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Commissioners Discover 6 Bexar County Election Workers Died Of COVID-19

 Voters in line at the Lion's Field Park polling location off Broadway Street during a 2020 election
Kathleen Creedon
Texas Public Radio
Voters in line at the Lions Field Park polling location off Broadway Street during a 2020 election

Six November election judges died of COVID-19. Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen said there is no way to know for sure if the judges contracted the virus from voters who did not wear masks.

Bexar County Elections Administrator Jacque Callanen told county commissioners Tuesday that six November election judges died of COVID-19.

"It's been hard to say. We have been unable obviously to attend their funerals, but we have had six that have passed away from COVID," Callanen said.

She said there is no way to know for sure if the judges contracted the virus from voters who did not wear masks, which were not state-mandated at the time. She said the riskiest work for the election judges was the close contact needed to assist drive up voters with their ballots.

All the election judges were offered free testing 10 days after the election or could test on their own, Callanen said.

More than 2,300 judges helped with the November election day and early voting period. Their average age was approximately 72 years.

In other action during the meeting, the president of the Deputy Sheriff's Association of Bexar County called the most recent overtime bill for staffing the jail "history-making." Jeremy Payne told county commissioners during their meeting Tuesday overtime costs from May to this September are expected to hit $3.9 million.

He urged them to do more to improve working conditions. He called proposed fixes so far "smoke and mirrors." Sheriff Javier Salazar said a new county contract with detention deputies should include higher pay.

"That's what's going to make us competitive not just with other agencies, but with other companies that are all right now struggling to find qualified candidates," Salazar said.

Commissioners directed staff to bring back a proposal to start a search for an independent jail consultant. The sheriff said he recently hired a state jail inspector and Dallas County jail administrator to oversee the local adult detention center.

Commissioners also on Tuesday approved a resolution that directs county courts at law to work together to clear a huge backlog of domestic violence cases.

Commissioner Trish DeBerry introduced the nonbinding resolution to encourage the 15 county courts-at-law to hear more than 5,000 domestic violence cases, many of them rose up during this pandemic. She said of the 15 courts, only two are assigned to hear domestic violence cases.

"All county court-at-law judges need to help, share the burden associated with hearing domestic violence cases. We as a court cannot mandate, but we can certainly advocate for," said DeBerry.

County Court Administrative Judge Ron Rangel backs her resolution, according to DeBerry, which also calls for two victims advocates for each court to help guide victims through the legal system.

Also on the agenda Tuesday:

  • A public hearing was held on Emergency Services District Number Nine to offer fire and EMS services. No one voiced opposition to the district that would charge a property tax to provide services and the proposal continues to move forward. Voters will have the final say in November.
  • Commissioners heard work will resume soon on the San Pedro Creek Culture Park after a stoppage for historical research after the discovery of a Civil War-era African Methodist Episcopal Church. The foundation of a soap works was also found at the location off Camaron Street. Work will resume away from the site.
  • The court approved a 10-year master plan for the county park system, which will guide future improvements based largely on public surveys. It also keeps the park system eligible for matching grants from the state and others. The master plan calls for three new flagship parks to replace large pavilions at Rodriguez, Russell and Comanche Parks, completion of the remaining 55 miles of the Howard Peak Greenways Trail System, additional conservation at Hot Wells, and a Native American cultural center, possibly at Padre Park, to help tell the story of local Indigenous people.

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Brian Kirkpatrick can be reached at brian@tpr.org and on Twitter at @TPRBrian