In order to accept the money for a much-discussed rescue boat, the sheriff’s office must receive approval from not only county commissioners but also from the community foundation that manages the sheriff’s philanthropic fund.

In April, Sheriff Javier Salazar asked Bexar County Commissioners to approve a $20,000 donation from the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation to purchase a rescue boat. Commissioners voted to delay the item after Commissioner Trish DeBerry (Pct. 3) questioned what other costs may be associated with the boat.

On June 2, Salazar accepted a $32,000 donation on behalf of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation from veteran-owned and Utah-based Black Rifle Coffee Company, which has a San Antonio location.

The donation became controversial after an Instagram post from one of the company’s co-founders inspired internet trolls to hit DeBerry’s social media accounts with expletive-filled comments and messages. That led Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff to pledge that he would vote against accepting any funds from Black Rifle Coffee Company. Black Rifle did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation, created in 2019, is a fund overseen by the San Antonio Area Foundation, and not a stand-alone nonprofit organization. That means the Area Foundation reviews all grant requests, said Lisa Brunsvold, vice president of development and donor services at the foundation, and so would need to approve an expenditure for a boat. The sheriff has no decision-making power over how money within the fund is used.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation is one of more than 500 funds under the umbrella of the Area Foundation. With the help of advisors and investment partners, the Area Foundation accepts donations on behalf of funds like the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation and maintains complete control over how that money is distributed. 

Salazar originally approached the Area Foundation seeking to start his own nonprofit foundation — a question Brunsvold said she gets at least once a week. But opening a fund with the Area Foundation is often easier, as it provides support with things such as tax receipts, investing contributions so they can grow, and fund management.

“From a charitable standpoint, we have a number of folks that have the desire — or they think they have the desire — to open a foundation, when really all they want to do is have a vehicle where they can participate in charitable giving … and that’s exactly what happened in this particular case,” she said.

Brunsvold said the sheriff’s office has not requested funding for a boat from the Area Foundation. Nor would a request to purchase a boat automatically pass muster for the fund’s established purpose. A “fund committee” consisting of five advisors reviews each request made by the sheriff’s office before recommending any disbursement of funds. After Area Foundation staff members receive a recommendation, they do further research to vet a grant request. 

Purpose of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation fund:
The net income and principal of the Fund shall be distributed from time to time by the Foundation to support and empower members of the community and law enforcement to work together to proactively keep Bexar County safe and support charitable needs in the community.

• Educate — BCSF will provide educational opportunities to members of law enforcement in and around Bexar County.
• Support — Provide community readiness and support services through education and training to the residents of Bexar County and support charitable needs in the community.
• Protect — Provide tools and equipment to protect and serve, promote a positive public image, or foster good relationships with the public they serve.
• Sustain — Provide resources to members of law enforcement by way of physical and mental well-being as well as moral and support resources

Source: San Antonio Area Foundation

None of the fund advisors for the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation are current or former employees of the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office, Brunsvold said.

The San Antonio Area Foundation accepted the $32,000 donation from Black Rifle Coffee Company after determining the donation met the Area Foundation’s gift acceptance policy, Brunsvold said. The donation did not come with any restrictions on its use.

Brunsvold declined to comment on whether a boat could qualify for a grant, given that she has yet to see a request.

The fund’s purpose, she said, is to “support and empower members of the community and law enforcement to work together to proactively keep their county safe and support charitable needs in the community.”

Money from the fund does not go directly to the sheriff’s office, Brunsvold said. Instead, grants go directly to groups like manufacturers of K9 unit vests that were donated to the sheriff’s office via the Area Foundation fund. The fund has also purchased sashes for graduating deputy sheriff cadets. Since 2019, the fund has expended just over $10,000, said Angel Martinez, vice president of communications and public affairs at the Area Foundation.

Though she declined to give specific numbers, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Foundation fund currently has more than $80,000, which includes donations and investment income since the fund opened, Brunsvold said. Salazar has access to a “donor portal” that allows him to see activity in the fund, including investments and contributions that have been made.

The $32,000 from Black Rifle Coffee Company is, like all donations accepted by the Area Foundation, an “irrevocable gift,” Brunsvold said. 

Even with approval from the Area Foundation, the sheriff must still secure approval from Commissioners Court, said Larry Roberson, the civil division chief in the District Attorney’s Office. He cited a 2015 opinion from the Texas attorney general that explains the relevant state law.

“It specifically deals with the very same issue, because it addressed a question raised by the Wood County sheriff, who wanted to purchase certain equipment for its life patrol program,” Roberson said.

“[Commissioners] can reject the donation once it’s on the agenda for approval,” Roberson added. “But that’s just in their statutory authority. What goes on externally, that’s not really under the purview of the court.”

Salazar said Wednesday he plans to return to commissioners court to seek approval to buy the boat with money from the sheriff’s fund, despite Wolff’s position. He said he will be prepared to answer all the questions commissioners posed back in April. Before he returns, however, he will make a formal request to the Area Foundation for approval to spend fund money on the boat.

Bexar County Sheriff Javier Salazar Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Salazar said he has gotten grants approved by the Area Foundation prior to receiving commissioners’ approval in the past but for smaller expenses — for example, for a $2,000 custom-made mascot costume for the sheriff’s department.

“Let’s say for argument’s sake, we went to commissioners court and they were just adamant: ‘No, you didn’t answer all our questions satisfactorily. We’re not going to let you have it,'” he said. “I’m not gonna get stuck with a boat. So we will not make that purchase until it clears Commissioners Court.”

He also stressed that there is no “ongoing feud” between him and DeBerry.

“We disagreed on some of the terminologies used to describe things,” he said. “We disagreed on some of the process. But at the end of the day, it’s Commissioners Court’s job to ask me questions, and it’s my job to answer them to the best of my ability. And so we won’t go back until I can absolutely definitively answer those questions.”

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Jackie Wang

Jackie Wang covered local government for the San Antonio Report.