Stephens County Commissioners vote to evict Thomas the Courthouse Cat, prompting County Treasurer’s resignation
By Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan
Stephens County Commissioners voted unanimously this morning to ban all animals, except for those they are legally required to admit, from the courthouse, effective today, a move that was immediately followed by the resignation of Stephens County Treasurer Sharon Trigg, the caretaker of Thomas the Courthouse Cat.
Her verbal resignation to County Judge Michael Roach led to an emergency meeting in the commissioners’ office at 3 p.m. today, Monday, Oct. 23, for the commissioners to discuss appointing someone to fill the treasurer’s office until a special election can be held next year.
After deciding that they needed more time to appoint someone to the treasurer’s position, the commissioners postponed that vote until Monday, Oct. 30, and appointed District Clerk Christie Coapland to assist with the payroll and some other duties until the new appointee can be installed.
At the emergency meeting, County Attorney Gary Trammel advised the judge and the commissioners in attendance — Will Warren, Mark McCullough and David Fambro — that the person appointed to help with the payroll has to be an elected official. Roach recessed the meeting for about five minutes while he went upstairs to the district courtroom to ask Coapland if she would agree to the temporary appointment. She accompanied him back to the meeting and agreed. Her duties will be limited.
According to information provided by Christie Latham, the County Elections Officer/Tax Assessor-Collector, the commissioners will need to appoint someone to serve as Stephens County Treasurer through December 2024. That person must meet the same qualifications as a candidate for the office: be a resident of Texas for at least one year; be a Stephens County resident for at least six months; and, be a registered voter with an effective date of registration on the date of the appointment.
There will be a place on the primary ballot in March 2024 for the “Unexpired Term of Stephens County Treasurer.” Whoever is elected will take office in January 2025 and serve through December 2026. The filing period for running for the unexpired term will open on Nov. 11, 2023, and continue through Dec. 11, 2023. During the emergency meeting, the commissioners discussed how it could be difficult to find someone to agree to take the position for a year, knowing that they might not get elected next year.
Coapland’s appointment was contingent on Roach receiving Trigg’s official, written resignation. Trammel told the commissioners that if her resignation letter stated that the resignation was effective at 5 p.m. today, Monday, Oct. 23, then today would be her last day. But, if there was no specified time, Trigg would have to serve another eight days. As she was packing up her office this afternoon, Trigg indicated that she would be submitting a formal resignation.
Trigg, who was first elected to the office in 2005, said after she found out this morning that Thomas wouldn’t be allowed to stay at the courthouse, she decided it was just time for her leave. “I don’t want to leave on a real bad note,” she said. “But, I just feel like it’s time to move on and let somebody else handle it.”
Thomas has lived at the courthouse for about 10 years, Trigg said. She explained that in 2013, someone told then-County Judge Gary Fuller that there was a kitten on the steps of the courthouse. Fuller decided to get the gray and white kitten neutered and brought him inside to live in the courthouse, Trigg said.
Fuller conferred, explaining that the cat was “skin and bones” when he first showed up, and Fuller took him to a vet for treatment. Initially, the former County Judge said, Thomas stayed outside. “And then people would let him in and then, you know, he just found a way in with everybody,” he said. “I don’t remember ever having anybody much complain about the cat being there. He was just there; he made his home there.”
Fuller also said that before Thomas and other cats were around the courthouse, the courthouse had a big problem with rats and mice.
Thomas spends most of his time in Trigg’s office, occasionally going outside to sit in the sun. Additionally, she said, Thomas likes people, including children, and enjoys it when people stop to pet him or talk to him. Trigg said she has never heard a complaint from any visitor to the courthouse about Thomas.
Now, she will take Thomas home to live with her.
Upstairs in the Justice of the Peace’s office, the staff hadn’t been officially informed of the new policy by late Monday afternoon and they weren’t sure what would happen to Justice, the year-old sheepadoodle that JP Steve Spoon had hoped to get trained as a therapy dog to help out with court cases, especially those involving children.
Roach confirmed Monday evening that Justice will not be allowed back inside the courthouse until he is trained and certified and is compliant with the new policy.
The newly enacted Stephens County Animal Policy allows courthouse employees, elected officials and visitors to the courthouse to be accompanied by dogs or miniature horses that are individually trained to do work or perform tasks for a disabled person. The policy is meant to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Specifically regarding pets or animals that aren’t certified therapy dogs or miniature horses, the new policy prohibits employees and elected officials from bring pets to work at the courthouse or other facilities owned by Stephens County.
Much of the policy addresses the types of dogs and miniature horses that are allowed, but the final two paragraphs of the policy detail the “pet” portion:
“The Stephens County Commissioner’s Court has weighed the considerations for employees or elected officials to bring pets to work at facilities owned by Stephens County. In considering the health and safety of employees, elected officials and visitors to Stephens County facilities, the Stephens County Commissioner’s Court finds that pets can spur allergic reaction among co-workers, invitees, elected officials and visitors which can cause interruptions to their ability to work effectively. The Stephens County Commissioner’s Court believes that work is disrupted because of the need to take pets outside. The Stephens County Commissioner’s Court states that some employees have a genuine fear of dogs, cats, and other animals or pets, which needs to be respected. The Stephens County Commissioner’s Court contacted their liability insurance carrier and was advised about concerns of liability for Stephens County should an employee, elected official, invitee, or visitor be bitten or injured by a pet brought to work.
Therefore, the Stephens County Commissioner’s Court finds after due and deliberate consideration that it is not appropriate to bring pets into the Stephens County Courthouse or other facilities owned by Stephens County, and thus, Stephens County Commissioner’s Court hereby prohibits employees and elected officials from bringing pets to work at the Stephens County Courthouse or other facilities owned by Stephens County. Violations of this policy will result in disciplinary action up to and including termination.”
Additionally, the policy includes a county ordinance that the commissioners voted on separately this morning, making it illegal for anyone “to feed or provide water to a wild animal, including but not limited to non-domestic canines, non-domestic felines, feral cats, stray animals, non-domestic rabbits, skunks, and/or raccoons, on any property owned or operated by the Stephens County Commissioner’s Court, the Stephens County Sheriff, or Stephens County, Texas.”
The policy continues: “It shall be unlawful to provide food and/or water that is left outside for animals in a free feed environment. This Free feed environment attracts not only feral cats, non-domestic cats, non-domestic dogs, but also skunks, raccoons, and possums which not only causes damage and a nuisance to the Stephens County Courthouse but also to neighboring businesses.”
According to the policy, anyone who commits such a violation will be punished by the following fee schedule:
- First offense – $100 fine
- Second offense – $200 fine
- Third offense – $300 fine and and additionally $100 fine per animal found at said free feed environment or on the surrounding property owned by Stephens County
- Fourth offense and subsequent offenses – $500 fine and a $300 fine per animal located at the area of free food environment located on Stephens County property.
Roach said that there have been complaints by courthouse employees about scratches on their vehicles allegedly made by cats, as well as feces on the courthouse steps left by cats. “And then there’s been a flea infestation,” he said. “We just had to hire a company to come in because employees were getting bitten by fleas because they’re all in the basement, where a bunch of these feral cats are underneath.”
Regarding the indoor pets at the courthouse, Roach said, “Occasionally, when Thomas has gotten near somebody, who had an allergy, getting their driver’s license renewed, that’s a rare thing, but it’s happened. Not everybody likes a cat jumping up on them anyway, and he tends to do that because he doesn’t realize (who is a) friend or foe. But, then, with Justice, some people are scared of dogs and dogs are more vocal. So there’s been a complaint, some complaints, about that as well. And we’ve heard it in Commissioners’ Court, animal barking so. So I would say yes, there have been some complaints. I wouldn’t say they’re every day, all the time. But the other thing is, if those animals were to cause an issue, the County would be liable for it. That’s the big thing that we’re trying to avoid is liability.”
During the morning meeting, Trammel told the commissioners that they could make the new policy effective whenever they wanted to, and they chose to make it effective immediately. That means that no pets will be allowed in the courthouse and that it is illegal to feed or water cats or other animals on the courthouse lawn, beginning today.
Cutline, top photo: The Stephens County Commissioners Court met in an emergency meeting at 3 p.m. Monday, Oct. 23, with County Attorney Gary Trammel to discuss appointing a temporary County Treasurer after Sharon Trigg told the County Judge that she intended to resign, effective at the end of the day over the county’s new animal policy. Pictured from left are County Attorney Gary Trammel, Commissioners Mark McCullough and David Fambro, County Clerk Jackie Ensey, County Judge Michael Roach and Commissioner Will Warren. (Photo by Carla McKeown/Breckenridge Texan)
Tony Pilkington contributed to this story.