Nacogdoches JP's object over judge's request

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - (KTRE) - A special audit of all Nacogdoches County Justice of the Peace offices was ordered Tuesday by the Nacogdoches County Commissioners Court. The move has created tension between the elected JP's and the court, particularly, with County Judge Joe English. The disagreements deal with public perception and internal communication.

Even after Judge English made his motion to conduct a special audit regarding issuance and collections of fines and fees by precinct offices and departments it's purpose wasn't very clear. That's what concerns elected JP's.

"When you see the word audit you assume funds, misappropriated funds," said Leann Goerner, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 3.

Judge English says it's not that at all. "There's no one that's making any innuendo at all that any money has been stolen from any of the offices and it's not that," said English.

Instead, the judge says he's concerned about a discovery found in an earlier outside audit. "There's about $988,000 last year that we left on the table.what we want to do is see if there's not some things we can do differently as far as our operation and collect the money that's due," explained English.

The JP's contend the damage has already been done. "People are already inquiring from other elected officials. They want to know which JP is stealing money," said Kerry Don Williamson, Justice of the Peace, Precinct 1.

The judges are upset that they didn't know the English's intentions in hiring an outside audit firm without prior notice. "I first learned about it when I saw the agenda item Friday night," said Goerner. "A simple phone call would have avoided all this."

A copy of the agreement letter from the Houston auditing firm hired to conduct the audit outlines their duties. They've agreed to review procedures used in handling fines and fees. They'll meet with county workers over those general procedures. Plus, a closer look at information obtained by county management on specific areas considered to be reviewed. Records maintained for tracking warrants will also be reviewed. The firm describes the work as an "evaluation". The cost is between $2,000 to $3,000.

The JP's have a word for that, micro-management. "Yes. And I think that would be the consensus of all the JP's," said Williamson.

JP offices must follow state statutes, but the setting of fines and the issuance of warrants are at the discretion of the court.

"The fines and fees collected, not all come from the JP offices," pointed out Dorothy Tigner Thompson, Justice of the Peace, Pct. 2. "There are other courts involved and it makes it look like as if our four courts are the only ones not collecting fines and fees."

The county is also utilizing numerous methods to track and collect unpaid fines, including blocking driver's license renewals through a state offered program. "But some people just don't have the money, leave the county, live in other states and don't have a valid driver's license," explained Williamson for the reasons there are unpaid fines.

"I think this boils down to the court over stepping its boundaries and trying to run the JP's courts from the commissioner court," said Williamson.

Judge English contends the court is researching ways to break a mold of doing things the way it's always been done.

The audit will be conducted this month and be completed by May, according to the commissioned firm.

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