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County judge, constable at odds

Profile image for By Bj Lewis and Megan Gray / Staff Writers
By Bj Lewis and Megan Gray / Staff Writers

Horn admonishes Burch in memos over vehicle use, expenses

While the practice of allowing constables and deputies to work off-duty jobs is an accepted one, Denton County Judge Mary Horn wants constables to stay within budget and to keep county vehicles in their assigned precincts.

“It’s really very simple — just do your job, stay in budget [and] in your own precinct,” Horn said.

The issue recently surfaced when Horn admonished Precinct 4 Constable Tim Burch in a memo for reportedly using his vehicle to perform off-duty work outside the county.

In addition to the Sept. 4 memo, Horn sent Burch another e-mail detailing her concerns about budget overruns in his department.

“I have not had issues or budgetary concerns with anybody other than Burch, that’s why I directed the e-mail to him,” Horn said.

She said that after sending the e-mail to Burch, she sent the same documentation to all law enforcement officials in Denton County.

“I acknowledged I knew that many of them had a policy, but I should be sending the same thing to everybody,” Horn said.

Burch said his office is fiscally conservative.

“We use the same guidelines we have in place allowing for a take-home vehicle, a 43-mile radius from the office,” Burch said. “A lot of the times we’re located in the far northern end of the county. Allowing the deputies to work two miles from my office or less, you cross over into Tarrant County. We had done that for years and years.”

Burch said that once he received Horn’s first notice, the out-of-county work ceased.

“My office is one of the only offices where my guys voluntarily pay for their gas expenditures,” he said. “That was noted in a recent open records request. That, in itself, should get some praise from Mary Horn as opposed to her scorn.”

The county judge has attended a number of events that Denton County deputies have worked outside the county, Burch said. These include the county Republican Party’s Lincoln-Reagan Dinner and the Jane Nelson picnic.

When asked about such instances, Horn said those deputies were working as volunteers and did not drive county vehicles to the events.

Other constables said they also have policies about off-duty work.

Constable Jesse Flores said that while he does allow his deputies to work off-duty, all of his employees know the boundaries of where they can and cannot work.

“I will not allow any of them to work at a sexually oriented business off-duty,” Flores said.

He said he follows an attorney general’s ruling on how to conduct off-duty work while a county employee.

According to a 2006 opinion to an attorney in Hunt County inquiring about deputies working off-duty security jobs while using county vehicles, Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office ruled that the “sheriff may authorize deputy sheriffs to use county patrol vehicles during off-duty security employment without the deputies reimbursing the county for that use only if the predominant purpose of the off-duty use is to conserve the peace within the county, the sheriff retains control over the vehicles in a manner that ensures the peace will be conserved, and the county actually receives this public benefit.”

“They [deputies] stay in my precinct and I never hear about them getting into any trouble while working off-duty,” Flores said. “What they do after they work 40 hours with me in my office is their business.”

Precinct 5 Constable Doug Boydston said his policy is to have deputies work in their own precinct.

“If they work them in Precinct 5, they can use their vehicle; if they work out of our precinct, even in Denton County, I prefer them not to take their vehicles,” Boydston said.

He said there haven’t been any issues in his department regarding this policy.

“Not with us, not at all. The way I look at it, if it’s in our precinct, that’s the people we serve, the citizens that put us in office,” Boydston said. “If we go work a football game, I don’t mind at all that our car is sitting at that stadium, but a Precinct 5 car down there in Precinct 2 or 3 doesn’t do me any good.

“Could there ever be instances where they used it out of the county? Sure, can’t say a blanket statement like there never will be.”

Precinct 3 Constable Jerry Raburn said that while he prefers his deputies to work off-duty within his precinct, they might not always be.

“If they do work off-duty outside my jurisdiction or the county, I ask that they not take the county vehicles,” he said. “Now should they reimburse the county for gas used? I’m not sure.”

Raburn said he also goes by the ruling from Abbott’s office and has yet to figure out what to do about reimbursement.

The ruling states: “Thus, a commissioners court may not lease the county’s vehicles to the county’s deputy sheriffs to use in a private capacity. Accordingly, we need not answer your question as to who determines reimbursement amounts, because the county may not lease its vehicles for private use in the first place.”

“As long as we are providing a public service, I think it should be fine [to use the county vehicles off-duty],” Raburn said. “I’m still trying to decide, though, on what to do after reading the ruling.”

Precinct 6 Constable Ron Smith and Precinct 2 Constable Michael Truitt were not available for comment.

According to a budget spreadsheet provided by the county comparing work in the various constables’ offices, Burch’s office has had more arrests than a few of his peers since he was sworn into office this year.

“I am not intimidated by her [Horn’s] office and I won’t be. You will see another answer to her berating me about the overruns in my office,” Burch said.

BJ LEWIS can be reached at 940-566-6875 and via Twitter at @BjlewisDRC.

MEGAN GRAY can be reached at 940-566-6885 and via Twitter at @MGrayNews.