Constables: Who needs ’em?

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Chris Johnson’s campaign signs are popping up all over southern Amarillo.

He is spending a good bit of dough seeking re-election to one of the more curious public offices I’ve ever seen.

He won’t get my vote. It’s not that I have anything against Johnson. I don’t know him. I’ve never had any dealings with him.

He’s a constable in Randall County, Texas.

Constable. What is that? He’s a politician/cop whose duties include (a) serving papers, such as subpoenas and summonses and (b) providing security for justice of the peace courts.

Let me stipulate a couple of things here.

One is that I’ve had a longstanding antipathy toward the very idea of electing constables. Why? We don’t need them. My wish would be for the Texas Legislature to propose a state constitutional amendment to do away with the office. The duties done by the constable can be done by sheriff’s deputies or municipal police officers.

But no-o-o-o-o! We’ve got to have another elected official assigned to do these things.

The other thing is that during my nearly 32 years living in Texas, I’ve voted for one man as a constable. Jeff Lester used to hold the office that Johnson now occupies. Lester, who retired recently from the Amarillo Police Department, ran for the office with one pledge: to get rid of it.

He held the title of constable, but didn’t do anything. He didn’t get paid. He referred all the duties to the sheriff’s department. He wanted to keep the office inactive long enough to enable the Randall County Commissioners Court to abolish the office, which state law empowers it to do after a period of time had lapsed.

Then came reapportionment after the 2010 census had been completed. The county had to redraw political boundaries based on shifts in population as required by state law. County commissioners then reapportioned Lester out of the precinct he had served as constable, meaning he couldn’t run for re-election.

That’s when Johnson ran — and won.

I must reiterate that I have nothing personal against Constable Johnson. It’s the office he holds that bugs the bejeebers out of me.

I get that some counties have a need for constables. The experience in Randall and Potter counties, though, has been spotty at best. We’ve elected constables who haven’t done anything while drawing their salaries. One Potter County constable — who’s since resigned — would suit up in all the gear and the requisite hardware just to serve legal papers.

I’m digging deep trying to remember a time I’ve ever heard of a constable in this part of the state making an arrest, or being involved in a high-profile criminal activity. Have I been asleep all these years?

So, I guess that Constable Johnson will get re-elected this year. Good for him. I’ll kick in my piddling portion to help pay his salary, although I won’t like doing it.

In this era when people say they’re sick of government inefficiency, I keep wondering: Where is the anger over paying for a superfluous law enforcement entity that — from my vantage point — need not exist?

We have plenty of county and municipal law enforcement personnel who are quite capable of doing the constables’ job.

 

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