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By Chris Edwards
TYLER COUNTY – Several Tyler County residents have served a notice of intent to file against the county auditor’s surety bond.
At present time, 12 residents have filed against Jackie Skinner’s surety bond. Surety bonds are required, by statute, of all public officials.
The bonds provide financial guarantee against loss that the official’s duties of his/her office will be performed according to the law during the term the official is sworn-in for.
According to information on the website tycoarparemedy.com, the notices have been sent in the claim amount of $3,500 each, which is the amount of money officials and county employees were awarded from the county’s American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) fund allotment.
The notices of intent, which have all been published to the aforementioned website, outline each resident’s claim, alleging that Skinner, in her role of disbursing the ARPA funds to elected officials, “willfully violated multiple laws relating Bondholder’s employment and misused $392,000 of government property.”
The claims cite “multiple official acts undertaken” by Skinner “without constitutional, statutory or regulatory authority” and goes on to cite a dereliction of duty.
The ARPA fund disbursement to the county’s elected officials in the form of premium pay was part of the $392K sum, which was split up between 144 active and retired county government employees, both appointed and elected. Fifty-nine thousand, five hundred of that went to elected officials, while the rest went to retirees, part-time employees and full-time employees of the county’s government.
The claims note how the ARPA funds were determined by the federal government to be used, including as a response to the public health emergency caused by the pandemic and its negative economic impacts, including assistance to households, small businesses and non-profits, as well as investments in infrastructure.
In September, the state’s attorney general, Ken Paxton, issued a non-binding opinion on the use of the ARPA funds. The opinion was made in response to a request Skinner made in February.
Paxton stated that “a court could conclude that ARPA premium pay funds are not ‘salary’ for purposes” under Local Government Code 152.013, which requires advance public notice of salary increases, expenses or allowances of elected county or precinct officials.
Skinner, who presented a breakdown in a March regular meeting of the Tyler County Commissioners Court, said that in 2021, when the county became aware of the funds, there was no understanding or knowledge of how or what they could be used for, and in an interim ruling at the time, said there was no guidance stating whether or not elected officials were eligible.
“If I at any time felt I was committing a criminal act, I never would have allowed it to happen,” Skinner said during that court session in March.
The notices posted on the website state that in order to rectify the situation, Skinner must either admit error and provide a check to the claimants in the amount of $3,500 or cite statutory authority for the ARPA disbursement.