By Tony Farkas
COLDSPRING — While the San Jacinto County Commissioners Court approved a new deputy position for the Sheriff’s Office, a request to apply for a state grant became a point of contention.
At the regular county meeting on Wednesday, Chief Tim Kean told the court it was “getting on his last nerve” because commissioners questioned certain requirements of the grant.
The grant was approved by the Legislature this year, and $100 million has been set aside to combat the effects of the border crisis, such as deterring illegal immigration, smuggling of people, drugs and weapons, and human trafficking.
Kean told the court he was seeking a little more than $1.7 million to set the county up as the center of a seven-county task force to help reduce border-related criminal activity, which in the county included a mass shooting which led to five deaths, meth labs and marijuana grow houses and even cartel activity.
He told the court that the town of Plum Grove, which is in Liberty County near Cleveland, is believed to have 90,000 illegal immigrants there, and that soon illegal immigrants will outnumber citizens there.
The grant would fund six officers and an analyst, as well as necessary equipment. It would cover overtime for officers donated to the task force from the surrounding six counties.
Commissioner Laddie McAnally pointed out that since the county would be the hub of the task force, it would be liable for repaying grant funds, especially if funds are misused or grant requirements were not followed.
“There’s a lot in here to digest,” he said.
County Judge Fritz Faulkner reminded Kean that if questions regarding the grant funds arise, then he would be the one fielding calls from the state; Commissioner David Brandon said the resolution seeking the grant does not mention the judge.
Kean said the grant resolution was written by the state, and his office could not apply for the grant without a scanned resolution sent in.
“This takes me out of the loop, but I’m the one getting the calls when there’s auditing,” Faulkner said. “On any grant we’ve every applied for, I always have done that, but this is taking me over here and setting me on the bench. You’re trying to take the court out and setting the Sheriff ahead of that.
“I’ve backed the sheriff on everything he’s done, but you’re kicking me right in the teeth,” Faulkner said.
Kean said he’s just bringing to the court for permission to apply, but the court was now “trying my patience.
“If that’s how you want to do it, let’s do whatever we’re going to do here,” Kean said. “It’s free money, a 100 percent grant. Who turns that down? San Jacinto County, that’s who does. We’ll bring this to the people.”
Kean told McAnally that he felt the sheriff’s office would steal the funds; McAnally responded that there was more to the grant than was being presented, and Commissioners Mark Nettuno and Donnie Marrs agreed.
Faulkner reiterated that on the face of it, the grant bypassed the checks and balances of the commissioners’ court, and that needed to be addressed since it was unlike any other grant the county has received.
In the end, the court tabled the measure until its questions could be answered.
The court did, however, approved a new deputy to be attached to a multi-county stolen vehicle task force, which will be paid for by grant funds obtained by the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office.
In other business, the commissioners:
•waived rental fees for SAAFE House for a bingo fundraiser to be held at the storm shelter on Aug. 26;
•designated David Brandon and Mark Nettuno as representatives on the DETCOG board of directors;
•approved a modified agreement with DETCOG for its services;
•approved Faulkner as representative to the Burk Center Board of Trustees, with Faulkner abstaining from the vote;
•approved seeking quotes from firms for the demolition of homes purchased in the county’s buyout program;
•approved the purchase of a 2023 Silverado pickup;
•declared 2 pieces of county equipment as surplus to be sold at auction;
•approved a lot split for Javid Johnson;
•approved a burn ban for the county for 30 days; and
•approved and ordinance allowing the county to designate areas that could not be used for landfills.