When the Wharton County Commissioners Court unanimously approved the Policy of Compliance Texas Local Government Code, it also set the limit of $5,000 for any purchase an elected official makes. A purchase greater than that purchase for an elected official who is leaving office would then need pre-court approval.
The amount was set after the commissioners discussed the changes that will occur when Rusty Graves finishes his term as commissioner of Precinct 2. His tenure began last summer (Aug. 12) after longtime commissioner Chris King passed away July 23, 2019. Graves who was WC drainage supervisor at the time of his court appointment, will leave office Dec. 31. He will remain WC’s drainage supervisor.
His brother, W.D. “Bud” Graves, won the Republican Primary in March for the Precinct 2 commissioners seat against two other candidates. Since there was no Democrat running for office, Bud Graves will likely not have an opponent for the November election, unless there is a write-in candidate.
Judge Phillip Spenrath explained how the policy that commissioners approved works.
“If an incumbent county or precinct officer is not re-elected during the time following the date, the results of the official canvass of the primary or election were returned or announced,” Spenrath said. “The Commissioners Court must approve any expenditure by the incumbent county or precinct officer who was not re-nominated or re-elected that is over an amount set by Commissioners Court.
The last time this policy came up was when then-commissioner Leroy Dettling was leaving office in 2016 and decided not to seek re-election. Precinct 1 Richard Zahn was eventually elected. At that time, the court set $2,500 as a minimum expenditure amount, Spenrath said.
Spenrath said this policy takes effect now that W.D. “Bud” Graves won the March Republican primary. County Attorney Trey Maffett confirmed it does take effect after a contested victory.
During the commissioners court meeting, the elected officials were told this also applies to the tax assessor-collector’s office. Cindy Hernandez won a runoff following a July 14 election. Commissioners Court said it would look into whether the WC tax office makes purchases of more than $2,500.
“It has not happened here, but it has happened in other counties,” Spenrath said. “Basically, it forbids a commissioner who is going out (of office) from spending all of the precinct money on other things and then the new (elected official) comes into office and has no money and items that they may or may not want.”
Spenrath explained there were concerns about the cost of diesel fuel when Dettling was commissioner four years ago. That discussion paved the way for Precinct 4 Commissioner Doug Mathews to ask if the amount could be raised.
Load of diesel today can cost upwards of $4,000, commissioners said.