The Woodlands, Montgomery County sheriff to renegotiate amendment to law enforcement contract before Dec. 31 expiration

(Screenshot via Montgomery County Commissioners Court livestream)
(Screenshot via Montgomery County Commissioners Court livestream)

(Screenshot via Montgomery County Commissioners Court livestream)

The Woodlands Township and the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office will renegotiate details of its law enforcement transition agreement for more than 80 deputies after county commissioners rescinded a previously approved amendment Aug. 11.

The exchange between Montgomery County Commissioners Court members and Gordy Bunch, the chair of The Woodlands Township board of directors, at the meeting centered on the need for the renegotiation and the township’s change of plans regarding an expected incorporation vote in November.

Bunch said at the Aug. 11 meeting that the amendment to the interlocal agreement approved by the court July 28 extending the contract from 2020 to 2022 contained language missing from the current agreement, so the township board wanted to provide an updated version to the court.

A law enforcement transition agreement was approved in 2019 that would be triggered by a successful incorporation vote in November. If voters approve incorporating The Woodlands into a city, the township would transition in phases from a contract-based law enforcement model with the county to a hybrid model with some contracted services and some provided by a new city department.

However, that vote will not be held this November given the current economic climate surrounding the coronavirus pandemic.

“In the middle of a pandemic is not a time to push this in front of the public,” Bunch said at the meeting.

As a result, some of the language in the amendment is no longer applicable because it dealt with the assumption of an incorporation vote and possible transition.

Montgomery County Sheriff Rand Henderson said there was concern from his department that the deputies would not have job security unless the details were hammered out to ensure they are not left in limbo when the current contract expires at the end of the year. Henderson said he would like to be sure he is able to designate the personnel in the contract.

“I want to give my employees a sense of stability, especially during this ‘defund the police’ movement that’s going on,” Henderson said. “The county is better served ... if we take a step back.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner James Noack said he felt the correct language was needed to ensure funding capabilities for those deputies.

“There’s no way we can assume all of them or migrate them slowly into our budget, so we need some kind of protection from you guys that if you incorporate you are going to take these people,” he said.

Bunch said in an email the renegotiating process will begin this week, but he added he did not feel it was needed.

“A significant amount of time and negotiations went into the current agreement,” he said in an email. “The current agreement is intact through [Dec. 31], and it will take both parties coming to a new agreement to make a contract extension work. We are always open to discussions and look forward to hearing their requested changes.”

He said although he agreed with the commissioners’ decision to rescind the July 28 extension that did not cover the township’s law enforcement transition agreement, he would have liked to see them approve the township’s subsequently provided version that carries forward its current agreement by two years.

“I'd like for our existing transition agreement to remain largely intact,” Bunch said. “We worked hard on this agreement to make sure our [officers] knew their jobs would not be in jeopardy should The Woodlands incorporate. We also wanted to ensure our residents had certainty of Law Enforcement protection and a logical transition plan for the new City Police Department. The multi-year agreement provides for a manageable transition and provisions to retain MCSO personnel throughout the transition period. I expect we'll work through each other’s concerns and come to a new agreement that works for MCSO as well as The Woodlands.”
By Vanessa Holt
A resident of the Houston area since 2011, Vanessa began working in community journalism in her home state of New Jersey in 1996. She joined Community Impact Newspaper in 2016 as a reporter for the Spring/Klein edition and became editor of that paper in March 2017 and editor of The Woodlands edition in January 2019.