A Liberty County grand jury has indicted Pct. 1 Commissioner Bruce Karbowski on a charge of Nepotism. The indictment was confirmed by Karbowski Monday night by phone.
Karbowski claims the charge stems from the 8-month employment of the son of Pct. 2 Commissioner Greg Arthur. The son worked as a welder on a project to build metal cabinets that were intended to be used for the evidence room at the county jail, according to Karbowski.
“I didn’t actually hire him. I don’t hire anyone who works for me because I believe in the chain of command,” Karbowski said. “My superintendent takes applications and he decides if he wants to hire a person or not. I do have the overall hiring authority though after he approves them.”
Karbowski claims that before Arthur’s son was hired, he sought legal advice from the county attorney’s office. When asked to comment on the indictment, County Attorney Matthew Poston declined, saying only that he has requested a legal opinion about the matter from the Attorney General’s office.
In the letter, Poston asks for clarity for conflicting prior opinions by the AG’s office on similar matters. One opinion, JM-801 in 1987, asserts that “the commissioners court has authority to approve or disapprove the hiring decisions of an ex officio road commissioner.”
“Nepotism would apply, therefore, if a commissioner hired another’s son,” Poston wrote. “A subsequent opinion [DM-158 in 1992] took the opposite view … ‘However, we believe that [JM-801] incorrectly concluded that ‘[n]othing in the statutory language or the legislative history indicates that the 1981 amendment was intended to prevent the commissioners court from exercising supervisions’ over an ex officio road commissioners’ individual hiring or firing decisions.'”
The opinion concluded that, “Rather, we feel that the statutory language and legislative history of the 1981 amendment clearly evidence the legislature’s intent to delegate the authority to hire and fire road and bridge employees to the ex officio commissioner, once the commissioners court has authorized the employee positions.”
Poston ended his letter by saying, “In summary, it appears that there is a conflict between prior opinions of this office. Opinion DM-158 appears to nullify the foundation reached by the prior opinion, JM-801, but it stops short of nullifying its conclusion. In the context of an ex officio road system county, does DM-158 render application of the nepotism statute impossible to a situation where one commissioner hires the prohibited relative of another?”
For Karbowski, the timing of the indictment raises its own questions about why the charges were presented to the grand jury before the AG’s opinion was received.
“I think it’s all political. They know they aren’t going to get a conviction, but it’s going to cost me about $20,000 to $30,000 because I will still have to hire an attorney,” the commissioner said. “If I broke the law, it wasn’t intentional. I assumed that asking the county attorney if it was right, that I was in the clear.”
With Poston not issuing a statement on the indictment, Bluebonnet News cannot confirm Karbowski’s assertion that he sought a legal opinion from the county attorney prior to hiring Arthur’s son.
“It’s all bull. It’s in retaliation for me not voting in favor of a certain law firm for the County’s tax collection cases,” Karbowski said. “I asked the wrong questions.”
The charge of Nepotism is a Class B misdemeanor. If he is convicted, he will be forced to resign from his office.
Karbowski says he will surrender to law enforcement this week and will seek a personal recognizance bond.