor later chose not to pursue charges against Bush despite the admission.

Bush also cut a deputy constable position from Nay's 2014-2015 budget that many in the community felt was the first step at retaliation.

Perry was blunt and direct with his opinion during Monday's public meeting.

"I think it's inappropriate for an appointed official to be out there telling an elected official, who was elected by the people and thus controlled by the people, that you're going to take this vehicle and I have a hard time believing that it was the appointed official's idea to do that," Perry said.

Bush confirmed that the demand was initiated by her department rather than the purchasing department.

"No, it was not. The need was brought to our office," Bush said.

Perry previously cited state law regarding the authority of the commissioners' court rather than an authoritative mandate from the county judge during a previous discussion in the same meeting.

Section 262.011(j) of the Texas Local Government Code states, "To prevent unnecessary purchases, the county purchasing agent, with the approval of the commissioners court, shall transfer county supplies, materials, and equipment from a subdivision, department, officer, or employee of the county that are not needed or used to another subdivision, department, officer, or employee requiring the supplies or materials or use of the equipment. The county purchasing agent shall furnish to the county auditor a list of transferred supplies, materials, and equipment."

"What I think what happened to Constable Nay is he was asked to turn in something before we've given approval for and that is something I would object to especially when you're dealing with department heads and certainly when you're dealing with elected officials," Perry said.

When all was said and done, no action was taken against Nay's office and the vehicle in question remains a part of his department.

In other business, the commissioners approved the purchase of two new fully equipped patrol vehicles for the Sheriff's Office with the expectation that Sheriff Johnny Brown will transfer one older fully-equipped vehicle to Precinct Three Constable Jimmie Ray's office.

The court chose to delay the purchase of a new vehicle for the Emergency Management Coordinator's office despite opposition from Bush because the position has not been filled yet.

Approval was given for the county judge to execute TxDOT on-system right of way contribution agreements for construction of three bridges on FM 55, three on FM 875 and one on FM 66. The commissioners in the precincts which will be affected agreed to share the associated costs from their budgets.

Approval was given to re-tension guy wires on a communications tower in Ennis and make repairs on an antenna located on a water tower in Bristol.

A resolution was passed to adopt a resolution designating The North Texas Behavioral Health Authority (NTBHA) as the Community Mental Health Care Center for Ellis County.

Authorization was given to the county judge to execute documents with Texzon Utilities to set Ellis County electricity rates at an amount of no more than 5.4 cents per kWh for 11 months beginning May 1, 2019.

Richard Dabney and Larry Norcross were appointed to the Emergency Services District Board #3 for a two year term beginning Jan. 1, 2015 through Dec. 31, 2016. The two individuals are replacing Howard Morgan and James Steele.

An interlocal agreement for assessment and collection of taxes for Ellis County Fresh Water Supply District #1 was approved.

Supporting Video: County Judge Carol Bush and Commissioner Paul Perry exchange during the Monday, Jan. 26, 2015 Ellis County Commissioners' Court meeting
Source: Ellis County, Texas -