KCBD Investigates Taxpayer Tension: County leaders respond to tense exchange during budget workshop

Published: Sep. 6, 2023 at 10:47 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe hoped to add dozens of positions to his office and the Lubbock County Detention Center this next budget cycle, but that did not happen.

His office’s original request to Lubbock County Commissioners included funding for additional patrol deputies, mental health deputies, narcotics investigators, and more.

As commissioners discussed what taxpayers should fund, they struggled to agree.

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Precinct 2 Commissioner Jason Corley was not in favor of the sheriff’s request to add three patrol deputies.

“If you put more officers on the street, you are going to arrest more people, you are going to put more people in jail. We don’t have space right now. We are having to spend $4.8 million this year, and that number will likely increase, to about $7 million dollars next year and probably $10 million after that. So, we need to get the new jail built. More importantly, we need to increase staff in the DA’s office,” Corley said.

Corley also opposed the hiring of mental health deputies during this budget cycle.

“That could be something we look at at a further date, but at the end of the day, it comes down to the dollars and cents and whether or not we can afford it and is that something the taxpayer wants to fund right now?” Corley said.

Corley said he is also opposed to expanding the sheriff’s narcotics division.

“We can hire 1,000 deputies tomorrow and that is not going to solve your Fentanyl problem. At the end of the day, we have got to get through to our children about the dangers of this drug,” Corley said.

The sheriff had also hoped to add to his K9 division, but commissioners did not agree on that either.

During a budget workshop, Corley stated, “There are things we need to get under control on that department and I don’t know if I would add more to that right now.”

It is a comment the sheriff called Corley out on in another budget workshop just days later.

“There was a question that came up and I would be interested in an answer to this. After stating that certain things shouldn’t be approved, a statement was made that there are things we need to get under control in that department. I would really like to know what it is you all need to get under control in the sheriff’s office.”

“I think an offhand comment made by one commissioner does not equate to the policy of the commissioner’s court,” said Lubbock County Judge Curtis Parrish. “I would ask that you address that commissioner either privately or I’m not telling you you can’t address that publicly.”

“The statement was posed publicly because you were in a public workshop,” Rowe said.

“Which comment?” Corley asked.

“The particular comment about certain things should not be funded because there are things that you the court, or you individually I don’t know need to get under control within the sheriff’s office,” Rowe said.

“That is a misquote on me. That was not about letting the commissioner’s court get that under control. It was about letting the sheriff’s office have time to get it under control,” Corley said.

“Get what under control?” Corley said.

“You mentioned the comment on the dogs. The K9s? What is the policy? How are those housed? What is the proper cage for those animals?” Corley said.

“The kennels are bought through the appropriate purchasing,” Rowe said. “Again, it’s all well established. There’s nothing new there.”

“So when did we update it? I thought we had problems with this two years ago,” Corley said.

“We had a problem with an individual, but that wasn’t a policy issue that was the individual’s issue, and that employee is no longer employed with the sheriff’s office as a result of his decision-making,” Rowe said.

“Are you comfortable with the sheriff’s policies and procedures? Do you think you ironed all of that out in the meeting, or do you still have questions?” we asked Corley.

“I think we are good,” Corley said.

We also met with Parrish about the tense exchange.

“Getting away from rumor, getting away from allegations that are unfounded is very important,” Parrish said. “I think using that public forum is not the proper way to address those. I think the proper way to address those if you have a concern with the policy of the sheriff’s department or the way certain deputies in the field are going above and beyond what they should be doing, you address the sheriff, but you don’t do it in a public way,” Parrish said.

The sheriff did attend a later budget meeting and gave a presentation to justify his budget requests.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Terence Kovar said while there was heavy discussion surrounding specific positions, ultimately it is up to the sheriff’s office to determine how to spend the funds commissioners approve.

“We were able to fund five positions but meeting with the sheriff after our budget hearings, I said, ‘Please come up with your plan for those five positions. That is up to you, that is your department,’” Kovar said.

Kovar said the sheriff’s office decided to use the funds to hire a quartermaster, two narcotics investigators and two K9 handlers.

“Their biggest reasons for both narcotics and K9? Overtime. They are burning their guys out in the field,” Kovar said.

The commissioners also approved funding for four corporals and a teacher at the Lubbock County Detention Center.