Commissioners vote to follow recommendation of salary grievance committee for sheriff’s raise

Court rules that Rader will be paid same salary as commissioners

Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader (in blue) listens as County Attorney Matthew Poston explains how a salary grievance hearing works in the event that one member of the original nine-member committee is absent from the proceedings. This photo was taken on Aug. 3 during the salary grievance committee hearing.

A salary dispute for Liberty County Sheriff Bobby Rader appears to be at an end following the Aug. 14 commissioners court meeting. With a 3-1 vote, Liberty County commissioners approved an additional $3,404 per year for Rader, putting him at the same annual salary as the county’s four road and bridge commissioners.

An increase for the sheriff had initially been denied by the commissioners, who had approved 10 percent increases in salaries for themselves on May 22. The new salary for commissioners is $74,880, up from the previous salary of $68,073. County Judge Jay Knight’s new salary is $69,551, up from the previous salary of $63,228.

In the May 22 meeting, commissioners justified not raising the sheriff’s salary to match their own because Rader had received a 5 percent increase in pay in 2015, when they had received no increase. The 5 percent bump, however, put the sheriff at the same annual salary as the commissioners.

After being left out of this year’s salary increases, Rader requested a hearing with a salary grievance committee made up by nine former members of Liberty County grand juries, and a hearing was set for Aug. 3. On the day of the hearing, only eight members of the committee showed up. Even though they ruled in Rader’s favor, without the ninth vote of support, the ultimate decision for the increase was handed back to commissioners’ court.

When Knight called for a vote to accept the salary grievance committee’s recommendation and give the sheriff a salary equal to commissioners, Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur motioned in favor of following the committee’s recommendation. His motion was seconded by Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski.

Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson, however, questioned whether the sheriff deserves the raise.

“When it comes to raises, raises are based on hard work, how well of a job you do, how well you get along with others and how well you serve the people you work for. I’ve given it some thought, and I’ve done a little studying,” Wilson said. “Does he need this raise? Does he deserve this raise?”

Wilson, who was not present at the salary grievance committee hearing, said he had heard that it had been suggested that county commissioners only work 40 hours a week, four days a week.

“The only thing that was correct in that statement is that my employees work 40 hours per week, four days a week. There is not a man sitting up here right now, I know, who doesn’t work 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he said. “It was also indicated that we only have 20 employees [per commissioner]. We, as a government body, have 355 employees throughout this county. Not only that, we also oversee 26 departments, give or take, so we work.”

Wilson pulled out a report from the Texas Department of Public Safety’s Uniform Crime Reporting index that he believes shows lagging numbers in the clearance of criminal cases by the sheriff’s office.

“In 2016, Liberty County SO had 851 major crimes. Cleveland PD reported 516 major crimes. When I say major crimes, we are talking about burglary, rape, murder, aggravated assault and larceny. Dayton PD reported 272 major crimes and Liberty PD reported 366 major crimes,” Wilson said.

He suggested that before a vote was taken that the sheriff return to commissioners’ court in two weeks and explain how he was “going to serve the people of Liberty County better.”

“I said raises are based on hard work. This is not a slap for the rank and file and the hard work those men and women do at the sheriff’s office. This is an indication to me that the leadership needs to do better,” he said. “At this point, I can’t justify a raise.”

After Wilson concluded his comments, Rader stood and addressed the commissioners. He explained that the sheriff’s office has transitioned away from the UCR stats and is now using the National Incident-Based Reporting System (NIBRS). Instead of defending himself against Wilson’s accusations, Rader asked his Chief Deputy Don Neyland, who was in attendance at the commissioners’ court meeting, to explain how the new system is working.

“The government is changing to the new NIBRS system,” Neyland said. “Each agency determines how they are going to file with UCR. There is no uniformity. I’ve never attended a meeting where all the agencies get together and decide how they are going to report. The UCR system can be manipulated.”

He explained that with an administration with a previous sheriff, they were told to close cases if they had no leads. This inflated the closure number but wasn’t a good measure of justice for the citizens of Liberty County.

“Closing the case in UCR has no standard. If it is so important, then why is there no set standard for case closure?” he asked.

Billy Knox, a sergeant investigator with the sheriff’s office, told commissioners that UCR numbers can be skewed, which is why departments are moving toward the NIBRS system.

“Our validation with NIBRS is over 96 percent. We are on the right track,” Knox said.

After their explanations, Rader said he was ready for commissioners to vote and “get this over.”

Arthur, Karbowski and Pct. 3 Commissioner James “Boo” Reaves voted in favor of the raise with Wilson voting against it.

Rader thanked the commissioners and told the county judge he appreciates that communication between the two of them has improved. He mentioned a gathering he and Knight had both attended on Aug. 9.

“I think it was good and it opened up the conversations,” he told the judge.

Knight agreed, saying “I think we need to start doing that more. Hell, I’d buy the pizza.”

In other business, commissioners:

  • Approved an engagement letter with Swaim, Brent and Associates for the fiscal year 2018 financial statement and single audit report;
  • Approved a request from Colony Ridge Development for a partial replat of Ranch San Vincent for future maintenance and release of a maintenance bond;
  • Approved an interlocal agreement between Pct. 4 Commissioner Leon Wilson’s office and the City of Dayton regarding road construction on CR 615 and the Linney Creek Subdivision;
  • Approved an order calling a general election for Nov. 6, 2018; and
  • Approved County Attorney Matthew Poston taking whatever legal steps are needed to remove a locked gate blocking a portion of CR 325 as it is keeping some property owners from accessing their land.

By Vanesa Brashier,

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Before creating Bluebonnet News in 2018, Vanesa Brashier was a community editor for the Houston Chronicle/Houston Community Newspapers. During part of her 12 years at the newspapers, she was assigned as the digital editor and managing editor for the Humble Observer, Kingwood Observer, East Montgomery County Observer and the Lake Houston Observer, and the editor of the Dayton News, Cleveland Advocate and Eastex Advocate. Over the years, she has earned more than two dozen writing awards, including Journalist of the Year.

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