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Former Burnet County HR director returns as interim after nepotism ruling

Shirley Bullard and Sara Ann Luther

Newly hired Burnet County Human Resources Interim Director Shirley Bullard (left) and outgoing Director Sara Ann Luther in front of the HR office, 133 E. Jackson on the courthouse square in Burnet. Bullard led the committee that hired Luther in 2018, which is also when Bullard retired. Courtesy photo

Former Burnet County Human Resources Director Shirley Bullard was hired Wednesday, Oct. 25, as interim director to replace Sara Ann Luther. The latter resigned on Monday in the wake of a Texas Attorney General’s opinion on nepotism involving her position. Luther, who was hired in 2018, is the wife of Burnet County Precinct 1 Commissioner Jim Luther, who was elected in November 2016. He took office in January 2017.

County Judge James Oakley, who made the interim hire, said he was sad to see Luther leave but pleased to bring Bullard and her 10 years of experience on board so soon. 

“Mrs. Bullard retired just over five years ago to help her ailing husband, who has since passed away,” he said. “She will be able to hit the ground running, and that is a huge plus for Burnet County.”

Luther resigned the same day Attorney General Ken Paxton handed down AG opinion KP-0449, which clarified language in Government Code section 573.083, the state’s nepotism law. Paxton’s ruling stated that Luther’s hiring violated the anti-nepotism provisions.

The clarification also mentioned that nepotism violations could result in misdemeanor charges, which Burnet County Attorney Eddie Arredondo said could have included the four commissioners, the county judge, and Luther. The statute of limitations on the hiring expired after two years. Any other criminal charges would have to be for a continuing situation, which is moot now that Luther has resigned, he said.

Luther told she is hurt by the implication she could have been charged with a misdemeanor. 

“I did nothing wrong,” she said. “When I applied for the job as HR director, I was not aware I was not eligible. No one at that time seemed to be aware of that section of the law. No one said, ‘We’re sorry, you’re not eligible.’ I had the right combination of skills, and the committee made a decision.” 

Luther was hired by a three-person committee appointed by Oakley in 2018. The committee, which consisted of county employees, including Bullard and the county treasurer, conducted the process and made the job offer.

“The intent was never to get me a job because I was related (to Commissioner Jim Luther),” Sara Ann Luther said. “There was an opening, and I knew I was qualified as a former county employee (deputy treasurer), former business owner, and former branch manager for a car rental company. I also taught for 15 years, but I didn’t just go from being a math teacher to HR director. I was qualified.”

The question of who manages the HR director’s position was also part of the AG’s opinion, which conceded the commissioners could delegate the hiring to a committee and the management to the county judge, but the Commissioners Court still topped the organizational chart. 

“The opinion says you can cede the power, but that doesn’t negate the connection (that makes it nepotism),” Arredondo said. “That job has a connection to the Commissioners Court, no matter what.” 

Arredondo requested the opinion on June 2 after a Burnet County employee asked District Attorney Wiley “Sonny” McAfee if Luther’s hiring violated state nepotism laws. The opinion was issued Oct. 23.