WACO (July 22, 2014) McLennan County commissioners agreed Tuesday to pay $575,000 to nine former deputies who claimed they were illegally demoted or terminated after Sheriff Parnell McNamara took office in January 2013 because they supported his opponent in the election, which they claimed violated their First Amendment Rights.
Although McLennan County's part of the bill is $575,000, the nine plaintiffs will share a total of $2 million in back pay and lost wages.
The Texas Association of Counties, from its risk management pool, will pay the balance of the $2 million award, a spokesman for TAC said.
The lawsuit may be settled but there is some question about where the county's portion will come from.
McLennan County Auditor Stan Chambers says the money already is in county coffers but commissioners still have to decide what account the funds will be drawn from.
A final vote on the matter is scheduled for discussion at next Tuesday's commissioners' court meeting, Chambers said.
The issue was settled just weeks before the suit was to have gone on trial on Aug. 14.
The decision to settle does not mean the county is admitting liability or wrongdoing, County Judge Scott Felton said.
The county and the sheriff were simply ready to move on and get the issue behind them, he said.
Felton said the issue was not about wrongdoing, but rather risk and to settle the lawsuit now was a financially sound decision.
TAC acts as the county's insurance group and accepts payments from McLennan County as well as from other counties in Texas.
McNamara said Tuesday TAC forced the commissioners' hand on the issue and dictated the settlement against his wishes.
"I would have fought them all the way because that was the right thing to do," McNamara said.
McNamara said at the time of the filing that as a newly elected sheriff he had the privilege to select his staff, reorganize his department and put his own command structure in place.
He also said he agreed with Felton that Tuesday's settlement was a business decision, but said he felt he would have prevailed had the lawsuit gone to trial.
He said testimony would have shown his decision was not politically based.