Although Bexar County Commissioners Tuesday allocated nearly $140,000 to pay for guardianship of 33 mentally disabled individuals, a probate court judge blasted the county for reneging on what she says was a promise for more than twice that amount.

“I don’t know how many times you want me to be lied to, but I feel lied to,” Probate Court 1 Judge Kelly Cross told commissioners at Tuesday’s session. “We expected a full budget.”

Cross said she expected full funding for the program, at nearly $291,000 for fiscal year 2018.

The County Commission and the Bexar County Probate Courts adopted the  guardianship pilot program to help disabled individuals who are unable to make basic life decisions. These county wards range in age from the late 20s to 90 and, without the program, would not have guardians.

Probate Court judges have administered and funded the program from their Probate Contribution Fund since the project’s inception in 2014.

Cross said officials in the Bexar County Economic Development department promised her earlier this year that the program would receive full funding at nearly $291,000 in next year’s budget. But when the 2018 budget was approved in September, the program went unfunded.

Bexar County Probate Court Judge Kelly Cross
Bexar County Probate Court Judge Kelly Cross

Only on Tuesday did the commissioners provide $140,000 to cover the program for six months. They will consider additional funding after the county manager’s office completes a review of the guardianship program’s effectiveness.

After Cross spoke to the commissioners for 15 minutes, Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff cut her off saying, “You got six months of money, go do your job.”

The funding allocated Tuesday will continue to pay for two guardians, an administrator, and one administrative assistant. In addition to the 33 wards under guardianship, 147 are waiting to receive care, Cross said. She said she had hoped that the program could hire an additional full-time guardian.

Commissioners “don’t understand the law of guardianship, they don’t understand the need, we are not a statue, so they don’t care,” Cross told reporters after the meeting. “I think [the guardians] were underfunded to begin with, but we are using what we got.”

Wolff said the six-month pilot will allow the county manager to evaluate the program, and report his findings to commissioners before they reconsider funding next April.

“I know there’s problems with people that don’t have guardianship,” Wolff said. “But I still don’t understand just exactly what [the guardians are] doing, and how many people have they really helped? I don’t know, and [Cross] seemed to be offended because we want to know that, but we need to know.”

Cross said the program aims to provide for “the least among us” in the county who are unable to manage severe disabilities on their own.

Bexar County Manager David Smith said the program was initially a limited stopgap program intended to target high utilizers of health care and emergency services. Without guardians, these individuals sometimes make repeated calls to emergency services for help.

He also said personnel changes in both the probate courts and county departments have made it difficult to provide a sufficient review of the guardianship program. 

“We need some time to get an accurate assessment of the program, its effectiveness, and let the Court have the information it needs before it has to decide whether it wants to fund more, less, the same,” Smith said, adding, for example, that such reviews include insuring that guardians are not abusing their wards.

Smith said he believes that the state should bear some financial responsibility for handling the disabled individuals. Bexar County Probate Court 2 Judge Tom Rickhoff believes it is the county’s role to provide guardianship for wards, and suggested it may be helpful to have Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton provide a ruling.

Jeffrey Sullivan is a Rivard Report reporter. He graduated from Trinity University with a degree in Political Science.