Councilwoman’s Votes Help Pay the Rent

City council watchers will remember the North and East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. It encompasses a for-profit corporation owned by a non-profit through which it takes over one quarter million dollars per year that it only partially accounts for. In the larger scheme of things it is a mechanism by which Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy helps siphon public dollars into her law firm; dollars which allegedly help develop north and east Lubbock.

NELCDC is an exercise in economic alchemy. We are asked to believe that funneling your tax dollars through an Amarillo-based law firm, will magically help minority communities of north and east Lubbock.

NELCDC is an exercise in economic alchemy.

This notwithstanding the fact that there exist minority owned law firms that lie within the boundaries of NELCDC’s designated economic development zone which could do the work just as easily. But that wouldn’t serve the purpose of spending money with Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy’s law firm, where LBJ’s partner, who is the chairman of the NELCDC board as well as its attorney, has made an art of turning public service into a profitable venture.

Between NELCDC, which LBJ votes to fund, and Reese Redevelopment Authority, to which she votes appointees, her firm rakes in about $100,000 or more of public funds per year. That’s enough money to rent an entire floor of the Wells Fargo Building downtown for most of a year.

at Lubbock City Council meeting 9/10/2013
LBJ’s votes help pay the rent.

So while LBJ claims to get no benefit from NELCDC payments to her firm, it is that funding and the decisions of her appointees to the Reese board that help pay the rent for her firm. Her protestations are false and actions disingenuous.

Follow the logic: LBJ recuses when a matter involving her lawn boy comes before the city council but on two votes that together will pay the rent for her law firm for most of the year she engages and even lobbies the council to do her will. It is something that even her own partner calls “the appearance of impropriety.” In our opinion, it is the appearance of corruption.

But in spite of LBJ’s best efforts, NELCDC may be nearing the end of its ability to pull the wool over taxpayers’ eyes. Funding for the beleaguered organization was scheduled to be discussed at last Thursday’s meeting but was put off because NELCDC is past due in submitting it’s annual audit to the city; not usually the sign of a transparent and fiscally sound organization.

The Mayor’s plan calls for applying the funds directly.

In noting this Mayor Glen Robertson announced his intention to offer an alternate plan for the over one million dollars tentatively scheduled to be given to NELCDC. Instead of funding to NELCDC, which spends over $250,000 on administrative overhead (and was asking for more), the Mayor’s plan calls for applying 100% of the funds directly to paving the over 55 miles of unpaved roads in north and east Lubbock.

Such a plan would allow the city to avoid duplication of administrative costs and put more money directly into needed projects in north and east Lubbock. No more waiting for delinquent audits from NELCDC. All of the money would go directly to improving infrastructure in north and east Lubbock. The only loss is the economic development done at Latrelle Bright Joy’s law firm.

There’s no indication of how the it will vote on the issue, but the council has a chance to stop pouring public money into a black hole that serves no good purpose other than to assuage one man’s need to purchase influence and pay the rent and instead put over a million dollars directly to work that serves north and east Lubbock.


Sheriff to Constable: Keep Your Bullet in Your Pocket, Barney

Lubbock County Sheriff Kelly Rowe has a message for Constable Precinct 2 Joe Pinson: keep your bullet in your pocket, Barney. The sheriff does not want Pinson, who has wrecked three county vehicles, joining in any more high speed pursuits. The Sheriff’s letter reads, in part, “specifically with regard to pursuits I must insist you not interject yourself into any in the future.”

Wrecking vehicles isn’t Crash Pinson’s only offense. According to the Sheriff’s letter, Pinson made a u-turn into one way traffic becoming a menace to others. After crashing into a deputy’s parked vehicle the constable then had to be forcibly removed from a suspect so that he could be handcuffed. Download the full letter here.

Since that time Crash Pinson has had the opportunity to take a NADP driving course. He failed to finish.

The constable had to be forcibly removed from a suspect.

It seems to be well-documented that Constable Joe Crash Pinson is a hazard to public safety. He’s the most dangerous kind of elected official: out of control with a badge and a gun. Surely the voters of Precinct 2 can do better.

The larger question becomes whether Lubbock County wants four cowboys accountable to no one but with the authority to take life, liberty and property under the color of law.

The most dangerous kind of elected official: out of control with a badge and a gun.

According to the US Department of Justice, there were 2630 full-time constables/deputy constables in Texas in 2000. Of this number 35% were assigned primarily to patrol duties. In Bexar and Harris Counties (San Antonio and Houston) there are entire constable departments complete with deputy constables.

This may be exactly what those counties need. Perhaps there exists a law enforcement deficit in some counties. They ought to be able to opt for constables.

A solution to the constable problem
Republican Chairman Carl Tepper believes that it’s worth investigating options other than constables in Lubbock County. We concur. For Tepper it is simply a matter of expediency. “If you can consolidate and achieve efficiencies by allowing the Sheriff to take over those responsibilities why not explore giving citizens that option?”

Tepper favors legislation that allows county voters the option to do away with the office.

Tepper favors considering legislation, even if it requires a constitutional amendment, that allows county voters the option to do away with the office of constable and allowing the county to delegate the responsibilities to Sheriff.

We agree with Chairman Tepper for several reasons and financial expedience is the least of them.

In Lubbock County the four constables are, at best, a sizeable but inefficient means by which we serve papers from the Justice Courts. At their worst they are an rogue police force with little accountability and less professionalism. Out of shape, out of date and out of control all describe a group that, in the aggregate, makes the Crosbyton Police Department look leading edge.

It is their lack of accountability and inclination to do what they have no practical business doing that causes us to support legislation and a constitutional amendment that will allow Lubbock County voters the option to do away with the office of constable for our county.

*The above article expresses an editorial opinion that is solely the author’s and is independent of KCBD, its news department and its management.


City Council review – Anti-smoking ordinance

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.

punch-smokers
An incremental property
confiscation measure.

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.

 

 


Constable Crash’s Crash Report

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.

1To view the official accident report prepared by the Lubbock Police Department click here. To view Constable Pinson’s crash report click here.

2Alliterations aside, accuracy compels us to point out that Lubbock County has three male and one female constables.


Another Look at Lynn County Justice

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.