“We’re gonna comply with it, but we can’t do it overnight,” Betterton told the Tyler Morning Telegraph after the 71-minute meeting, adding that his only alternative would have been moving his prisoners to another county.
County Judge Dean Fowler and Precinct 2 Commissioner Cole Hefner said they agreed the county could not immediately obey the bidding law, and Fowler said the court had to take action Thursday because, “The jail was about to run out of food.”
Fowler told commissioners the state jail commission threatened to close the jail if prisoners were not fed for more than a certain length of time.
Betterton told the court it was brought to his attention that the county had been handling the bid process on food illegally. He said County Auditor Janice Tucker stated she would not issue purchase orders for jail food until the county got bids from vendors on file, but that the bid process would take 60-90 days.
Fowler told the Tyler Morning Telegraph the jail lacked enough food to feed prisoners until the county could obtain an appropriate number of bids. He said the county had been taking bids, but not the right number, and that the commissioners court had not approved such bids, as law requires.
Fowler pledged the county “will come into full compliance with the statute.” During Thursday’s meeting, he said that in his 10 years as county judge, which he said included working with three different county auditors, nobody informed him the county was handling the matter improperly.
He also told the court the county must obtain bids by phone and in writing from at least three grocers.
However, he told commissioners Ms. Tucker said she would issue the purchase orders.
Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd, in Austin for a conference Thursday, told the newspaper by telephone he had no intention of indicting anyone over the way the purchases have been handled, but declined comment until later on the court’s vote Thursday.
Byrd said Ms. Tucker consulted him about food purchases. He acknowledged the county has been violating law in “many areas,” and said it is moving forward to compliance.
Ms. Tucker did not attend the commissioners’ emergency meeting, during which Betterton repeatedly expressed frustration with her. The Morning Telegraph tried unsuccessfully twice to reach her for comment at her office Thursday.
The sheriff told commissioners, “We’re trying to get this court and this auditor on the same page” so the county could continue buying the food.
“I can’t get her on board to feed them (prisoners)” for the time being, Betterton said. At one point, he told the court she had come to the courthouse while the meeting was occurring, and had “asked for the bills” before leaving the building.
Fowler said Ms. Tucker was instructed not to attend Thursday’s meeting. When Betterton asked who gave that order, Fowler said he didn’t ask her.
The sheriff said he met with Ms. Tucker Tuesday “to get past this little bitty hurdle,” and “I can’t wait till the last minute and run out of food, and she say she’s not gonna pay the bill.”
He said he had only four to five days of food left.
Fowler said his concern was Ms. Tucker would issue a purchase order, then refuse to pay the bill.
At one point during the meeting, Fowler snapped at Precinct 3 Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree, “We’re gonna talk one at a time. I have been dealing with this since last Friday, and I’ve about had it …”
When Crabtree responded, “I’ll leave if you want me to, Judge,” Fowler replied, “You can leave if you want to. I’m sick of everyone interrupting” each other.
Crabtree soon left the meeting without returning. Afterward, he said, “There is no use in having a meeting to resolve an issue between the auditor and the sheriff when the auditor won’t show up.”
Fowler, who normally votes only to break ties, joined commissioners Hefner, Mike Spencer and James Crittenden in approving the motion to ask Betterton to buy food under the current system. In the same motion, the court voted to change the interval at which food would be purchased from annually to bi-monthly.