Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, left, demoted former Buda police chief Bo Kidd, right, from captain and re-assigned him to the narcotics unit, thereby upsetting Buda city officials. Photo by Sean Batura.
By SEAN BATURA
BUDA — Angered by the county sheriff’s unilateral decision to re-assign a popular local patrol captain, and arguing that it can tend to its own law enforcement needs, the Buda City Council is likely to let its contract with the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) expire next April.
Unless Buda councilmembers change their minds about letting the contract expire, the city may have to put together a police force in about eight months, or make do with a reduced officer presence in the form of regular, non-dedicated sheriff’s deputies.
After years of debating whether to form its own police department, the city worked out a deal in April 2007 with the late Sheriff Allen Bridges, who recommended that the city pay the county for a dedicated force of four sheriff’s deputies and a captain. The agreement would enable the HCSO to spread its existing deputies elsewhere while giving Buda the protection it would need after opening Cabela’s and Wal-Mart.
Buda officials were happy enough with the arrangement to increase their monthly payment to the county from $35,373.16 to $60,339.49, effective July 1. Then-Captain Bo Kidd, who launched and led the Buda patrol, asked for the increase so four more officers could be added to the unit.
However, that amity has broken down as Buda officials complain of multiple snubs from the sheriff’s office. At the center of the conflict is Kidd, whose de facto role as Buda police chief kicked up real-world ambiguity about the extent to which he answered to the city and the extent to which he answered to the sheriff.
Apparently, Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff didn’t appreciate the way Kidd made those calls. In July, Kidd asked Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle), who represents the Buda area, to place a request for two upgraded mobile radar units on the commissioners court agenda. During the July 21 meeting during which the court would have decided whether to buy the equipment, Barton announced he was pulling the item at Ratliff’s request.
The next week, Ratliff demoted Kidd to detective and reassigned him to the Narcotics Investigation Division.
Outraged Buda councilmembers voted on Aug. 4 to disband the patrol within a year.
“The worst part is not what the sheriff did, but how he did it — with zero notice, zero coordination,” said Buda Councilmember Ron Fletcher.
Buda officials did not learn of Kidd’s reassignment until after it happened. Buda Councilmember Sandra Tenorio said Ratliff sent Captain Mike Davenport to inform Buda City Manager Kenneth Williams of Kidd’s reassignment and demotion. Fletcher said Davenport was an “underling” who could not answer any of “the legitimate questions” posed by Williams.
“There was kind of this no-man’s land where nobody knew what was going on,” said Tenorio. “I don’t even know if the Buda patrol officers knew what was going on.”
After Bridges passed away from a heart attack last December, Ratliff and Kidd were among those considered for interim appointment to the sheriff position. The Hays County Law Enforcement Association endorsed Kidd. The commissioners selected Ratliff, who has announced that he will run for sheriff as a Democrat in November 2010.
The upgraded equipment Kidd requested would have cost $3,386 and given Buda patrol officers the capacity to detect speeds of vehicles traveling in the same lane and direction as themselves.
“I anticipate coming in about $6,000 under budget for law enforcement equipment, so there is more than enough money budgeted to cover the two upgrades,” Kidd wrote in a July 9 email to Barton.
HCSO spokesperson LeRoy Opiela said last week that the sheriff’s office has not planned to order the “super duper” radar units Kidd requested.
“We try to keep to a standard here, and everybody has the same style of equipment,” Opiela said.
Tenorio said Ratliff had the authority to reassign the Buda patrol chief and block the acquisition of upgraded radar units. With that said, Tenorio added that the city is paying the county too much money to have so little say over how it is spent, and that the city of about 6,000 has outgrown the agreement.
“I guess the question was, why would you need commissioners court approval for an item that was already approved by the city council, paid for by the city council, and ordered by the city council as part of the contract with the sheriff’s office?” Tenorio said.
Kidd, now a lieutenant, has a new salary $14,183.64 less than his former $78,320.76, effective this month. Former traffic division commander Lieutenant Mark Graves now heads the Buda patrol.
“If the decision were up to me, I would not have changed (Kidd) from that assignment,” Tenorio said. “But it really wasn’t up to us. Of course, if he were brought back, we would be thrilled. And that’s not to say we won’t be thrilled with (Graves).”
Tenorio said Kidd was “an exemplary officer” and the city had “absolutely no issue with any other of the officers.” Fletcher said he had been satisfied with the work of Buda patrol officers.
However, Fletcher also said Ratliff sent the wrong message to Buda residents by sending a lieutenant, rather than a captain, to lead the Buda patrol. In fact, the contract between Buda and the county calls for a captain to lead the Buda patrol.
“During the term of this agreement, a Captain from the Sheriff’s Office shall serve as Chief of Police for the City,” states the contract between Hays County and Buda outlining the obligations of both parties.
Fletcher indicated that the breakdown between the city and the sheriff’s office has become tangible at the street level.
“I think if you ask the citizens of Buda, they’ll tell you that for the last two or three weeks, we really haven’t seen that much of the four (officers) we’ve already been paying for on the streets of Buda,” Fletcher said. “I’m not sure where the sheriff’s got them. But under the contract, he can do that.”
Tenorio said the city has enough time to create its own police force. Fletcher said Williams — who was not available for comment — is confident the city can create and maintain a police force of about nine officers for the same amount of money it is now paying the county for the Buda patrol.
“The contract, as it was explained by the city attorney, is based entirely on the goodwill of all parties, and we’ve seen no sign that we should expect any goodwill whatsoever from the sheriff,” Fletcher said. “At three-quarters of a million dollars, we can do better ourselves.”
Barton said he has scheduled a meeting with Buda officials to discuss the matter. Tenorio, Fletcher, Barton and Williams had met with Ratliff and HCSO Chief Deputy Sherman Brodbeck on July 29 to discuss issues related to Kidd’s reassignment, the mobile radar units and the Buda patrol contract.
“I’m open to all possibilities,” Barton said. “There’s nothing to be lost and everything to be gained by just continuing to talk. And if it’s in the mutual interest of Buda and Hays County to terminate in six months, then we should terminate in six. If we need to go through the nine months, then we should go through nine. Maybe it’s a year that works out better for us all. Maybe there would be some repairing of the relationship — we would have to get the (county) judge, but also the sheriff involved in that. So, it’s not up to us alone. I just think at this point, it’s important to keep talking and exploring ways that will be mutually beneficial. We’re all in this to save tax dollars and we’re all in this to provide the best possible public safety, and it’s crazy not to be coordinating as closely as we can to do that.”
Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-San Marcos) recently expressed doubt about the prospect of Buda assembling a police force by April. Barton said he encouraged Hays County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) to ask Ratliff to meet with Buda officials to discuss the Buda patrol contract, though neither has done so thus far.
“I believe it was a mistake for the county to walk away so quickly from a good arrangement between the county and a municipal government – in this case, the City of Buda,” Conley said. “The sense that I have at this point in time is that the county judge has absolutely no intention of trying to mend that relationship.”
Sumter said last week that she respects the Buda City Council’s stated intention to terminate the Buda patrol contract.
“I think they’ve called it right,” Sumter said. “If it were me — if I were a city manager, or I was a councilmember over there — I would want to have control of the assets and control of the personnel, because you’re the one who’s responsible to the citizens. So, I think that that was a smart move. I would have done the same thing.”
Said Opiela, “They will do what they will do, and the sheriff’s office will be there to continue our patrol as normal. If the citizens of Buda need police protection, we will be there in the event that that police department doesn’t happen as quickly as they want it to.”
(Editor’s note: The above has been revised to say that Ratliff demoted Kidd to detective.)Email | Print