Records: Bexar County staff misinformed on coronavirus relief grant

Bexar County Commissioner Kevin Wolff more concerned about media coverage than AACOG’s mistake

Multiple Bexar County employees involved in the application process for coronavirus relief money were incorrectly told last month that a majority of the funds for this area had already been allocated and that the grant was “first come, first serve.”

SAN ANTONIO – Multiple Bexar County employees involved in the application process for coronavirus relief money were incorrectly told last month that a majority of the funds for this area had already been allocated and that the grant was “first come, first serve.”

The inaccurate information, provided by an Alamo Area Council of Governments official, prompted the county’s grant coordinator on May 20 to remark in an email that “it seems like there is nothing left,” according to a copy of the written correspondence provided to the KSAT 12 Defenders.

AACOG is a political subdivision covering 13 area counties, including Bexar, that helps local governments with planning and coordination.

The remark came shortly after the AACOG official told the coordinator and the Bexar County sheriff’s deputy responsible for that agency’s portion of the application that a vast majority of the funds, $2.7 million of $3 million, were already in hold status.

On May 4, the same official, AACOG Homeland Security and Criminal Justice Coordinator James Minze, told the county’s grant coordinator that it was a rolling allocation style grant on a first come, first serve type set up.

Officials from multiple agencies, including Bexar County and the Office of the Governor’s Public Safety Office, which is administering the grant, said that information was false.

AACOG officials released the emails late last month following an open records request.

Wolff’s diatribe

Bexar County’s application to the Office of the Governor’s Public Safety Office was submitted late last month and formally approved by commissioners on June 2.

It seeks slightly over $1 million in reimbursements from the state for everything from the cost of caring for inmates at the jail who should have been transferred to state facilities to more refrigerated storage at the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s due to a surge in deaths related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Commissioner Kevin Wolff criticizes investigative reporter Dillon Collier during the June 2 commissioners court meeting. (KSAT)

The item, which was originally listed as part of the consent agenda, was pulled by Precinct 3 Commissioner Kevin Wolff, who engaged in a nearly five-minute diatribe directed at a specific “individual in the media” before calling for a vote on the application.

Wolff, who announced last year that he will not seek reelection, confirmed hours after the rant that he was referring to this reporter.

“From time to time, you will have individuals within that media group who are quite frankly lazy and do not do their homework and leave themselves open to being used by others, whether it’s for particular political agendas or whatever. This is a perfect case of that,” said Wolff, whose remarks were also live-streamed and then archived by the county.

“My point being is that the media needs to make sure that they do their homework when it comes to reporting stuff and not just make things up, so it sounds good. That is exactly what has taken place here, and it’s a discredit to their industry when individuals within that industry don’t do their homework, become lazy, report things that are just flat false,” added Wolff.

The rant, however, came before the Defenders had done any reporting on the emails between AACOG and the county and while records were still being gathered for this story.

For example, a recording of a two-hour virtual meeting May 20 in which the county’s grant review committee discussed the application at length was not released to the Defenders until after Wolff made his public remarks.

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During a tense 10-minute interview with the Defenders immediately following the June 2 meeting, Wolff continued to repeatedly accuse this reporter of “not doing your homework.”

Wolff eventually conceded that the information provided by Minze was a mistake and incorrect.

“Unfortunately, he said that. Unfortunately, you are going down the line of reporting it,” said Wolff.

“What I keep trying to stress to you, OK, is that nothing has been done wrong by any staff. Whether they misspeak or something like that, dude, that’s the normal course of business. Sometimes that happens,” said Wolff. “The reason we are on the same page is because we’ve been on the same page the entire time.”

Demand outpaces supply

The Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program, which was announced in April, makes around $37.8 million available for local government entities in Texas through regionally based allocations for them to prevent, prepare for or respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

AACOG, has been allocated slightly over $3 million, according to the funding announcement.

Assistant County Manager Tina Smith-Dean on June 2 described AACOG as the conduit for the Coronavirus relief grant.

State officials announced $37.8 million in Coronavirus relief funding for local government entities in mid-April. (KSAT)

On April 16, Minze sent out a breakdown of the grant and provided steps on how to apply for it with the state, according to email records.

The deadline for entities to apply is June 15.

A city of San Antonio spokesman confirmed the city sought $2.6 million in reimbursements in its application submitted May 8.

Combine that with the $1,022,150 requested by Bexar County late last month and that already far exceeds AACOG’s total allocation.

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During the May 20 grant review meeting, officials from multiple departments concluded that the county would probably only receive a portion of what was requested.

“So basically three million (dollars) for a region that includes 13 counties,” said one staffer.

The Defenders have requested a list of other entities that belong to AACOG and have applied for reimbursements as part of the grant, but state officials have yet to hand over that information.

The relief funds, even if the final award is only a portion of what was requested, could provide a much needed boost to agencies that have seen their budgets ravaged by COVID-19.

The Bexar County Sheriff’s Office alone has been forced to spend $960,000 to cover jailer overtime and the cost of caring for inmates who should have been transferred to Texas Department of Criminal Justice prisons and treatment facilities, a spokesman confirmed.

The cost to care for and monitor inmates meant for TDCJ facilities will cost the Bexar County Sheriff's Office over $1 million. (KSAT)

TDCJ officials, who in April temporarily banned the transfer of inmates in hopes of slowing down the spread of COVID-19, have not provided any information on when prisoner transfers will resume, a BCSO spokesman said this week.

During the May 20 grant review meeting, BCSO Deputy Samantha Wohler, who wrote the agency’s portion of the grant request, said the Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding Program was the only opportunity provided by the state for jails to be reimbursed for housing inmates who should be in TDCJ facilities.

BCSO’s request, which seeks more than $468,000 in reimbursements, is already half a million dollars short of what it would need to receive to be fully reimbursed.

Officials who took part in the May 20 meeting repeatedly ranked BCSO’s request as the county’s top reimbursement priority.

The county’s Community Supervision and Corrections Department has asked for more than $373,000 to help cover employee overtime, UV sanitizing equipment and sneeze-guards, according to a copy of the department’s application.

The Bexar County Fire Marshals’ Office has asked for $100,000 for personal protective equipment (PPE) and decontamination and detection systems.

The request from the Medical Examiner’s Office for the refrigeration project is for $80,000.

State will determine release of funds

Minze said via email to the Defenders June 1 that he referred to the grant as a rolling allocation after taking part in a webinar hosted by state officials.

“In the initial webinar conducted by the Office of the Governor Public Safety Office with the COG’s from across Texas the statement was made that the CESF grant would be a rolling application. We, as the Council of Governments, relay information from our granting agency to our potential grantees in our region. It is solely at the discretion of the granting agency on how the funds are distributed and when they are distributed,” Minze said via email.

James Minze called the Coronavirus relief grant a "rolling allocation". Multiple officials say that information was inaccurate. (KSAT)

He and AACOG’s general counsel said any further inquiries from the Defenders would need to be directed to the state.

An official with the Public Safety Office said via telephone this month it is not a rolling allocation and that the money would not be dispersed until after the June 15 deadline and after applications had gone through several layers of review.

Commissioner Wolff is a longtime AACOG board member and part of the agency’s executive committee.

Judge Nelson Wolff declined to a request to be interviewed for this story.

About the Authors:

Emmy-award winning reporter Dillon Collier joined the KSAT 12 Defenders in 2016. Dillon's investigative stories air weeknights on the Nightbeat. Dillon is a two-time Houston Press Club Journalist of the Year and a Texas Associated Press Broadcasters Reporter of the Year.

Joshua Saunders is an Emmy-nominated photographer/editor who has worked in the San Antonio market for the past 20 years. Joshua works in the Defenders unit, covering crime and corruption throughout the city.