Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff, left, and Bo Kidd, chief of a new Buda police department, right. File photo.
By SEAN BATURA
Buda city officials are moving forward with plans to disband their contract arrangement for a dedicated patrol from the Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) and launch their own police force with Bo Kidd heading the department.
The city’s move is largely in response to strained relations with the HCSO after Hays County Sheriff Tommy Ratliff demoted the popular Kidd from his post as the captain of the Buda patrol last summer without consulting city officials.
Ricky Conner, currently the emergency management coordinator for Angelina County, will be Kidd’s second in command.
Buda taxpayers currently remit $60,339.49 per month to the county for the nine sheriff’s deputies comprising the Buda patrol. Though city taxpayers may end up spending slightly more for their own police department, city officials say their town has grown to the point of needing its own department. According to the Texas State Data Center, Buda increased its population to 6,909 as of January 2009.
Among the reasons given by city officials for ending its deal with the HCSO are the increasing cost for the Buda patrol contract (four officers were added to the service last year), the lack of city equity in police equipment being used (even though the city pays for its acquisition and maintenance), the communications breakdown between the city and the county in August 2009, and a contract clause allowing the sheriff to unilaterally allocate Buda patrol deputies to other parts of the county. Additionally, concern has been voiced about the level of existing services being provided by Buda patrol.
“I think there have been some concerns on the part of the citizens, and probably the council as well, about just how much their heart’s in it nowadays,” said Buda City Councilmember Ron Fletcher. “Productivity seems to have dropped off. The number of tickets written, those kinds of things.”
Buda Councilmember Sandra Tenorio said the HCSO’s Buda patrol has done an excellent job. Regarding the city’s decision to discontinue the Buda patrol, Tenorio cited lack of city equity in police equipment and “differences of opinion” regarding what law enforcement equipment the city needs.
Once such “difference of opinion” probably precipitated Kidd’s demotion, which occurred the week after Ratliff had Kidd’s request for radar equipment pulled from the commissioners court’s agenda last summer.
Regarding the cost of maintaining a police department for Buda, said City Manager Kenneth Williams, “We anticipate being able to operate … somewhere close to the range — it may be just a bit more than what we’re paying now, (which is) about $724,000.”
Williams is negotiating a new contract that would probably obligate the county to provide dispatch and detective services after the city’s police department is up and running. The new contract would provide law enforcement services on a transitional basis while the city’s new department gets its sea legs.
Williams said the city’s police department will consist of at least four officers. Fletcher said the council’s goal is to get the same level of service for the price the city is paying now for the Buda patrol.
Buda city councilmembers voted unanimously on March 3 to spend $290,231 in renovations for a building directly behind City Hall to house the proposed police department, among other city offices.
Buda officials did not learn of Kidd’s demotion and reassignment until after it happened, which was in late July. Williams’ attempt to immediately determine what had occurred was thwarted by a communications breakdown with the sheriff’s office. On Aug. 4, 2009, Buda councilmembers voted to disband the Buda patrol within a year.
The same month, Hays County Precinct 2 Commissioner Jeff Barton (D-Kyle) — whose precinct includes Buda — attempted to salvage the Buda Patrol contract, but to no avail. At that time, Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley (R-Wimberley) criticized County Judge Liz Sumter (D-Wimberley) for not trying to preserve the agreement. Sumter praised Buda councilmembers for doing what she said she would have done in their place.
“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,” Sumter said. “So, I think that that was a smart move.”
In July 2009, Kidd asked Barton to place a request for two upgraded mobile radar units on the July 21 commissioners court agenda for discussion and possible action. Before the clerk could announce the item, Barton announced he was eliminating it from the agenda at Ratliff’s request. The next week, Ratliff demoted Kidd to detective and reassigned him to the HCSO’s narcotics investigation division.
“The worst part is not what the sheriff did, but how he did it — with zero notice, zero coordination,” said Fletcher in August.
HCSO spokesperson Leroy Opiela declined to say why Kidd was demoted, adhering to a policy of not discussing internal personnel matters. During a recent League of Women Voters debate with Democratic primary challenger Bill Huddleston, Ratliff said the city council’s decision to let the Buda patrol contract expire did not occur because he demoted Kidd. Ratliff said Kidd asked to be reassigned to the narcotics division. Ratliff went on to defeat Huddleston in the March 2 Democratic primary to run for sheriff in November.
Because Ratfliff replaced Kidd with former traffic division commander Lieutenant Mark Graves, there was some discussion about whether the county had violated the clause of the Buda patrol contract specifying that “during the term of this agreement, a Captain from the Sheriff’s Office shall serve as Chief of Police for the City…,” the operative word being “shall.”
Williams said Kidd will be paid $70,000 per year, plus benefits, as commander of the new police department. Kidd earned $78,320.76 per year as a captain before Ratliff demoted him to detective, which brought a decrease in annual pay of $14,183.64. Kidd will leave the HCSO and take up his role as Buda police chief on April 1, when he will begin putting together the city’s police force.
“The sheriff has been extremely helpful as we proceed with developing our own department,” Tenorio said.
Regarding a concern that any remaining tension between Ratliff and Kidd will impair law enforcement cooperation and coordination between the city and county, Fletcher said the sheriff told Williams there is nothing to worry about.
“We just anticipate having a good and productive relationship with the Hays County police department, and we look forward to working with them, and we anticipate things will run smoothly,” Williams said.Email | Print