County judge seeking pay increase for elected officials

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

ELLIS COUNTY — It's that time of year again when the Ellis County Commissioners' Court will soon decide on a new budget for the upcoming 2015-2016 fiscal year, including possible raises for elected officials.

Ellis County Judge Carol Bush has proposed a three percent salary increase for elected officials. It is unclear at press time if a raise for county employees will be included in the proposed budget, which has not been released yet.

Currently, county commissioners make $76,226 per year, county court at law judges make $149,885, Bush makes $97,672 as county judge, the sheriff makes $83,077 and the remainder of elected officials make less than $70,000 per year paid from county tax funds. The least paid elected officials are county constables. They make $55,386 per year.

Some positions, such as district judges and the district attorney are paid with a combination of local and state funds. Only the county portion of their salary is included in the chart at the bottom of this article.

The commissioners' court will be discussing and possibly voting on the proposed salary increase on Monday, August 10 at 10 a.m. The meeting will be held on the second floor of the Historic Ellis County Courthouse located at 101 W. Main St in Waxahachie. The meeting is open to the public.

Ellis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Paul Perry opposes the pay increase for any elected official making over $70,000 per year.

"I do not support the pay raise for members of the court or anyone making over 70K. I do however prefer a flat dollar raise for our employees," Perry said. "We should have other priorities in order to provide for county needs, given our growth."

Perry also raised the issue of the future of the Fire Marshal's position. Joe Stewart recently submitted his resignation and the commissioners' court has been discussing the future of the position with the possibility of leaving it vacant and having the State's Fire Marshal handle fire investigations within the county.

"It now becomes very clear to me that we have enough money to fund the Fire Marshal's office," Perry said while addressing the proposed salary increases for elected officials.

Bush proposed a two percent salary increase for all elected officials and county employees during the 2014-2015 budget negotiation process. The commissioners' court decided instead to split up the total cost of the raise and distribute it evenly to all elected officials and county employees. This resulted in a salary increase of $950 per person per year.

Commissioners Layne Grayson, Pct. 2, and Kyle Butler, Pct. 4, had not taken office yet when the last raise was voted on, but they both began receiving the increase when they assumed office in January.

Reaction to the most recent proposed pay increase has been swift within the community.

"No elected official should ever get to vote on raising their own pay," Bob Stafford said.

Glenn Alexander explained a similar position in more detail.

"The issue I have with this proposal is that the official knows what the salary is before they run for office and should not expect anymore during their elected term. The official has agreed to do the job for the amount that was in place when they were elected," he said.

During Chad Adams' term as county judge, a previous commissioners' court voted in 2006 for a $10,000 salary increase for elected officials and followed in 2008 with an additional four percent increase. District judges and the district attorney were not included in the $10,000 raise.

Ellis County Precinct 1 Commissioner Dennis Robinson voted for the $10,000 increase in 2006 but voted against the four percent increase while in the middle of a re-election campaign. Robinson is the only commissioner still in office since the 2006 vote to increase the salaries of elected officials.

Many residents are asking for raises for county employees instead.

"The county employees should get a raise before the elected officials. Their "perks" have been cut (health care costs have gone up and longevity pay has been taken away), and they went YEARS without a raise," Crissy Brown said.

Klinton Valley echoed that sentiment.

"Why should elected officials get a 3% raise when other county employees get nothing? Plus why would she promote a raise for elected officials when county employees were just told their monthly cost for medical and dental is being raised," he said.

However, not all residents are against the salary increase for elected officials.

"3% seems reasonable and might be a tad low in today's market place. Why wouldn't they deserve a raise," Bill Steddum said.

"3% raise, I believe in raising their pay but I also believe in giving a raise to hard working employees," Josephine Byrd said.

According to one county commissioner, Bush recently floated the idea of a $53,000 raise for herself during budget hearings, but the commissioners quickly nixed that idea. Bush never responded to a request for comment when that story first broke.

Tres Medlock raised the issue of the past $15,000 salary supplement controversy that surrounded Bush in 2014.

"Is this the same judge that received a $15k add on from the state that she didn't qualify for," Medlock asked.

He is referring to Bush filing two affidavits with the State of Texas in 2012 and 2013 claiming she was spending at least 40 percent of her time performing judicial duties. In return, the state provides county judges a $15,000 salary supplement per year on top of the salary they already receive from county funds.

The affidavit Bush signed read, in part, "On my oath, I swear or affirm that at least forty percent (40%) of the functions I perform as county judge are judicial functions."

However, residents began looking into the issue late 2013 and early 2014 after noticing an October 2013 commissioners' court meeting agenda item to transfer an undisclosed amount of money from the general fund to Bush's salary budget.

When the issue started to become public knowledge, Bush notified the Texas State Comptroller's office in February 2014 stating she would be returning over $7,000 of the salary supplement.

Nearly two weeks later she wrote a column in another local newspaper admitting she had not performed the duties as stated. She said she returned the money and had planned on performing judicial duties but that scheduling conflicts and family issues interfered.

Although the county received the $15,000 for the 2013 filing, Bush never took possession of those monies. She only received a portion of the 2014 filing, which has now been returned.

Prior to the creation of Ellis County Citizen, Ellis County Citizen publisher Dave Vance filed a criminal complaint against Bush with the Texas Rangers in March 2014 regarding the false affidavits Bush submitted to the State of Texas requesting the state salary supplement.

A special prosecutor was assigned to investigate. Rockwall County District Attorney Kenda Culpepper closed the investigation in August 2014 after the Texas Rangers stated there was insufficient evidence to proceed with charges.

"The Judge has accepted monies that she didn't earn or deserve and had to pay it back to the state. Asked for a $53,000 dollar pay increase to her salary, added positions to her staff and now asking for another 3% raise. If she spent as much time working on real issues in the county as she does working on getting her salary increased the county might not have some of the issues it has," Chris Harden said Sunday afternoon.

Current salaries, proposed increases and other allowances for Ellis County elected officials.
(Note: Salaries for district judges and the district attorney are paid using state and local funds. This table only displays the portion of their salary that is paid using county funds.)

TitleCurrent SalaryProposed Salary IncreaseCurrent ConferenceConference IncreaseCurrent Travel AllowancesTravel Allowance Increase
Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 176,2262,2871,0001,500
Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 276,2262,2872,500
Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 376,2262,2873,000
Ellis County Commissioner Pct. 476,2262,2871,5001,000
Ellis County Constable, Pct. 155,3861,6621,000
Ellis County Constable, Pct. 255,3861,6621,500
Ellis County Constable, Pct. 355,3861,6621,000
Ellis County Constable, Pct. 455,3861,6621,000
Ellis County Clerk66,9582,0093,5002,000
Ellis County Court at Law #1149,8854,4973,000450
Ellis County Court at Law #2149,8854,4971,700450
Ellis County Judge97,6722,9315,0003,000
Ellis County Tax Assessor/Collector66,9582,0092,2001,3001,0001,500
Ellis County Treasurer66,9582,0093,600475
Ellis County and District Attorney10,88532727,0004,000
District Clerk66,9582,0092,0001,500
378th District Judge10,8853273,000500
40th District Judge10,8853273,000500
443rd District Judge10,8853273,000500
Ellis County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 160,9811,8292,5005,500200
Ellis County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 260,9811,8293,5003,500
Ellis County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 360,9811,8291,5002,0001,000
Ellis County Justice of the Peace, Pct. 460,9811,8292,5003,500
Ellis County Sheriff83,0772,4921,700