Marble Falls JP office to get walk-up window

The court of Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 Debbie Bindseil is to get a walk up window for security. The office serves Burnet County's southernmost precinct.

By Lew K. Cohn

Managing Editor

The Highlander

Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Debbie Bindseil received permission from the Burnet County Commissioners Court to put in a walk-up window at her office during Tuesday's regular court meeting.

Bindseil had asked commissioners to allow her to modify her office in the Burnet County Courthouse Annex, 810 Steve Hawkins Parkway in Marble Falls, to put in a nine-square-foot (36 inches by 36 inches) tempered glass window to the left of her door. The window will include a pass through tray and speaking hole to allow communications with customers on the other side.

“The reason for this is safety, security and privacy,” Bindseil said. “At the present time, customers come directly into the office to a clerk's desk in order to pay a traffic citation or file a case. When they do come into the office and sit down, they want to tell you all of the full details of the case or their ticket, and as a judge, I am supposed to be ex parte and not hear anything that might bias me.

“When there is a window to conduct business, people are more apt to take care of their business and be gone.”

Bindseil said the door to the Justice of the Peace office will be locked to the outside to limit access as a security precaution, but added that customers could be brought into the office when they bring business which requires more privacy. Otherwise, she said there should be no disruption to business by having customers conduct their business through the window.

“Customers will be in the hallway, but our office is at the end of the hallway and there is no other office next to us and no walk-through traffic,” she said.

Bindseil said she received a bid from Marble Falls Glass and Mirror for $259 to install the tempered glass. County maintenance would create the space in the wall for the window, so there is no additional cost.

Precinct 2 Commissioner Russell Graeter said his primary concern would be that customers would be forming a long line in the hallway, which would then block traffic.

Burnet County Judge James Oakley said there will have to be adjustment to how the Precinct 4 JP office operates whenever early voting is occurring during an election, as the annex is one of the county's two early voting sites.

Bindseil's office will likely have to allow customers inside to conduct business so as not to be in the hallways during early voting due to laws regarding encroachment upon a polling place.

However, Oakley's main concern was actually regarding setting precedent by allowing Bindseil's request.

“My concern is that once you approve something, it grows,” Oakley said. “It sets a precedent. 'If they can have this, well why can't I?' Whatever we do, we must be transparent in the action that we take.

“If we approve this, it doesn't mean that we are approving it for any other office.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Joe Don Dockery noted the office of Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Peggy Simon also has a walk-up window, though it is not in the hallway and customers must go into the main door of her offices to conduct business. However, it would require too much renovation and be costly to create the same setup for Bindseil's office.

“I just want to make sure that it is accessible and we are not trying to exclude the public,” Dockery said.

County Attorney Eddie Arredondo said he believes Bindseil is correct to be concerned about safety and security.

“It is important for security purposes that there is a barrier for safety's sake,” Arredondo said. “People can get angry and upset when dealing with issues like this and it can make a difference to have some safety measures built in, which is why the JP 3 office did what they did.”

Commissioners then gave Bindseil's request a unanimous approval.

The court also approved unanimously a proposal to allow the Texas Forest Service to designate the Marble Falls Rodeo Grounds as a staging area for assets in the event of a catastrophic emergency.

Dockery said the agreement has no financial impact on the county and is born out of concerns in the wake of drought conditions which brought extreme fire danger to Burnet County, especially in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

“If there is ever a situation where there is a catastrophic event and there is a need to stage assets by the Forest Service, we have an area they can use,” Dockery said. “The facility has an air-conditioned meeting room, a gated fence, concessions area, restrooms and there are 12 acres of land there.”

Dockery presented a copy of a letter he sent to Jimmy Mullis, assistant chief regional fire coordinator of the Texas A&M Forest Service, which asked for Burnet County to be added to the Texas Wildfire Protection Plan and touts the access a site at Marble Falls can provide.

Commissioners also voted to approve allowing the sale of fireworks in Burnet County during Feb. 25 through March 2 for Texas Independence Day, from April 16-21 for San Jacinto Day and from May 24-29 for Memorial Day.

“In the past I have been against this due since we have had much drier weather, but in looking at the fire index, we are currently in great shape and are at the lowest level of fire danger,” Dockery said.

The commissioners agreed to revisit the issue if the county's fire index rating places it in a higher level of fire danger.

Sheriff Calvin Boyd presented a report to commissioners, indicating his department is currently conducting interviews for several patrol positions as he wishes to move some of his existing patrol deputies to CID and other areas, but cannot do so until he can hire more patrol deputies.

The jail census is at just under 400 inmates and there has been an influx in federal prisoners being housed in Burnet County. Boyd indicated the number of federal inmates being housed in Burnet County could increase as Travis County and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott remain embroiled in a dispute over Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez' decision to not honor immigration holds without a court order or arrest warrant if they are not charged with capital murder, aggravated sexual assault or human trafficking.

Boyd also told commissioners his department is putting together a three-year projection of its vehicle needs ahead of the county's projected budget workshops later this year.

Commissioners did give Boyd permission to apply for a grant from the Lower Colorado River Authority (LCRA) for $50,000 to help purchase three new vehicles. The county must provide a 30 percent match, or $15,000, and the application deadline is Jan. 31. Grants will be awarded March 22.

The idea for applying for the grant came from a story in The Highlander about the Horseshoe Bay Police Department receiving grant funds to buy new portable radios.

A memorandum of understanding was approved with Burnet Consolidated Independent School District to use four classrooms at the former Burnet Elementary building to house Meals on Wheels. One classroom will be used to provide meals, while another will be an activity room, a gathering room and an office for community assistance. Meals on Wheels will be responsible for paying electricity costs back to the school district at a flat rate of 50 cents per square foot as the building remains on the school district's meter.

The AgriLife Extension office has moved into the former Burnet Elementary building at 708 Vandeveer Street and work is continuing on the auditorium as the county works to replace ceiling tiles damaged by vandals earlier this month.

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