Kyle’s administration is scrambling to cover its portion of magistrate duties at the Hays County Jail after the municipal court judge informed officials she is no longer interested in volunteering her time.
In a Sept. 10 email to Hays County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Beth Smith, Kyle Municipal Court Judge Sundra Spears said she would no longer be able to volunteer for weekend and holiday magistrate duties at the jail in 2013, as she had been doing for the last eight years.
“From the beginning, when I first attended ‘judges meetings,’ my intentions were to support my fellow magistrates in the county and I agreed to be included in the scheduling,” Spears wrote in the email. “However, I am a part-time judge, and I do not have staff allocated at the City of Kyle or the use of the technology needed to support the completion of the important administrative duties that are required following each magistration session.”
And now Spears’ support for her fellow magistrates is nearing its end, as she told Smith in her email that she would only complete her duties scheduled up until the year’s end.
Spears’ move comes after her request for a pay raise of over $12,000 failed to garner support from city council members during budget talks for Fiscal Year 2013.
In communication between Spears and the city’s Finance Director Perwez Moheet, Spears said she was not being compensated for about 314 hours of work, to include 54 hours of magistrate duty at the jail each year and 260 hours per year of administrative duties and consultation with city staff.
Council members eventually opted to give Spears, as they did all other city employees, only a 3.5 percent cost of living adjustment, which for Spears totaled $819, bringing her salary to a total of $34,396, which includes a base compensation of $23,395, plus benefits and fringe pay.
In Spears’ original agreement with the city in 2004, it states that Spears is to provide municipal court judge services to the city at a salary of $2,000 per month. The agreement does not specify that magistrate duty at the county jail is included in her provision of services, nor does it specify what all is entailed in her services as a municipal court judge.
Smith however is of a different opinion.
“(Smith) has told us that we provide that service in exchange to free access to the jail for Kyle arrests… but we weren’t aware of that, so we’re trying to evaluate,” City Manager Lanny Lambert said. “(Spears) has told us that this is an informal agreement that she agreed to several years ago as a volunteer to help out the JPs on the magistrate services.”
“Judge Spears, I understand what you are saying, however the Magistrate duties were not voluntary, but came with the position of (the) City of Kyle (Municipal Court) Judge to alleviate Jail costs to the city,” Smith wrote in an email to Spears 24 minutes after she resigned from magistration duty.
City officials later jostled to locate agreements between Kyle and Spears in an effort to identify if a more specific contract agreement existed other than the one signed in 2004 that only said Spears was responsible for “Municipal Court Judge services to the City of Kyle, Texas.”
“Surely this can’t be the only agreement!?” Kyle Mayor Lucy Johnson asked Lambert in a Sept. 11 email.
But apparently, it is. The city has not been able to find any other contract agreement with Spears, Lambert said. But not only that, the city has not been able to locate an agreement with the county that states Kyle is required to provide magistrate services to the jail.
“We’re trying to ascertain our obligation to the county,” Lambert said. “We have no document. We have no contract. We have no agreement. We really had no knowledge that we were to provide that service to the county.”
Hays County Attorney Mark Kennedy did not return calls for comment regarding a county-city agreement for magistrate services.
Council members convened into Executive Session on Oct. 3 to discuss personnel matters and deliberate the appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline or dismissal of Spears.
Council members did not later announce in open meeting what was discussed, but Spears did say that she did not want to volunteer her time at the jail anymore.
“I’m tired and I don’t want to do it anymore. I don’t have to volunteer,” Spears told the Hays Free Press after she exited the Executive Session.
According to State Law, Spears can’t be fired from the city until at least 2014. Chapter 29 of the Government Code states that municipal court judges serve two-year terms in office.
“A municipal court judge who is not reappointed by the 91st day following the expiration of a term of office shall, absent action by the appointing authority, continue to serve for another term of office beginning on the date the previous term of office expired,” states the code.
The only other way to remove a judge is with permission from the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, as provided for by the Texas Constitution.
Spears has made it clear that if the city wants her to perform magistrate duty at the county jail, then they have to compensate her for her time, Lambert said.
Lambert said Johnson is formally contacting County Judge Bert Cobb in an effort to identify what, if any, the city’s obligation is to the county for magistrate services at the jail.
“This may be something we have to do,” Lambert said. “But we want to do it in writing. We want to specifically identify what we’re supposed to do. We want to know what the other cities are doing. If this is an obligation for us, we want to make sure it’s an obligation for all other cities. And then we want to know what our expectations are.”
For now, Smith, who has made the magistration schedule for at least the past 10 years, said she will continue to include Kyle in the rotation, and that it will be up to Kyle and Hays County as to how that matter will be resolved.