Tag Archives: constables

A ‘battle of the badges’ is brewing in the Texas Panhandle

Randall County Sheriff Joel Richardson is as honorable a man as I’ve known in public life. So, when he posts a document taking a fellow law enforcement official to task, well … I tend to look carefully at what he has to say.

Richardson is disturbed by what he alleges is being done by the county’s Precinct 4 constable, Chris Johnson. Richardson has endorsed Johnson’s opponent in the upcoming Republican Party primary election.

To say this is unusual is to, um, commit the Mother of All Understatements.

Richardson, who is not seeking re-election as sheriff, wants GOP voters to back Paula Hicks in the March 3 primary for Precinct 4 constable.

He has issued a blistering statement that accuses Johnson of some pretty catty behavior while serving as constable. He alleges that Johnson has been abusive to juvenile drivers, he accuses Johnson of driving away in a sheriff’s deputy’s cruiser and driving it well in excess of 100 mph through Amarillo, he says Johnson has “frisked” motorists who had been stopped by deputies “without probable cause.”

I won’t endorse the specifics of what Richardson has alleged. I just know the sheriff to be a man of integrity and a decidedly non-political cop, even though he has politicked for the office he has occupied for more than 20 years.

What’s more, for a sheriff to get involved in an openly political contest involving another law enforcement official — albeit a fellow politician — suggests to me that the sheriff has a serious bone to pick with the fellow he is criticizing.

Richardson refers to his statement as an “urgent and open letter to the voters of Randall County, Texas, Precinct 4.”

They would be wise to pay attention.

Still wondering: Do we really need constables?

I want to soften my criticism of Texas constables, but only just a little.

You see, I have made the acquaintance of one of Collin County’s four constables. His name is Shane Thomas, who serves as Precinct 1 constable. He is based in McKinney, the Collin County seat.

I have railed, ranted and vented my anger at constables since, oh, just about the time I arrived in Texas more than 35 years ago. I’ve seen the office at its worst, first in Jefferson County way down yonder in Beaumont, and then in the Texas Panhandle.

Then we moved to Collin County, which has functioning constables who actually do work for the county.

Thomas has five deputy constables who report to him. He was asked recently at a Rotary Club meeting, “Who is your boss?” His answer: “You are. I answer to you. The voter.”

So I am not going to bash Constable Thomas the way I have bashed the office while working as a journalist in the Golden Triangle and the Panhandle.

I still wonder, though: Why do we need to have another layer of law enforcement when we have sheriff’s departments that are capable of doing the work that constables do? We elect sheriffs, who then hire deputies. They have budgets that are set by commissioners courts, which also must budget money for constables. I cannot stop thinking that the serving of civil papers, warrants and providing justice of the peace court security could be done by sheriff’s deputies, who also serve as patrol officers in the unincorporated regions of Texas’ 254 counties.

The existence of constables offices seems to my mind to be superfluous and, well, wasteful. It’s like an add-on police force.

I get that the JPs and the constables have powerful lobbies in Austin that are able to persuade legislators to keep their hands off the office.

If all the constables in Texas are as productive as Collin County’s Precinct 1 constable, then I won’t raise too much of a ruckus to get rid of them.

Biting my tongue regarding constables

I made the acquaintance today of a young man whose job causes the hair on the back of my neck to bristle … and I mean no disrespect to the individual himself, as he is a nice, earnest and dedicated public servant.

Or so I will presume for the moment.

He serves as a constable in Collin County. I won’t identify him just yet; that might come later if I choose to write any more about this matter.

You see, I have long had bur under my saddle about constables. I dislike the office. I have lived in communities as disparate as Beaumont and Amarillo that have had regrettable experiences with constables.

To be candid, I believe the elected office is superfluous. State law empowers constables to issue civil papers; that’s their primary task. They issue papers, such as eviction notices or court summonses. They also provide courtroom security for justices of the peace. And, yes, they have the authority to make traffic stops or assist police when the need arises.

However, as I have noted before, these duties can be done by sheriff’s deputies. Or by municipal police officers.

When I was working in journalism for many years I had the chance to comment on constable goings-on. In Jefferson County, for instance, voters elected a constable who wasn’t certified by the appropriate Texas law enforcement authorities. He vowed to obtain his certification — eventually! He failed to meet the deadline and was removed from office.

Potter County had a constable who didn’t do any work. It had another constable who enjoyed acting the part of dedicate law enforcement official, but fell far short of actually doing the duty.

In Randall County, there was a constable who pledged to surrender his office because there wasn’t enough work, only to think twice about it. He stayed on the job and battled county commissioners over his salary. Then Randall County voters elected a constable who campaigned on the pledge to not to do any work, enabling the county over time to disband the office. He then was gerrymandered out of office after the 2010 census was completed.

I still dislike the constable’s office. It is unnecessary. It also has a powerful lobby in Austin that fights for constables and justices of the peace.

I wish my new acquaintance well as he performs his constable duties. However, I would cheer loudly if the Texas Legislature ever finds the guts to get rid of the elected public office.

Once more: Get rid of constables office

Now that we’re talking about law enforcers in Texas today, I want to turn attention briefly to an issue I have raised before — and likely will raise again until the Texas Legislature does what it should do.

When have you ever read about a Texas constable playing any kind of significant role in any case, or made a significant arrest?

I continue to be utterly astounded that Texas allows this office to remain on the books throughout the state. It’s an elected office. Yep, we elect these law enforcement officials. We charge them with delivering summonses and other civil papers to residents; they also are empowered to provide court security in justice of the peace courts.

Their powers go beyond just the humdrum of paper serving and bailiff duties.

In actuality, any of those duties could be done by municipal police and sheriff’s departments.

I have written about this before. The Legislature isn’t taking the hint, which I’ve said out loud is to get rid of the office.

Constables … who needs 'em?

The 2019 Legislature isn’t likely to budge on this matter. I wish it would. The problem lies in the power of the constables and judges lobby, which is significant in Austin.

The performance of the office as it has been handled in Texas Panhandle counties has been spotty at best. I’ve been observing this office for more than three decades at opposite corners of the state. I have watched it function badly in the Golden Triangle and again in Potter and Randall counties.

I realize that other counties put constables to more effective use than what I have witnessed up close.

Absent a total abolition of this waste of taxpayer money, my hope remains that counties are given the authority to toss aside constable offices where they don’t serve the public good.

I’m still waiting to read or hear about a constable making a tangible difference in local law enforcement.

Next to zero interest in politics? Perhaps

horse race

Incumbent officeholders hate it when I say this, but that’s too bad. I’ll keep saying it.

Hardly ever do they deserve a free ride to re-election. However, that’s what happens with mind-numbing regularity in many of our local communities.

Let’s look at Randall County, for an example.

I mailer came to my house this week. It’s from Paula Hicks, who’s running for the Precinct 4 constable seat occupied by Chris Johnson. She points out that her race is the only contested one in the county.

Wouldn’t you know it. The only contested race in the county where I live involves the one office I care next to nothing about. We shouldn’t even have constables in Randall County, but we do and this year the office is being contested.

What about the rest of the county offices? They’re all uncontested. Even the tax assessor-collector’s office, which is being vacated by a long-time incumbent, Sharon Hollingsworth, doesn’t have a contested race.

Why don’t candidates jump in? Why don’t incumbents get challenged by those who think they can do a better job?

Are they happy with the job being done? Don’t they want the publicity that goes with seeking public office? Do they fear offending someone?

That isn’t the case north of the county line, in Potter County?

The county attorney, Scott Brumley, has a challenger; the 47th District attorney, Randall Sims, has one too. A county commissioner, Leon Church in Precinct 3, is getting a challenge.

But that’s it. Just three incumbents from the entire slate of candidates have to fight to keep their office.

It’s not that I want all the incumbents to get tossed out on their ears. It’s just that I’ve long thought that incumbents build a public record and they ought to face demands that they defend those records.

The past few Amarillo municipal elections have been lively affairs. This past year saw two incumbent City Council members defeated and a third newcomer elected to a seat that had been vacated. I wasn’t happy with the outcome, but I did enjoy listening to the community debate.

Challengers who rise up from the masses need not be negative. They merely need to say how they intend to perform the duties differently from the individual who’s already in the office. Better? Sure.

I get that incumbents don’t like hearing that from folks like me. They think I sit out here in the peanut gallery just relishing the chance to toss the proverbial rotten tomato at them.

Not true. I just like a robust debate. Especially at the local level, where government — and the people who we choose to run it — make decisions that affect our lives most directly.



Constables: Who needs ’em?


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.


Constables: still unnecessary

Morice Jackson has quit his job as a Potter County constable and this week the county commissioners voted — in an interesting 3-2 decision — to replace him.


The county has had issues in the past with individuals holding these elected offices. Some of them haven’t done any work, yet they still get paid. Jackson, to his credit, wasn’t one of them.

Indeed, he dressed the part of a well-turned-out law enforcement officer.

But I remain dubious about the need for this extra arm of law enforcement. Still, counties retain them. Some constables are put to work. Others, well, don’t have enough work to keep them busy.

Their duties as prescribed by law involve serving civil papers and providing court security in justice of the peace courts. Some of them actually take part in traffic stops and issuing citations to motorists. Jackson would do all of that while on the job in Potter County.

The office, though, just isn’t worth the expense that counties pay to fund them. Constables’ duties could be done by sheriff’s departments, which also have duly qualified law enforcement officers on the job and also are run by elected officials.

Potter County Judge Nancy Tanner believes in the constable’s office. She cited the revenue the offices bring to the county. But do they really provide a valuable service that couldn’t be provided by another existing law enforcement agency?

I’ve always thought that less government meant more efficient government. As we’ve seen on occasion in Potter and Randall counties over the years, though, they occasionally present more trouble than they’re worth.


What are our constables doing … actually?

Sometimes you run into people and wonder: Is this person for real?

I saw one of those folks this morning at the Potter County Courthouse in downtown Amarillo.

His name? Morice Jackson. His job? He’s an elected constable in Justice of the Peace Precinct 4. Why take note of this man?

I shall explain.

Constable Jackson was dressed in full police gear. I was being body scanned as I entered the building, which is the new normal at both Potter and Randall county government buildings.

There was Jackson, chatting up a couple of Potter County sheriff’s deputies. He looked sharp in his uniform. He had all the hardware required: pistol, Taser, handcuffs, some kind of leg holster, ammo … for all I know, he might have been packing brass knuckles in a pocket.

Then the thought came to my mind. Why is it I never hear of Constable Jackson making an actual arrest? For that matter, why don’t we hear of any constable making arrests? I brought this up with a friend of mine later in the day who once served as a constable in Randall County. We concurred that we never hear about Jackson being involved in an arrest of a fleeing bad guy, or taking part in what one would call actual police work.

It’s fair to presume, just for the sake of argument, that a constable who’s elected to office is a politician who’d jump at the chance at getting his or her name mentioned whenever an arrest is made.

I don’t bring this up necessarily to poke fun at Constable Jackson. Frankly, I do not know this man.

I do want to wonder aloud, though, just why we have this office in the first place.

I continue to scratch my head over this extra layer of law enforcement that seems to me to be an obvious waste of taxpayer money. Yes, some folks are going to disagree with this, saying that you cannot have “too many cops on the beat.”

But the Texas Constitution, as I understand it, lays out constable’s duties. They are to provide security for JP courts and to serve warrants and other papers on behalf of the justice of the peace. I don’t think either or both of those jobs requires the constable to look like a SWAT team member ready to blast his way into a building. They have authority to perform other police duties, but in the 20 years I’ve lived in Amarillo, I have yet to hear about a constable being involved in anything other than paper-serving and bailiff’s duties.

Which brings up another question: Aren’t those duties that can be performed by sheriff’s deputies?