Aug 25, 2010

Response to an Unsolicited Response

In his latest editorial, Philip R. Klein posted a letter from incoming County Judge Jeff Branick, who explained his personal position regarding the reduction in workforce among Jefferson County constable deputies. Klein inserted his own vacuous and verbose commentary after every paragraph, destroying the context. The Port Arthur News published the original version.

The future County Judge deserves some recognition for taking time to draft a letter to the citizens of Jefferson County that explained his opinions. I can't remember this happening during the last three administrations. When read without interruption from the village idiot, Mr. Branick makes a strong case for eliminating those positions based on a cost-benefits analysis.

I have other fish to fry tonight with Klein's more recent postings, so I'll address only one of many logical fallacies, half-truths, and overt ignorance in Klein's myopic opinions. I'll revisit the rest at a later date as I have time.

Klein has repeatedly demagogued the duties of these deputy constables:
We fully understand that boats on the Neches and a full air force that doesn't cost us taxpayers a dime (wink wink) is more important than street cops.
Regarding Klein's disconnect from reality regarding the Marine Division of the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, see this article, this article, and this article.

Constables and their deputies are not "street cops," according to Texas Local Government Code, and none of the constables in Jefferson County serve in that capacity.  Commissioner Eddie Arnold clearly pointed this out in his Memorandum to the Constables of Jefferson County:
Constables must agree to implement flexible scheduling in order to improve the efficiency of serving all Constitutionally required papers. At a minimum coverage should be scheduled for the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and when possible Saturdays without the use of overtime and or comp time.
While the constables will not agree to flexible scheduling that requires an occasional Saturday shift without overtime pay, Klein claims they're "street cops." I suspect that most street cops don't work between 9 and 5, Monday through Friday.

Since PRK has accused the deputies of illegalities in the past, his position is hypocritical  and politically expedient based on his own personal agenda.

Jeff Branick presents an eloquent case based on common business practices. The numbers are dramatic.
The [Port Arthur News] Editor:

During the past week several new voices have joined the debate over the wisdom of eliminating nine deputy constable positions from the Jefferson County budget.  Unfortunately, I do not believe these voices have been informed of all the facts surrounding the making of this very difficult decision.  I am certain that those who speak in support of the constables are motivated by a desire to help the deputies avoid the anxiety and uncertainty of having to find other employment.  I can appreciate this.  However, in considering what is best for the taxpayers of Jefferson County, I believe the Court made the correct decision.

The Constables have made several arguments which they believe justify the continued retention of these nine positions.  First, they contend that public safety will suffer if the manpower in their offices is reduced.  My question in response to this assertion is, how?

Is it with respect to traffic safety?  If so, a quick review of statistics should allay these fears.  During the past year 3 of the 6 constable precincts issued zero traffic citations.  The other three together issued what would be, in comparison to a city traffic cop, only a handful of such citations.  How about with respect to violent crime?  How many rapes, burglaries, robberies or murders have the constables offices had reported to them during the past ten years which they investigated, solved and made arrests in?  Again, the answer is, none.

Of course, the lack of law enforcement activity is not something I fault the constables for.  Their job is not one primarily of public safety.  This is meant to be performed by city police, the Highway Patrol and, in the unincorporated area, the Sheriff's Department.  The Texas legislature recognized this when they passed certain provisions of the Local Government Code which specifically set forth the constable's duties, which are to act as bailiff for the Justice Courts and to serve papers.

This brings up the question of the workload with respect to the constable's statutorily defined duties.  Year-over-year from 2003 through the present the combined number of papers for all constable precincts has dropped by more than 48%.  During this same time period their staffs grew by 14%.  I would note, however, that Constable Trahan in Precinct 4 saw a net increase in total papers received because of residential growth in and around Hamshire-Fannette.  But this begs the question of how the Commissioner's Court could possibly justify continued increased spending of taxpayer funds for roughly half the workload? 

The following chart summarizes the number of papers served per deputy during each year from 2003-2009.

   Pct 1 Pct 2   Pct 4 Pct 6 Pct 7  Pct 8
2003 2071 1221 772 1834 1257 904
2004 1745 955 595 1410  972  737
2005 1856 941 733 1607 966 639
2006 1701  881 988 1380 1014 630
2007 1289 879 1300 1360 778 597
2008 1145 528 700 909 631 559
2009 1137 563 690 706 533 548
Change -45.1% -53.9% -10.6% -61.5 % -57.6% -39.4%

Again, I do not blame the constables for this reduced workload.  I believe it is a function of reduced court filings due to tort reform and alternative dispute resolution procedures and by the decision of many local law firms to utilize the services of private process servers rather than constables.  However, from this chart we can glean several important facts.  First, from looking at the 2003 numbers for Precinct 1 we can discern that deputy constables are capable of serving a little over 2000 papers per year.  Second, we can see an almost uniform decline year-over-year in the workload of each precinct.  I am assuming that the slight uptick in the number of papers served in 2006 by 3 of the 6 precincts was due to claims filed against insurance companies as a result of Hurricane Rita damages.  However, one thing is clear, the workloads have decreased dramatically and the staffs have not.

As an analogy I will use the Commissioners.  Each Jefferson County Commissioner has approximately 100 miles of roads and bridges that he is responsible for maintaining.  Further, each Commissioner has a road and bridge crew made up of approximately 14 individuals to maintain these roads and bridges.  If tomorrow each Commissioner's road mileage was magically reduced in half to 50 miles per precinct, would the Commissioner's Court be wisely spending taxpayer funds by maintaining a full compliment of 14 road and bridge crew workers?

Lastly, the constables contend that their workloads will increase as a result of a deal they recently solicited from the Texas Attorney General's Office for service of their documents.  During the past 8 years the constable's offices have cost the taxpayers over $15 million considering expenditures over revenues.  This loss came despite the fact that the County charges $60 for service of process in civil actions.  The deal cut by the constables with the AG's office calls for the county to collect, effectively, less than $40 for service of each paper received from the AG.  I fail to see how making an agreement to serve documents for a fee that is far below the County's cost of service makes good economic sense.

I do not relish the idea of anyone losing their job and having to go through the anxiety associated with finding another one.  However, I believe that sound financial management dictates that whether we are in a good budget year or a bad one, the Commissioner's Court's duties to the taxpayers mandate that they adjust budgetary allowances for staffing levels to coincide with true workloads.  Any other approach smells of political expedience.

Jeff Branick


Anonymous said...

It sure makes a lot of difference when you hear the other side (the truth) of the story. We totally support our Constables however this was a business decision by Judge Walker and Jeff Brannick. A hard decision that kept the taxpayers interest at heart. Sorry Klein, you idiot!!!

Anonymous said...

If Carl Griffith had reduced the number of Constables Klein would be praising him for reducing the size of government. This just shows Kleins biased, personal agenda. He has no credibility what so ever.

Anonymous said...

If you have a 50% reduction in the sale of hamburgers and you increase your employees by 14%, would'nt that cause problems with the hamburger stand. Maybe even lead to bankruptcy? OH WAIT!!!

Anonymous said...

I think it's BS that Fox 4 wouldn't print that letter but they have no problem spreading Klein's lies that Jefferson County is bankrupt. Fair and balanced my ass.