Thursday night’s Lubbock City Council meeting offered a glimpse of the future direction of that body and the news is mixed.
The anti-smoking ordinance was on Thursday’s agenda, at least for those not privy to the council within the Council comprised of members Gerlt, Joy, Hernandez and Price.
Over seventy-five people showed to express their displeasure at the proposed ordinance however proponents of the measure apparently had some prior warning that the vote would not be considered because the baker’s dozen of usual suspects supporting the measure failed to show. In the interest of full-disclosure, the Sandstorm Scholar cannot use any tobacco product and eschews cigarette smoke.
In a move that was clearly orchestrated prior to the meeting Councilman Pastor the Reverend Jim Gerlt, who had only hours earlier announced that he would not support the smoking ordinance, made a ninety degree turn and supported an indefinite postponement of the measure instead. His vote was a vote in support of keeping the ordinance alive.
Several days before, Gerlt told Wade Wilkes in an interview on AM580 that he would support the anti-smoking law even if it caused his defeat at the polls. So much for representative government.
It isn’t that the Mayor Pro-Tem cannot be taken at his word; it just depends on who talks to him last. Who was it that said “a double-minded man is unstable in all his ways”?
The disconcerting aspect of the way the Council handled the matter is twofold. First, it is becoming increasingly apparent that there is a good deal of council business done off the dais. Interminably long council meetings are not for the fainthearted, but at least the business is done in public.
The second cause for concern is the Lubbock City Council’s willingness to encroach upon private property rights. To the degree your use of your property is limited you have lost that property.
The proposed anti-smoking ordinance is based on pseudo-science. It reaches past business and into your home and vehicle and denies the ability of the market to provide solutions for smokers and non-smokers alike. It is an incremental property confiscation law done not for the health or well-being of others but to satisfy the personal preferences of council members and those who control them.
The justification for constables is the need for a bailiff and process server in the justice of the peace courts. If Lubbock County constables confined themselves to this function there would probably be little or no controversy over their existence. But constables in Lubbock County do not seem to place constraints on their involvement in the business of other law enforcement.
Lubbock County Constable for Precinct 1 Paul Hanna is one who advocates for the expansion of the constables in Lubbock. Constable Hanna talks of the need for deputy and reserve constables because of the large backlog of unserved warrants. He talks of expanding his department, a department of one, and the ability of constables to serve warrants and make arrests anywhere in the county and neighboring counties.
Despite his self-described work backlog Constable Hanna has been reported running radar in an adjoining precinct. While Hanna denies doing this, the reports of his zeal for ticket writing and creating close encounters are credible. Hanna does admit to running radar while driving the roads serving warrants and court papers. We wonder, to what end?
Constable for Precinct 2 Joe “Crash” Pinson has been responsible for wrecking three county vehicles in less than two years. In September 2012 he totaled his Chevy Tahoe after engaging in what he admitted was a reckless pursuit of a speeding motorcycle. News stories at the time of the incident report the pursuit ended with both vehicles totaled and both the constable and the driver of the motorcycle taken to the hospital.
They fancy themselves to be freelance Fearless Fosdicks, roaming rangers, a moribund Mighty Mouse ready to swoop in.
In May of this year Constable Crash joined uninvited in an high speed pursuit by the Lubbock Sheriff’s Office and, failing to control his speed, reared ended one of the deputies involved in the pursuit damaging both vehicles and injuring the deputy.
Constable Crash’s full “crash report” (his description) can be found in its entirety by following the link1 at the the end of this story, however the final paragraph bears repeating:
***Note*** I humbly apologize for causing this accident. I pray that Deputy Owens suffered no injury as well as his canine partner. I was simply trying to do my job, as this is what all of us are sworn to do. I do this in order to help my fellow officers in the area as well as LPD. Due to the area and its history I feel compelled to help. I cannot imagine just shirking off that responsibility and driving off and then something bad happen when I may have been able to prevent or help stop an assault or injury(emphasis ours, SS) or death of a fellow officer and friend.
The above rationale justifies unlimited constable interruption into law enforcement operations where ever they please and makes about as much sense as a Lubbock Police Officer walking into a justice of the peace court as an unsolicited backup bailiff. While Crash’s rationalization is to prevent injury to others the constable’s interjection of himself into situations has not only resulted in injury but, as we will see in a subsequent article, inappropriate behavior.
Constable Crash’s crash report describes him bouncing from uninvited backup for traffic stops to joining in high speed pursuits and wrestling suspects into submission. Noble in motive, perhaps, but something deemed tactically unnecessary by the agencies involved else they would have their own people acting in that role.
These are Texas Peace Officers with the power to take life, liberty and property under the color of law.
Whether reading the adrenalin fueled angst of the wanna be in Constable Crash’s crash report or talking to constables in person you quickly get the impression that they fancy themselves to be freelance Fearless Fosdicks, roaming rangers, a moribund Mighty Mouse ready to swoop in and save the day for their better trained and more qualified counterparts at the Lubbock Police Department or Lubbock Sheriff’s Office. Fantasies of heroic conflict are not confined to constables, but these are Texas Peace Officers with the power to take life, liberty and property under the color of law.
Therein lies the danger: when you turn loose boys with badges2 who have too much time and too little supervision, they find something to do and that something is rarely positive. While it may find a benign conclusion most of the time, it places all involved at unnecessary risk, as Constable Crash’s exploits serve to illustrate.
If you haven’t had a chance to look at Shaley Sanders’ KCBD / Sandstorm Scholar Investigates report “In Pursuit of Justice” we encourage you to click the link and watch the story.
In short, a jury was confused about the sentencing form it completed after finding a man guilty of a DWI hit and run that left a 10 year old boy without his left leg. The jury’s confusion led it to give a man probation when it intended ten years in prison. The judge read the sentence then was immediately informed by the bailiff that the sentence she read was not the unanimous verdict of the jury. In fact, the jury was unanimously opposed to the sentence read by the judge.
The judge, fully aware that the jury did not intend to give that sentence, insisted on preserving the error and kept the jury for almost twenty more minutes without giving it an opportunity to correct itself. Justice denied.
A local attorney posed the question on Facebook that clarifies this for us and we’ll borrow it here with our acknowledgement and respects to KH, an highly respected attorney in Lubbock’s legal circles.
What if the jury had intended probation but through a misunderstanding gave the defendant ten years in prison? Would any argue that justice had been done if the judge insisted on ignoring the jury’s will? The defense attorney would not. Nor could a district attorney with any integrity.
We can safely say this because while a defense attorney is ethically (and arguably constitutionally) bound to give his client the best defense possible, the district attorney is statutorily charged to do justice.
The Sandstorm Scholar has been looking at District Judge Carter Schildknecht for over a year. She first came to our attention because of accusaitons of ignorance of the law and arbitrary rulings. Good attorneys don’t hope for favoritism, they want consistency and fairness.
We talked with five different judges across the state about this case before publishing a story or opinion. Every judge we spoke with acknowledged that juror confusion over the forms is common. And each said the time to correct the error is when it happens and that the responsibility lies with the judge. Several described similar situations where they had sent jurors back to the jury room to return a unanimous verdict.
As the foreman of the Lynn County jury said to us, “jurors aren’t attorneys.” But judges are and it is the judge’s responsibility to see to it that the verdict and sentence recorded are the will of the jury.
It will probably not surprise the reader to hear that there is more to the story than we’ve published. In future articles we will look at sworn testimony that establishes the judge’s prejudice against the district attorney; a fact that may have contributed to her deliberately giving a sentence the jury did not intend.
As Texas continues to grow, its interests and needs change and nowhere is that more obvious than in the office of constable.
An office as old as the Republic itself, constables claim at one time to have been the only law that existed in some counties. Constables like to perpetuate the myth that only a constable may arrest a sheriff. That is false. A sheriff has no constitutional or statutory protection from from arrest.
In many counties in the present day constables have been displaced by more sophisticated and better trained law enforcement agencies however their presence continues to plague us like a bad appendix or abscessed tooth. In Lubbock County they may be a threat to public safety that we can do without.
Lubbock County has four constables. One elected for a four year term in each county commissioner precinct. They are accoutanble to no one except the voters who, more often than not, do not even know the name of their constable.
In 2011 Precinct 3 Constable Ronnie Vasquez was arrested in his second encounter with police in less than a year. Reports say he was he was making racial slurs and threatened people with a baseball bat. Vasquez resigned shortly afterwards.
Precinct 2 Constable Joe “Crash” Pinson has wrecked three county vehicles. In the first he engaged a motorcycle he claims was driving dangerously. Pinson’s response? To drive just as dangerously chasing the motorcycle through traffic and, by his own admission, driving recklessly and out control. The result? Both motorcycle and constable’s vehicle wrecked. Pinson’s taxpayer provided Chevy Tahoe was totaled.
What did Constable Crash learn from the episode? That’s unclear since on July 31 of this year he joined (uninvited) in a high speed pursuit that the Sheriff’s office had under control. The ignominious end to that pursuit was Pinson wrecking two more vehicles, his and the Sheriff’s K-9 vehicle he rear-ended, and injuring a Sheriff’s deputy. The deputy has yet to fully recover.
Pinson’s response to the Sandstorm Scholar’s inquiries was to ask if he should have left a fellow officer “dangling in the wind?” Yes he should if he can’t drive any better than that. And if the choice is being rear-ended and injured by a reckless driver or being left to our own devices, we’d opt to go it alone.
We note two important details here. First, the Sheriff’s Office did not ask for Crash’s help.
Second, Constable Crash claims that the last accident in which he rear ended the unit in front of him and injured a deputy was just an accident, i.e., it wasn’t his fault. Try that one out on the officer next time you have an auto accident in which you rear end someone. Pinson went on to compare his accidents to the driving record of deputies at the Lubbock Sheriff’s Office.
For the record, the Lubbock Sherrif’s Office has not wrecked 200% of its fleet in any two year period we are aware of. Nor in any decade in the last thirty years. It is a ludicrous comparison.
Constable Crash’s final words to the Sandstorm Scholar may be prescient. When asked if he would join in another Sheriff’s high speed pursuit he said he would, believing it significant that “Nobody said ‘not to’ afterward.”
Few in our system of government are given more power than a Texas district judge. A district judge has power over life, liberty and property held in check only by the appeals courts which judge error in law, and the Judicial Conduct Commission which judges behavior.
We rightly expect judges to follow the law and to ensure that justice is done. In the Texas counties of Lynn, Garza, Dawson and Gaines, which comprise the 106th Judicial District, Judge Carter T. Schildknecht is responsible for justice.
In August Judge Carter T. Schildknecht failed 10 year old Nicolas Mata, Jr. when she knowingly pronounced a sentence that was not the unanimous sentence of the jury that was responsible for making that decision. In failing a young boy who lost his leg to a drunken hit and run driver she failed all Texans.
Judge Schildknecht deliberately ignored the jury’s wishes. And she did it before the jury was discharged. While horrified jurors watched Judge Schildknecht issued ten years probation when the jury had expected ten years in jail.
There were, to be sure, errors made by the jury. It misunderstood the forms given it to fill out. But forms ought not get in the way of the jury’s will, particularly when that jury is still present and untainted by influence from the outside and the judge knows the sentence given was not the unanimous decision of the jury.
If this were a single error in judgement by an otherwise good judge then perhaps it would pass unnoticed. But Carter T. Schildknecht is not a good judge; indeed, she is not even a mediocre judge. Her reputation is one of inexperience with trials when she came on the bench, ignorance of the law, arbitrary decisions and playing favorites with attorneys in her court.
Judge Schildknecht’s reputation and behavior is so poor that there are outstanding attorneys in Lubbock who refuse to practice in her court. Many who do charge more for the nuisance of putting up with her unfairness and ignorance of the law.
We favor the popular election of judges as it exists in Texas. But it is up to the voters to pay attention and to elect judges that have trial experience and who will follow the law with consistency and without prejudice.
Parties define issues and mobilize ideas; they connect citizens and government.
The U.S. Constitution contains no mention of political parties. Indeed, it was to the dismay of the founding brothers that parties evolved shortly after the birth of the republic and many thought their formation to be the beginning of the end of the young nation. Jefferson wrote in a letter to Francis Hopkinson, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.”
But the constitution itself was the product of two distinct, if not fully embraced, political factions: the federalists and anti-federalists. Even in its infancy the country needed some mechanism by which competing ideas could be tested.
The demise of a political party does not come as a result of controversial ideas, but when its ideals are no longer relevant to governance.
Whether then, or in the emergence of the Tea Party over the last five years, it has been through political parties that ideas have been incubated and proven.
No issue over the last fifty years better exemplifies this than abortion. Whether it is the Democrat Party’s emphasis of reproductive rights for women or the Republican Party’s advocacy for a right to life for all, political parties have served to coalesce people around ideas. The naive may call this polarizing but the purpose of an election, the brass ring of politics, is to memorialize the polarization of the electorate and thereby declare one cause or the other the champion.
The constitution makes little provision for how the citizenry interacts with government in place past the First Amendment’s guarantee of the right to petition Congress for redress of grievances. Political parties define issues and mobilize ideas. If ideas become policy, it is because political parties connect citizens and government.
The demise of a political party does not come as a result of controversial ideas, but when its ideals are no longer relevant to governance. The Whig Party did not disappear because it took the wrong position on slavery; it withered because it took no clear position at all on the subject. It ceased to be relevant and died a quick death.
Parties recruit and hold accountable political leaders.
Parties arose to provide citizens with institutions by which candidates are recruited and office holders are held accountable to the ideas they embraced when asking for elective office.
Once a candidate successfully leverages an appeal to the voter’s convictions about certain issues into a vote, then we require some apparatus by which to hold the subsequent office holder responsible to the positions he took as a candidate. Political parties are that mechanism.
It has become stylish to advocate the recruitment of candidates from civic institutions…they generally represent the shallow end of the leadership pool.
The way in which political parties hold their office holders accountable takes many forms. Sometimes it is by a challenger to an office holder. In some states it is through a recall election. It may even take the form of the party censure rule debated by the Republican Party of Texas at last week’s convention.
However that answer-ability takes place, party accountability is critical to ensure that ideas mature into policy. Without accountability a political party becomes inconsequential.
It has become stylish to advocate the recruitment of candidates from civic institutions. However civic institutions are not accountable to voters and the institutions themselves often have agendas that are not taxpayer or voter friendly. But, like candidates recruited from legitimate political parties, those picked from civic organizations are inclined to be loyal to the institutions from which they are recruited.
The result is that our civic institutions become narrowly focused political parties often supported by public funds or non-profit dollars and by unsuspecting members who rally around the fraternal cause. The cause will always involve doing what benefits the institution regardless of whether it is good public policy.
There is no acceptable substitute for recruiting political leaders other than through the party. Political parties in our two party system have emerged as the optimum institutions for developing, testing and restraining political leaders. The political party’s unique amalgamation of broad-based grass roots activism and determination by popular vote in a primary election reflects over two hundred years refinement into the best way to promote ideas into policy, and personality into candidacy and eventually to office holder.
Chambers of commerce and civic clubs may provide elementary levels for leadership development but those bastions of civility and fraternity will never replace the political party for developing lawmakers whose skills and understanding of public policy are honed by the sharp debate that takes place in the passionate and highly ideological atmosphere of the party. While useful, they generally represent the shallow end of the leadership pool.
Sometimes, parties choose candidates directly.
Once in a decade, sometimes once in a generation, circumstances and statute combine to allow political parties to choose candidates without the direct input of voters. Some decry this as unfair or inappropriate but we suggest that it is right and proper that parties, hedges against homogeneous democracy and jealous guardians of the republic, occasionally exert their influence directly in the nominative process.
While parties are constantly recruiting, influence within the party is earned; it is not given lightly. Party purity, often maligned by those outside the party, is a badge of honor for insiders and yet even that is hard fought and achieved through reason, debate and ability to endure, adapt and compromise.
When the party chooses the candidate it has the opportunity to pick one of its own; someone it can trust.
Candidates who emerge from the party demonstrate fealty to the party. They understand its value and feel accountable to the institution which forged them in the fires of battles past. When the party chooses the candidate it has the opportunity to pick one of its own; someone it can trust.
State Representative Charles Perry has announced that he will run for the State Senate District 28 seat soon to be vacated by Senator Robert Duncan. Assuming Perry resigns his place on the ballot for state rep, as he has said he will, this means that the Texas House District 83 nominees may soon be determined by the two political parties.
The people who will do the choosing will be seasoned participants in a process that all are invited to join but few choose to take the time to participate in and understand: active members of a political party. It is the most egalitarian and service-centered aspect of the political system. Status in party is not determined by social standing, money or birth. The coin of the party realm is participation, hard work and sound reason.
It’s participants are elected at the grass roots level and they are the most well-informed of all voters. They have spent hundreds or thousands of hours of volunteer time working at the most fundamental levels of politics.
If you are not involved it isn’t because you had no opportunity or because you weren’t invited. It is because you deigned not to take the time or dirty your hands.
And that is why political parties matter: they are the essential building block for every good or disagreeable thing that happens in government. Jefferson, and even some of our contemporary party people, may have missed the point. Party isn’t the way to heaven, that is another kingdom altogether, but party is a means to making a better life among governments of men.
Get involved. Call your county chairman today. Next time perhaps you will have earned the right to make the decision that determines our next legislator.
Public information is released that brings city manager under fire
That loud squeal you may have heard this morning was “Captain Coverup” Todd Kimbrough’s expression of surprise and dismay over the release of previously confidential information from the LP&L Director of Purchasing, Felix Orta. That information, titled “E3 Consulting Invoice Timeline” is the basis of the “new information that has come to light” that caused a majority of the Electric Utility Board to change its mind on May 20 with regard to CEO Gary Zheng. It is also the same information that caused LP&L CFO Andy Burcham to take his concerns to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
“He was told by E3 that they would not bill us as long as they received the generating plant.” –Felix Orta quoting James Gilmore
Those notes outline what may be a possible case of fraud and irregular bid procedures at the electric utility. The irregularities involve the handling of invoices for work done in 2013 by E3 Consulting, an affiliate of Alpine Energy Group. E3 has since sold to NAES. The sale was announced February 20, 2014. The invoices were presented to LP&L as past due invoices on February 24, 2014 by E3 President Donald Hurd. The Sandstorm Scholar contacted Donald Hurd. Hurd said he did not want to discuss the invoices. According to Orta’s presentation to the EUB on May 20, James Gilmore, LP&L Production Supervisor, claimed “that he was told by E3 that they would not bill us as long as they received the generating plant.”
Readers may remember that Alpine Energy was the company that LP&L staff was prepared to recommend to the EUB as the winning bidder for the now defunct 2013 RFP.
When the Sandstorm Scholar originally requested the E3 invoices LP&L Acting CEO and General Counsel Todd Kimbrough refused to release them claiming privilege because of the possibility of civil litigation over the unpaid invoices. We have since requested them a second time and, because this timeline and other materials request might possibly implicate the general counsel in institutional or criminal malfeasance, we have asked that the city attorney’s office handle our requests. We were then given Orta’s timeline on Tuesday afternoon by the city manager’s office. We are still hopeful that we will receive the invoices which originally may have totaled as much as $248,000.
Sandstorm Scholar sources tell us that Acting CEO Todd Kimbrough, Councilman Hernandez and others are “livid” over the release of this timeline and the anger is directed at Lubbock City Manager James Loomis. There have already been suggestions that James Loomis, the statutory officer of public records, may be the second consecutive Lubbock City Manager to be fired over dealings with LP&L. Lee Ann Dumbauld was the first, having been fired after asking for an audit of LP&L procurement practices.
This is information that Victor, Captain Coverup and others do not want you to see. It is a frightening glimpse into what EUB Vice Chairman Jerry Bell thinks is acceptable behavior on the part of management.
Ignorance of this evidence (if they didn’t report it then it isn’t real) is why the Lubbock AJ editors, after meeting with Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy two weeks ago, blamed the votes of six EUB members on Mayor Glen Robertson’s bullying. Robertson couldn’t lead his council in a fire drill if the building was burning and he was the first one through the door; it is irrational to think he could lead or bully six business people on the Electric Utility Board into putting Zheng on administrative leave. If anyone is to be credited for the removal of Gary Zheng it is the persistence of board member Clayton Isom who repeatedly placed Zheng’s employment status on the EUB agenda even after seeing Marc McDougal booted from the board for the same conviction about Zheng’s need to go.
Lubbock City Manager James Loomis is a fearless champion of transparency in government.
It is noteworthy that local editorial pages did not cry foul when Joy made a disingenuous claim of conflict to get McDougal off the board. Neither did they blink earlier when the city manager was fired over her suspicions of shoddy business dealings at LP&L; suspicions which have now been validated by its purchasing director. Leading that charge were the two most notorious strong-arm artists on the council, Latrelle Bright Joy and Victor Hernandez. Nor have opinion leaders focused attention on Isom, who has been cordial but relentless in his pursuit of Zheng. There was no blazing editorial headline when LP&L CFO Andy Burcham, who, like Felix Orta, is of unquestioned integrity, felt the invoice irregularities merited reporting directly to the FBI. It will be interesting to see if they ignore this latest evidence of poor management and questionable dealings or if they will make a red-faced reversal.
Here is what the reader can be certain of: Lubbock City Manager James Loomis is a fearless champion of transparency in government. Anyone who goes after him over this episode may have something to hide.