The approval was made under two conditions: that the amount spent on the lawyer be capped at $25,000, and that the expense come out of the sheriff’s office budget. The conditions were put in place by Commissioners Valerie Covey and Cynthia Long, respectively.
The hire was primarily made for Sheila Gladstone, who will focus on workplace training and provide counsel on general employment law matters, said Commissioner Terry Cook.
Gladstone’s rate is $310 per hour.
“[Gladstone] is an expert in employment law,” Cook said. “We are having a great deal of issues with the various of levels of mangers, supervisors and others in the sheriff’s department as they’ve not really been trained in employment law in correct, appropriate, inappropriate [conduct].”
Several community members who spoke on the agenda item questioned why other attorneys in the county, such as Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs and his office, cannot be assigned to the task at no additional cost to the county. Commissioners said Gladstone has a specialty in workplace law and that it is not uncommon for the county to hire out for specialty counsel.
“We have a specific attorney that handles real estate transaction for the county; we have two specific attorneys that handle civil related stuff just for the county,” Gravell said. “This individual that we are bringing in is the No. 1-rated HR specialist attorney for law-enforcement personnel in Texas.”
Gravell added that with Gladstone’s ability to also provide workforce training, he felt it was the best move for the county, especially as opposed to doing nothing at all.
Community members also said they felt the issue lies with leadership at the sheriff’s office and that they feared that the move to hire the firm was only for perception.
Resident Neitha Engert said she was in favor of more training for the department but hoped that it would be taken seriously and not simply be a method to deceive the public that as elections near.
“I want our officers to take this seriously. I want the sheriff to take this seriously,” Engert said.
Others said that while they were in favor of the training, in the end, one cannot change what is in other people’s hearts; they indicated they place blame for the issues on WCSO Sheriff Robert Chody and his condoning of such behaviors.
Commissioner Russ Boles and Gravell came in swift defense of Chody, saying that as the manager of hundreds of people in his department, it took time to identify the issue and establish a plan to address it.
“We’re striving to go forward in the right direction,” Gravell said.