Lubbock’s daily newspaper, we like to call it the Daily Nickel, has come out with its endorsements. They are notable but only for their hypocrisy.
The Daily Nickel’s endorsement of former Commissioner Gilbert Flores for county commissioner over incumbent Bubba Sedeno in the Democratic Primary was, in its best light, a blatant act of doublespeak. It also renews questions about how relevant a daily newspaper can be when it is owned by a Georgia media conglomerate and has little or no corporate memory.
The argument for editorial hypocrisy is found in the editorial’s reference to Sedeno’s vote for a raise for commissioners. That vote was 4-1 for the raise and Commissioner Bill McCay, who received the Daily Nickel’s endorsement for Pct. 1 Republican Primary, also voted for the raise.
Flores made the motion for a twenty percent raise.
A further demonstration of the duplicity at work is found in a July 24, 2001 article in the Daily Nickel. There we learn that during his previous tenure on the commissioners court Flores himself made the motion for a larger, twenty percent pay raise. The commissioners approved that raise by a 4-1 vote also. McCay was not on the commissioners court at that time.
One of the underlying reasons for the Daily Nickel’s duplicity is found in its ignorance. Ignorance is a sad accusation to make of a media outlet however the Daily Nickel boasts a lack of any institutional memory of itself or the community it presumes to serve. Two thirds of its editorial board are new transfers to Lubbock. Collectively, editorial board opinions are a vivid demonstration of the absence of any historical context.
This is the same publication that in its December 27, 2015 edition announced on the front page that it would soon feature a new column edited by a former Lubbockite who at the time also appeared on the state’s registered sex offender list. The article no longer appears on the paper’s website yet no retraction can be found.
One assumes that Daily Nickel management, when confronted with public outcry over the outrageous move, backed down and attempted to cover up all trace of the lapse. Had management merely looked up its new columnist in its own archives it would have learned the truth. Ignorance on the front page.
Sedeno refuses to be a token.
But ignorance is not the only reason behind the specious endorsement. Unlike his opponent, Bubba Sedeno refuses to be a token. He didn’t take office to get along with the rest of the commissioners. He has consistently challenged the status quo and boldly represented his district without apology.
The commissioners court has long been run by a Queen Commissioner and her Duke. Those two believe their districts, although equal in population to Sedeno’s, merit better and more attention from taxpayer dollars. For years, while Flores was commissioner and without his objection, those two commissioners ran the county with an iron fist behind a cloak of secrecy that produced questionable expenditures and backdoor raises to favored employees.
Commissioner Sedeno has fought for transparency. Unlike Flores, he’s not satisfied to merely collect a paycheck. But the power establishment at the county and the Daily Nickel abhor a minority who isn’t there to just get along.
The power establishment at the county and the Daily Nickel abhor a minority who isn’t there to just get along.
If Sedeno “erred” past offending the Queen and her Duke, both of whom have the ear of the editorial board, it was in cooperating with any media outlet except the Daily Nickel. The editorial board is punishing Sedeno for not realizing that the Daily Nickel and it’s ever shrinking circulation is the only game in town. Except it isn’t the only game in town and Sedeno made no mistake when he refused to bend his knee to the Queen and her Duke.
Whether on the front page or the editorial page, the Daily Nickel has become the marionette for establishment interests and the politicians who cater to it. That calls in question the legitimacy of every endorsement it makes.
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.
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.
The County Road 1440 project is a comedy of missteps, mistakes and misspent money. And it has been a learning experience; if not for the county, certainly for the Sandstorm Scholar.
Lack of transparency at the county level
There is a reason why there is so much more focus on the city of Lubbock than on Lubbock County: transparency. If the city of Lubbock gets a B+ for transparency then Lubbock County gets a D. It receives a passing grade only because there are people there we are fond of and don’t want to alienate completely. In public education that’s called social promotion.
At the city of Lubbock you see every flaw. Staff cheerfully offers up virtually every piece of information requested. In fact, city staff is so cooperative, that when elected officials interfere in an effort to impede the process, and it happens, it is obvious and easy to call.
The City Council Agenda merits special mention because it is not only posted online many days in advance it also features hyperlinks with extensive background material.
Lubbock County is a different story altogether. We’re reminded of the M*A*S*H episode when Trapper and Hawkeye were asking questions of General Mitchell who answered, “Now just a minute! This is a press conference! The last thing I want to do is answer a lot of questions!”.
Sadly, that is almost a direct quote from one county custodian of records who told the Sandstorm Scholar, “we’re not here to answer questions.”
At Lubbock County, Public Information Act requests are met with surliness, evasion and weeks of delays. We were charged hundreds of dollars for our CR 1440 requests that included as many as six duplicate copies of the same document but we were charged for each copy with the flippant excuse that it would have cost more if they’d charged us for the time to do the job properly.
It is an expensive and excruciating process to extract information from your county government.
Best Republican commissioner is a Democrat
Likewise, County Commissioner meetings are exercises in obfuscation. At City Council meeting Councilwoman Latrelle Bright Joy will occasionally pause the process to clarify to those listening what is going on, but in Commissioners Court the only thing clear is that the last thing they want to do is to give out information.
Deliberation takes place and decisions are made before Commissioners ever get to the dais in the official meeting. Hundreds of thousands of dollars are approved and spent without a single figure being mentioned. Everything is tailored to keep the ordinary citizen from knowing what is going on.
When newly elected Commissioner Bubba Sedeno asked in the last meeting what is the projected cost of CR 1440, County Road Supervisor Nick Olenik deflected with precise numbers about several projects in Sedeno’s district but never answered Sedeno’s question about CR 1440.
It is a sad day when the best Republican on the Commissioners Court is a Democrat but that’s how County Commissioner Bubba Sedeno is shaping up these days. He asks questions in open session that allow citizens to know what’s going on.
Build now, plan later
Lubbock County transgressed its own donation policy with CR 1440. The policy calls for residents to donate land for the right-of-way and donate “sufficient funds to pay for the cost to complete all elements of the project” but residents along CR 1440 not only were bailed out on their project but also received much of their money back in the form of payment for damage done to property and landscaping.
It was a real bargain for residents and a financial boondoggle for taxpayers.
But even if the dollars can be overlooked, the failure to plan cannot be. The County allowed the work to begin and then performed an engineering study and a drainage study. “Let’s build it now and plan it later” seems to have been the rationale.
We quote County Road Supervisor Nick Olenik that the three most important things about building a road are “drainage, drainage and drainage”.
Knowing that, why did the county do the drainage and engineering study after it authorized a private contractor to begin paving the road? Bad planning, poor management and wasted money.
Although construction began in February of this year, right of way was still being accepted as late as the last Commissioner Court meeting. During the three months we have been watching CR 1440, right of way markers have zigzagged and wiggled like a kindergarten lunch line.
Who builds a road with this little planning and forethought? We’ve seen children expend more time planning a Lego’s project than Lubbock County spent before it allowed work to begin on CR 1440.
Lubbock business still owed money
Taxpayers are not the only victims in this farce. Campbell West Construction hasn’t been paid all the money it is owed. It is the small business that gets burned when dealing with big government. And make no mistake, county government is big government.
Campbell West would not go on record with the Sandstorm Scholar for fear of jeopardizing its chances of being paid what it was owed. Lubbock County ought to step up and pay Campbell West what it is owed for the work it performed.
It took weeks of waiting for Public Information Act requests, some of which have yet to be answered, and the hard work of veteran Sandstorm Scholar correspondent James Clark to get this much from Lubbock County on a single project.
Lubbock citizen activists might well consider turning some of their attention to the Lubbock County Commissioners Court.
Lubbock County did not follow its own road donation policy for the County Road 1440 project and now a contractor is out $23,178. But that may not be the worst of it.
What should have been a simple stretch of county road that taxpayers got for half-price is instead a headache for county officials and a frustration for residents. Along the way feelings have been hurt, safety issues have been raised, necessitating a County Commissioner to “bail them out.”
In April of 2012 residents who live near County Road 1440 at Cimarron South wanted to have 1440 paved even though many of them use County Road 1450. Traffic along 1440 kicks up dust which blows into their yards, and 1440 is susceptible to rain damage.
Email records indicate residents made an oral agreement with Commissioner Bill McCay which was later ratified by the rest of the County Commissioner’s Court. Residents would pay half, and the county would pay half for a 2.2 mile stretch of County Road 1440 and a nearby section of County Road 7700.
McCay said, “The oral agreement was only to place the item on the Commissioner’s Court Agenda, not approval of the project.”
“County Road 1440 is the third most traveled [unpaved] road in Lubbock County,” McCay told the Sandstorm Scholar. “This was a road we were going to pave anyway.”
Then why take $156,000 of people’s money if it was going to be paved anyway?
“It was a way to move the project up and get it done sooner,” McCay said.
Road Donation Policy:
But nothing in the county’s road donation policy allows for a 50-50 split. Instead the policy calls for residents to donate land for the right-of-way and donate “sufficient funds to pay for the cost to complete all elements of the project.”
The policy also says resident can hire their own contractor “at the landowners’ sole cost and expense.”
“There’s some ambiguity in the language of the policy,” said McCay. McCay asked Commissioners to examine the policy for possible changes, but so far the policy stands as adopted back in November of 2007.
Specifically, officials raised concerns internally on how to handle a 50-50 split in the purchasing department. The county was hoping its half of the project would be materials and homeowner’s cash would cover the other half – namely the cost of contractors. It didn’t work out that way.
Budget records from 2012 indicate that the projected cost in 2013 would be $295,000 – not including an engineering study. Many property owners donated land for the right-of-way and roughly half the estimated cost – $156,000 cash. Based on official records from November 2012, an engineering study should have brought the estimated cost up to $315,000.
When asked about these figures McCay said, “That’s not right. We’ve spent about $60,000,” McCay said in August. Technically, he was right with out-of-pocket expenses being $64,000 as of Sept 9. But it’s far from the whole story.
Expenses & Concerns:
The county is now on the hook for property damages, a drainage study, and utility relocation that are estimated to total $108,000. A lot (but not all) of that $108,000 is headed right back to the same residents who donated money for the project.
Other expenses include $88,000 that will go into the fiscal year 2014 budget to fix a drainage problem. There might be another $100,000 in materials still to come.
With one notable exception, residents are thrilled to learn the road will be paved.
Dr. Thomas McGill wrote an email to his neighbors in November saying the county was not following its own policy. He also raised safety concerns. McGill said according to his research a road with a 60 mph speed limit should have the right-of-way 100 feet wide. The plan was only for 55 feet.
McGill asked his neighbors, “Who will accept the liability of building an unsafe road?”
McCay said, “The right-of-way ranges from 55 feet to 110 feet depending on the Hugo Reed report.” It was widened in some sections for drainage and safety concerns.
Officials say McGill eventually changed his mind and volunteered to give up the right-of-way along his property. But emails show even the residents who support the project are frustrated and confused by the county’s handling of things.
Resident Mike McCauley wrote an email to McCay in June saying, “… This makes very little sense to me.”
“Contrary to the vote of the court, the county has changed the structure of the project on several occasions; however, the representation to the residents and the money collected and spent based on [the agreement] … has not changed.”
Contractor Not Fully Paid:
One of the residents, Craig Wallace, had taken the lead in organizing the money and the private contractors.
On August 9, he wrote to McCay in frustration, accusing him and Public Works Director Nick Olenik of not knowing the “rules” – and by rules he meant state law.
Wallace summarized the events including the county’s refusal to pay one contractor, Lonestar Dirt and Paving, for any amount in excess of $50,000. A second contractor, Campbell West, would not get one penny from the County. Why?
State law says the county cannot pay more than $50,000 for a project without a public bid.
McCay said, “The County goes out for bids on road supplies and materials.” But there is no bid for the work.
Even though public records clearly state the estimated cost would be $295,000 plus the cost of an engineering study,
Lubbock County never went out for bid.
Campbell West was paid $141,000 by the residents. But that leaves more than $23,000 still unpaid.
The residents also paid for the engineering study, certain accidental damages to property, and fence removal. Their $156,000 is gone.
But, because they paid more than $50,000 the county has “no legal way of paying” Campbell West the $23,000 that the company is still owed.
Why not go out for bids? “It wasn’t a county project,” McCay said. “We did not have a contract with the Contractor, the residents did.”
Bail Them Out:
Maybe it wasn’t a county project. But it is now. The County’s Consolidated Road & Bridge Department has taken over the work.
Some of the county’s public records include handwritten notes – most likely written by Olenik. Notes dated on May 31 say, “pay CW, Bail them out. Bill wants to take it over.”
Indeed, Wallace’s August 9 email says McCay tried to stop Campbell West from doing any more work. It was too late. C.W. had essentially completed its portion of the job by the time McCay intervened.
More ROW Problems:
Construction has been underway since February even though the county did not own the complete right of way. The county did not complete a right-of-way study until April. As of the Commissioners Court September 9 meeting the county was still collecting right-of-way.
Two Commissioners at the meeting raised the issue of not acquiring right-of-way. Bubba Sedeno voted against paying damages to residents and said the right-of-way should have been donated first. What he means is that the county does not have to pay damages on its own right-of-way. The land should have been donated first to eliminate the need for paying damages.
Commissioner Patty Jones agreed but was more forgiving.
“That was right of way that should have been acquired but it wasn’t, and it hadn’t come to light.” When she said “had not come to light” Jones was making reference to a March 28 drainage study.
“It’s not wide enough to carry the water,” Jones said. “That’s where all this started.”
It is true that neither the county nor residents knew about drainage problems at first. But the drainage study was done well after the engineering study and after work had already been started.
McCay said, “The Hugo Reed [drainage] study indicated that there was ample right-of-way to pave this road. The additional right-of-way will provide a safer road.”
Commissioners are now legally obligated to keep going. Regardless of cost there is no backing down from the road itself or for the $88,000 drainage structure along one specific section of CR 1440.
Resident Mike McCauley donated land for the right-of-way and for the drainage on the condition that both be completed within 12 months. If it’s not done on time his donation becomes “null and void.” Commissioners raised questions. But on a motion from Bill McCay,
Commissioners approved McCauley’s donation. Sedeno was the lone no-vote.
“Road safety is Lubbock County’s primary concern,” McCay said to Sandstorm Scholar after the September 9 meeting. “The drainage structure will make travel on the road safer and ensure a longer lasting road.”
Reaction From Craig Wallace:
Craig Wallace was reluctant to say anything for a news article. “I don’t want this to get off track as a political issue.”
He was willing to say, “I’m working with a lot of good folks, my neighbors, who put their money where their mouth is.”
Will Campbell West be paid the remaining money that is owed? “That is still a matter of discussion”
Wallace said to the Sandstorm Scholar, “As far as the private money, that is tapped out.”
Wallace also quoted Mr. West in his August 9 email: “What is the right thing to do, to pay someone for work they have done that is not totally by the book, or not pay someone for work they have done?”
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