By Phillip Williams
Upshur County Commissioners Court on Monday unanimously voted to keep its contractual right to retain legal counsel to collect delinquent taxes for the county’s schools, thus essentially rejecting a proposal to let three school districts choose a different law firm than the county now uses.
Tyler attorney Patrick Woods appeared before the court with the superintendents of Harmony, Big Sandy and Union Grove ISDs to propose the change, but ran into opposition because it supposedly wasn’t proposed by a July 1 deadline in the current contract. County Judge Todd Tefteller said the current agreement was made in 1991 between the county’s school districts and the late then-County Judge Everett Dean.
Woods protested that the three school districts had recently hired his firm, and indicated that school business managers had tried to find a copy of the current agreement (showing the July 1 deadline), but that he didn’t know he was supposed to notify the county by that date.
When he said he hadn’t seen the agreement, one commissioner responded that everybody else could find it and “you’re a lawyer.” Precinct 3 Commissioner Michael Ashley was among court members saying the proposal should have been submitted by the July 1 deadline.
Tefteller said the question before the court was whether to waive that requirement. Woods also unsuccessfully proposed post-dating the contract, saying “I think the issue is one of timing.”
Two representatives of Linebarger Attorneys at Law, a national law firm which now collects the delinquent taxes, also appeared before the court.
After the meeting, Harmony school board President Jed Whitaker, who didn’t attend it, informed The Mirror his school had approved the change June 12 and submitted it to the county June 13.
County Tax Assessor-Collector Luana Howell told the court that making the proposed change would “create more work for my office,” and thus more expense, because more attorneys would be involved in collecting delinquent taxes.
She said she would do what the court wanted, though, and Woods said his firm would help compensate for the additional burden on Howell’s office.
Howell and a representative of the Linebarger firm, Staci Killingsworth, also said schools had the right to choose an attorney, but Killingsworth said they must follow a certain procedure.
In other business, the court approved an interlocal agreement with the city of Gladewater under which Howell’s office will collect city property taxes for the portion of Gladewater lying in Upshur County. Under the contract, the county cannot charge the city more than the actual cost of assessing and collecting, as determined by the court. Tefteller termed that a “tiny sliver, required by Texas law.”
With the 86-year-old county courthouse about to undergo an approximatrely $13 million historic renovation, the court also voted to move the law library (available to attorneys) to the county library in Gilmer if it doesn’t interfere with the county library’s operations.