County Adopts Agreement with Paxton Water Supply; Timpson Area Residents Address Court

January 18, 2023 - The Shelby County Commissioners adopted an agreement with Paxton Water Supply Corporation for its emergency water well project during their meeting held January 18, 2023.

"Judge Harbison had a GrantWorks Zoom meeting after last weeks commission meeting and I sat in on that to get some questions answered that I had regarding the agreement, which I proposed and indicated had to be executed between the county and the water corporation," said John Price, County Attorney.

Price further elaborated GrantWorks provided the information during that Zoom meeting and indicated they would draft the contract. Price has since reviewed the proposed agreement and he said it can be approved. This agreement includes a contingency fund which is in addition to the total estimated amount.

"That contingency fund, if not used, this agreement that we've reviewed does contain the proper provision that that goes back to the ARPA funds if not used," said Price.

Invoices would be submitted by the water corporation for payment, and funding and payment of invoices would be made by the county treasurer.

"We did round it up to $375,000, but I think the water supply knows that we're going to do the 6%. If you're not happy with the $375,000 we can always take it back down to the number we spoke about last week," said Judge Harbison.

A motion carried to move forward with the Paxton Water - Jackson well project out of ARPA funds at the amount that was stated and approved of $350,000 plus 6% ($371,293) and everything contingent on the contract requirements being met.

Judge Harbison said that during the Zoom meeting with GrantWorks they also discussed the above floor sewer and vent piping project in the Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center, and the grant writer suggested the project could utilize ARPA funds as well since it is an emergency situation.

"I think we need to move forward on this, this is not something that we need to lay back on," said Commissioner Tom Bellmyer. "I mean, we've discussed whether it's going to come out of the American Rescue Plan Act fund, if not I'm convinced that it could be deemed an emergency and we could, if need be, we could amend our budget as an emergency."

A motion carried to move forward with the vent system project on the jail with the funding to be adjusted later.

"As y'all know this was over the Christmas holidays, we were in a bind, there was nobody at the courthouse, we were doing it all by phone and we had to purchase some extra water for the Joaquin/Paxton area and some things like that and had some expenses," said Judge Harbison. "Sabine River Authority (SRA) offerered to give us a $15,000 grant to help pay for these funds."

Judge Harbison said the SRA also offered to assist anytime the county needs help in the future.

A motion carried to accept the donation from the Sabine River Authority of $15,000.

Judge Harbison presented for the commissioners a proposition for the county judge to apply for funds Shelby County qualifies for from the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (LATCF) under the American Rescue Plan Act.

"This fund is PILT funds, which is payment in lieu of taxes. The only counties that applied or the only counties that qualified were counties that have federal lands that they're not getting tax dollars on, so that is the reason that we qualify. We didn't have to do anything to qualify but just be Shelby County and have federal lands," said Judge Harbison.

The county would receive two payments of $191,510.15 for a total of $383,020.30 and Judge Harbison stated these funds appear to be less cumbersome to utilize than the ARPA funds which have already been received.

"I would like to use some of it on this building," said Judge Harbison. "I would like to do some work on the second floor, I'd like to make a commissioners courtroom down there and also leave it set up for voir dire so the district courts can utilize it because there are times when these two courtrooms are being used and we either have AG court, CPS court, Commissioners' court, or county misdemeanor court."

Judge Harbison believes only a nominal amount of funds would be necessary to put up some walls, move the room around and add some offices where the kitchen currently is located in the community room.

A motion carried to approve the application and once approved, decide where to spend the funds.

"I'd just like the court to keep in mind, normally forest service funds that come to the county go to Road and Bridge, not to say that I'm against what you're talking about, more than likely I'm going to be wanting to use these funds for our match for our culverts and things that we're going to have to spend $800,000 at a minimum out of cash balance to pay for our projects that the governments doing for us," said Commissioner Roscoe McSwain.

He continued by suggesting the ARPA funds could be used for Judge Harbison's proposal.

Clint Porterfield, County Auditor, clarified forestry funds do go to Road and Bridge and Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) funds go into the general fund.

"Just for the public's knowledge, we got a lot more federal funds for the Road and Bridge this year," said Judge Harbison. "We thought we were going to get $25,000, and we got $160-something," said Judge Harbison.

McSwain confirmed over $130,000 per precinct.

A motion carried to allow Judge Harbison to apply for the LATCF.

Judge Harbison indicated the executive session held on Wednesday, January 11, 2023, was regarding property located at 166 Childs Street in the City of Center.

"There is some old Shelby County school board land that was designated to Excelsior School that is not being utilized by anyone at this point," said Judge Harbison. "In the deed there is a thing that says if Excelsior were to no longer exist that it would revert back to the county and Center ISD and Excelsior ISD have come up with an agreement that they were going to give that property for the use of Center ISD."

In doing research Judge Harbison and John Price confirmed the county already relenquished any rights to that property and the schools can take action on their own without the involvement of the county.

The item was passed and it was agreed to let Center ISD know what the county's findings are.

One subject which gained the most attention during the meeting was initially discussed in executive session.

What was actually said in executive session is unknown to the public, but it was a meeting which included the attendance of the commissioners accompanied by Robin Connell, Sheriff Kevin Windham, Constables Taylor Fanguy and Josh Tipton, as well as County Attorney John Price. Previous to the conclusion of the executive session, Sheriff Kevin Windham left the meeting.

"We had a good discussion with the parties," said County Judge Allison Harbison.

Judge Harbison stated they would not be taking any action on what was discussed in executive session, because they couldn't legally do so. She then encouraged Tom Bellmyer, Commissioner Precinct 4, to open the floor to the audience, mostly made up of precinct 4 residents.

"The four parties involved had more than adequate time, they had all the time they needed to say what was on their mind and I think basically the judge and three commissioners had a lot of comments and questions that went back and forth," said Commissioner Bellmyer.

He did not want to elaborate more, because he couldn't without going into the subject matter of the executive session, which was closed to the public, although he did say there was a lot of comment and commentary about what went on in Timpson last Friday.

Debra Smith, Timpson mayor, addressed the commissioners and inquired about the future of law enforcement in Timpson.

"I just would like to know that whatever is being decided, investigated, whatever from this point forward that we are going to have the necessary support for our constable in our community moving forward. That this is not going to impede day-to-day activity by law enforcement, courts, jails, all of the things that the county has that are afforded by county tax dollars that are paid by all of these citizens of Timpson and the rest of the county," said Smith.

Roscoe McSwain, Commissioners Precinct 1, commented, "The unfortunate part about this, the commissioners court is elected, Sheriff Windham's elected, Josh [Tipton]'s elected," said McSwain. "Our hands are tied. We do the funding, you do the paying, you pay all the property taxes and it's a shame that some communities may not get the coverage another community gets. That's not right, and the ballot box is the only place you fix things like that.

"Now, we can cut funding or we can add funding. This past year we added funding for two new deputies, we added a new deputy last year. That's three deputies in two years to help with the coverage on patrol. There's no excuse for not having manpower. They are understaffed and I understand that, but all that being said my point is he's elected just like we are, and he answers to the people except through his funding."

Mayor Smith said Timpson has been very pleased with their coverage, and elaborated on the closure of the Timpson Police Department which she said was a huge financial decision.

"The constables have stepped up, we have not had any serious issues to my knowledge that haven't been taken care of, but it is my understanding that a person was not allowed to come to the jail over here and it was also, I was led to believe from conversation that that was going to be an ongoing thing, that Timpson was not going to be allowed people to be brought to the jail. That I have a problem with, I don't know if the jail is elected, I thought the jail was a county facility. It would be like saying we weren't going to be allowed in this courtroom, because we were from Timpson," said Smith.

McSwain said the Sheriff is the keeper of the jail, which belongs to the people, and he said in the conversations they had in executive session it wasn't expressed that prisoners would not be accepted from Timpson. Due to Covid, and over population at the jail under the current sheriff administration and previous administrations, McSwain explained what has been customary.

"Not just this sheriff, but previous sheriffs have denied misdemeanors, but not a felon. By law they cannot deny a felon, there is exception of things you may have, steps you have to go through before you have to accept that felon but you cannot deny a felon," said McSwain.

Mayor Smith commented you can't just take an inmate to another county for free, and that it costs money to house them elsewhere. McSwain confirmed that is true, that the subject was addressed in the closed session and the circumstance is being resolved.

"We have assurances that when the constables make an arrest and they follow the protocol that they, those arrests they will be booked into the Shelby County Jail," said Bellmyer. " I will make the comment that your community is blessed, between Timpson and Tenaha what I consider two outstanding constables that have stepped up and provided additional law enforcement in your community."

Randy Mora, a Timpson area resident, commented on the truthfulness of Constable Tipton and said he is very satisfied and that he is doing a good job.

Roy Cheatwood, Constable Precinct 3, then took the opportunity to speak up and share his opinion on the situation. He said it isn't the first time he has been denied a service at the sheriff's department and that his difficulties go back years to a particular investigation involving illegal gambling machines in the Tenaha area.

"We were talked to pretty bad that night, we couldn't even get a dispatcher to answer us on the radio, we stood in the rain from about 1 o'clock until daylight when an officer called us and told us to bring it there, that he'd probably lose his job letting us put it in there," said Cheatwood. "Later on we spoke to the sheriff about it and I was told at that time that I wouldn't have nothing else to do with the sheriff's department, he wouldn't have anything to do with me because he knew he was wrong.

"Go back to this right here, about a month or two ago I'm assuming that the county has got the Tango Tango on these cell phones. Me and the sheriff had a disagreement, I'm gonna go back, supposedly he had a disagreement and he like I say has two sides to every story, but he never listened to my side. I was taken off the Tango Tango overnight and I don't know if the county got to do anything with it, but me and this man (Josh Tipton) right here has done nothing but work our tails off for the citizens of Shelby County.

"If you put our name on something, and the Sheriff's Department finds out that we know a little bit more about it than they do, they discontinue the case. His officers have been told by Kevin Windham, and Kevin Windham told me this, that they are no longer to assist me in any aspects. So I went to the Sheriff's Office about three weeks ago and asked him what the problem was and I never got an answer, I walked back out of there, but all this here Friday evening it's been a joint effort, me and Constable [Taylor] Fanguy, Josh [Tipton] is the leader of it, but we assist one another this is all I got. Since I've been in office all I've had in office is DPS, that's all I've had and I'm in my seventh year."

Paul Smith, a resident of Timpson, asked the commissioners if it's alright for the sheriff to require an apology before accepting prisoners from Timpson again.

Smith stated and asked, "Mr. Windham at one time said that he demanded an apology from Josh and Timpson before he ever does anything for Timpson again, is that known by the commissioners' court and is that okay? Do we still have to give an apology to Mr. Windham for not doing his job?"

Judge Harbison addressed his query by saying, "unfortunately both of those positions are duly elected by the public and commissioners' court have no authority when it comes to things like that."

"So he can demand an apology from us," said Smith.

"You can demand anything, whether you get it or not is another thing, correct? There's no way we can make either one of them do anything, the only way that we can control them is through their budget, unless it's a felony yes. We can always call the Rangers," said Judge Harbison.

Smith stated that Timpson citizens were put in danger by turning patrol cars around on Friday, January 13 and not backing up the officers at Quick Stop.

"We have a safety issue that our county is not able to do anything about I suppose is what you're telling me," said Smith.

Orville Miller said he stands in support of all of the constables and his limited relationship with them has been nothing but good.

"I stand in recognition of public servants, some compensated public servants many here that have been uncompensated public servants, but as heaven beings of God's good green earth we need to all recognize the fact that sometimes a public servant can go a little bit sour and it's our responsibility to both acknowledge and do something about it," said Miller.

Debra Smith asked if there were to be an investigation by the Texas Rangers that it be required for an offense to be deemed a felony for a public official to then be removed. Judge Harbison said she didn't believe it would have to be a felony.

"What I have found out in my years in county government is the [District Attorney] can indict a pine tree if they want to, honestly," said Judge Harbison.

Robin Connell, owner of the Quick Stop stores, addressed the court and the audience members present for the meeting.

"I would like to say I appreciate the interest that the people in Shelby County and Timpson have shown in this and it is a serious matter, and I appreciate y'all coming out. I guess we'll just have to see how it all works out," said Connell. "When this incident happened all of our constables showed up Zack Warr, of course Josh was there, [Taylor] Fanguy was there, Roy was here and Jamie Hagler. All of them showed up, every one of our county constables showed up along with Officer Ramos and I think that speaks volumes," said Connell.

Shane Tipton, Constable Tipton's father, addressed the court in continuance of Paul Smith's comments about the issue of safety on January 13.

"It was a real safety issue that day, Josh called me he said, 'Daddy, I'm going to drive by your house, throw a loaded shotgun ready to go in my truck when I drive by.' It scared me, that's my baby, I jump in my car and I say, 'well, I hope he's not by himself,' I heard something about the Cuban mafia that scared me. We drove up, he got up there he was around front, I seen the truck in the back. First thing I done, I walked by a guy and he says man they got lookouts, he says there's one over at the dollar store with a dealer tag on it.

"Well, they run up there and get a hold of the guy and get him and they're on the ground. He's not really resisting, but he's kind of trying to wiggle under the truck. Both Billy and Josh was down on the ground and had their back and everything, so I just jump out in front of them to protect them from another incoming threat, because now there was already word there was two of them in town. I don't know if this has been discussed or not. I couldn't just sit there and let them be on the ground, somebody - a mafia member could come by and wipe em out. You know what I'm saying? But, the safety issue is real, I'm just going to go ahead and say that."

Ronnie Wolfe, Timpson resident, expressed his appreciation to the constables and the commissioners for listening to them speak.

"I seen Josh [Tipton] grow up, probably taught him in school and I can't express enough our appreciation for Josh and our other constables, the job they do in our area. I understand your limitations, you so stated it when you said, 'we only control the budget,' we understand that we control the votes too, so this is one county and we all, all the law enforcement should work together for the betterment of the people of this county. So, again I thank y'all for hearing this and I thank you for your perseverance and your patience," said Wolfe.

Judge Harbison stated one of her goals as long as she has been county judge is to get all of law enforcement to work together. She remarked the commissioners and herself don't always agree, but they always try and do their best for the community.

"If me and these four guys can work together I just feel like everybody else should be able to work together too," said Judge Harbison.

The meeting then adjourned at 12-noon.

Agenda items approved during the meeting include:
1. Pay weekly expenses.
2. Current payroll.
3. Record Completion of Education hours for Shelby County Clerk.
4. Adjusting the per diem for travel from $40 to $60.
5. Record the filing on the Vehicle Inventory Tax Fund audit for January 2023.
6. FY2023 Budget Line-Item Transfer for Fund 40 – American Rescue Plan.
7. Adopt the Agreement with Paxton Water Supply Corporation for the emergency water well project.
8. Move forward with the above floor sewer and vent piping project in the Sheriff’s Department and Detention Center.
9. Grant for assistance from the Sabine River Authority under the Community Assistance GRANT Program in the amount of $15,000.
10. County Judge to apply for funds Shelby County qualifies for from the Local Assistance and Tribal Consistency Fund (LATCF) under the American Rescue Plan Act.
11. Record Racial Profiling Report for Johnny Harrington with Adult Probation.
12.  Adjourn.

Agenda items tabled during the meeting include:
1. Update on the Application of a CDBG-MIT Grant.

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