Bell County Courts

BELTON — Two former Bell County justices of the peace are set to take on part-time roles dealing with truancy cases.

The Commissioners Court — in a 4-0 decision Monday, with Bell County Judge David Blackburn absent — appointed Garland Potvin and Don Engleking to serve as truancy masters. Their terms start Tuesday and end May 29.

This is the first time the commissioners have used House Bill 452 — the measure that allows them to appoint so-called “masters” to oversee truancy cases. This law only applies to Bell County.

“The reason why we’re needing this is because in the fall of 2018 we had 70 truancy cases filed in Bell County. As of last Friday, Bell County has already had for this fall 169 cases filed,” said Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Cliff Coleman, who handles all truancy cases in the county. “We’re probably going to hit 200 by the end of this semester.”

Coleman — who succeeded Engleking — said his office plans to hold truancy court twice a week starting next month.

“We’re just trying to keep up,” the first-term justice of the peace said.

Coleman oversees truancy cases on top of his justice of the peace duties.

“I’m going to need some help,” Coleman said of the influx number of cases. “Having two truancy masters there, it gives me an option. If one of them can’t do it, I can call the other one and try to schedule him.”

Both truancy masters will be paid an hourly rate based on the justice of the peace annual salary of $61,971. County Auditor Tina Entrop said the commissioners will have to set the rate and consider a budget amendment for the truancy master positions.

Commissioner Russell Schneider said the truancy court and new temporary, part-time judges will be well worth it to help Bell County children.

The cost of the truancy masters was a concern for Commissioner Bobby Whitson.

“We’re not writing a blank check here,” he said. “It potentially could grow.”

HB 452 — which state Rep. Hugh Shine, R-Temple, authored, with state Rep. Brad Buckley, R-Salado, as a co-author — requires truancy masters to go through the same training as a justice of the peace. They serve at the pleasure of the Commissioners Court.

“The reason Judge Potvin and Judge Engleking were chosen is because, according to House Bill 452, you have to have full JP training,” Coleman said. “Judge Engleking and Judge Potvin both have JP training and also truancy experience.”

Potvin, a Republican, served as the Precinct 4, Place 1, justice of the peace for 20 years until 2016 when he lost his seat to Democrat Claudia Brown.

Engleking, a Republican, retired as the Precinct 2 JP last December after 14 years in office.

Commissioner Bill Schumann thanked Shine for HB 452. Shine, Coleman and Blackburn have previously said they expect the law to be a model for other counties.

“The entire state is looking at what we’re doing,” Schumann said. “I think it will be positive for many other counties that are in the same situation that we are.”