More than four years after the county reduced the number of constables, officials are exploring whether those remaining are justified in asking for more staff to deal with caseloads in their precincts.
A report was ordered in December after a request by Precinct 2 Constable Jimmy Fullen to add a deputy to his office.
Last week, Fullen said his office had served more than 2,200 civil papers in 2018, 600 more than it did in 2016, the last year before the number of precincts were reduced.
“I have the workflow that justifies an additional position,” Fullen said. “We surpassed our 2017 numbers.”
Fullen now has five deputy constables, he said.
Fullen said he’s been told he could add a deputy if he cut a clerk position in his office. He said he wasn’t willing to do that.
“I don’t believe it’s appropriate to pay a $60,000-a-year salary to a person to sit at a desk and input paperwork,” Fullen said. “To me, they would be better served out in the community serving papers.”
Constables act mostly as the law enforcement arm for civil issues in the county, Fullen said. Much of a deputies daily job is serving people with court summons, warrants or eviction papers, Fullen said. They also act as bailiffs in the county’s justice of the peace courts.
Constables are sworn law enforcement officers. Deputy constables can write traffic tickets and make arrests, Fullen said. They sometimes act as backup to other police departments during major incidents — including the mass shooting at Santa Fe High School last May.
In 2014, county commissioners voted to reduce the number of justice of the peace court and constable precincts from eight to four, citing low workloads and big expenses. The redistricting took full effect after the 2016 elections.
Fullen didn’t put all of the blame on the increased caseload on redistricting — saying there can be some variation based on how busy the justice of the peace courts are.
But redistricting did dramatically increase the geographic size of his precinct, he said. His precinct spans the length of Galveston Island, and includes most of the land west of Interstate 45 all the way north into League City.
“There’s a lot more territory to cover,” Fullen said. “The workload has increased. I thought that would happen, and it has definitely happened.”
Commissioner Joe Giusti, himself a former deputy constable, has already signaled that he supports Fullen’s effort to add another deputy to his roster.
“I see the work that they do every day, just from being in the same office,” Giusti said. “The amount the deputies are running and the number of papers that are going through that office is pretty crazy.”
But when the request for the added position came up in December, commissioners balked, saying they didn’t have enough information to know whether Fullen’s request was justified.
Instead, they asked County Auditor Randall Rice to compile a report of work done by all of the constable precincts, which could lead to a discussion about increasing staff county wide.
Some officials are skeptical that more deputy constables are needed. Galveston County Judge Mark Henry said the county had already agreed to expand the constable offices several times since voting on consolidation.
“Many times over the last two year, they’ve come and said they needed another constable, and the court has given it to them,” Henry said. “I don’t understand it. We did the math back during consolidation. The activity at the JP court is declining. So I don’t personally understand how they continue to need more people.”
There’s already some disagreement about which numbers the county should use to make its decision. It’s not enough to just go by the number of cases that are filed through the justice of the peace courts, Giusti said.
“The rest of the court seems to think there’s less work because of all the filing numbers, but those filing numbers aren’t all of the numbers,” he said.
County commissioners are set to meet in a regular meeting on Monday. The hiring issue is not on their agenda.