But Byrd told The Mirror afterwards that a visiting state district judge will decide Monday whether to proceed with a 10 a.m. hearing scheduled on one of the two legal actions Byrd filed Monday in an attempt to overturn the county's Aug. 14 vote.
Byrd filed a petition for a writ of mandamus, which is still pending, and a motion for emergency relief, which visiting Judge Richard Davis granted Monday. Byrd contended the commissioners court violated law by setting new First Assistant District Attorney Stacey Brownlee's salary below her predecessor’s, Robert Cole, Jr., for the rest of the current fiscal year, ending Sept. 30.
The court voted 3-1 to cut the position's pay, with Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden dissenting and County Judge Dean Fowler abstaining, as he usually does except to break tie votes. Commissioners Lloyd Crabtree, Joe (Buddy) Ferguson and Glenn Campbell voted for the reduction.
The vote came after Fowler said the court had added $20,000 for Cole's annual salary in the current budget to replace a lost grant, and to try to get Cole to stay on the staff. Cole resigned effective this week to enter private law practice, and Ms. Brownlee began work Wednesday.
Commissioner Crabtree said during Friday's meeting, “I was wrong in my statement that we set money aside to keep Bob Cole here.” Crabtree said the court couldn’t set such stipulations.
Fowler told commissioners at a special meeting Friday the county would probably spend $4,000 to $5,000 to fight Byrd in 115th District Court, when the district attorney wanted only $2,500 of the salary restored.
“Rather than go through the cost of litigation...to prove a point...I thought it might make more sense to pay what the district attorney has requested,” Fowler told commissioners.
The judge, who said the commissioners probably had a legal right to reduce the salary in the middle of a fiscal year, said there would be no reason to hold Monday’s hearing if the commissioners reversed the Aug. 14 vote, but “it’ll be up to the district attorney to tell us if the hearing’s off.”
The commissioners court was scheduled to discuss the legal controversy with an attorney in closed session Friday, but instead settled the issue in a 16-minute open session. Fowler said he had discussed the matter with the county’s attorney (Tyler lawyer Robert Davis).
Byrd, who said he learned of Friday's action from The Mirror, said “I’m not surprised.” He indicated his reaction was based on the fact Judge Davis had granted the motion for emergency relief (which set Ms. Brownlee's salary at the same as Cole's.)
"The commissioners court did not do anything that they were not already under order from the district court to do," Byrd asserted. As for the cost of the county going to district court, Byrd said Judge Fowler was an attorney who could represent the county without the commissioners retaining outside counsel.
The commissioners court had voted Friday to set Ms. Brownlee's pay at $2,249.56 twice monthly. County Treasurer Myra Harris said she will now be paid $3,010.24 in county funds semi-monthly, excluding some longevity pay from her previous job as a Gregg County prosecutor. The state will reimburse the county for the longevity funds, Mrs. Harris said.
Fowler has still proposed cutting the annual salary for Ms. Brownlee's position from $74,000 to $54,000 in the county's forthcoming 2009-10 fiscal year budget, which begins Oct. 1. The court is scheduled to vote on the proposed $17 million budget Aug. 31.
"Seventy-four thousand dollars for an assistant district attorney's just too much money," Fowler told reporters after Friday's meeting.
He said he has proposed cutting several county offices' individual budgets in the new county budget as a "balancing act" to avoid increasing property taxes.
Byrd said Friday he had no comment "right now" on the proposed cut in the new budget. However, he had told a representative of The Mirror Tuesday night that he had tried cases together with Ms. Brownlee when both were Gregg County assistant prosecutors, and that she was one of the state's best prosecutors.