Sep 7, 2010

On Due Diligence and Objectivity

When Philip R. Klein attacked future Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick for a letter that he wrote to the Port Arthur News, I published Jeff's letter. See this article.  Precinct 1 Constable Charles Wiggins responded with a rebuttal also published by the Port Arthur News last week.

In the interest of fairness and spirit of non-partisan debate, I'm publishing the letter from Constable Wiggins, too, even though Klein is now exploiting other issues to further his own personal agenda.

Readers deserve to hear both sides of the issue and both officials make strong arguments. From the Port Arthur News:
Constable tells his side of story in layoff debate
Charles L. Wiggins, Jr.
The Port Arthur News

BEAUMONT — There has been much talk on constable issues in the media lately.  I am Precinct 1 Constable in Beaumont and would like the opportunity to state our side of this debate to you.  Do not be deceived by inaccuracies reported concerning duties of the Constable. The Texas Statute is clear. Constables and their Deputies are Peace Officers.  Constables were created to be the arms and legs of the Justice Court System in their respective precincts.

In 1989 Jefferson County Sheriff turned over all civil process to Constables (thousands of papers per year). Many papers are mandated and private process companies cannot serve.  It is a thankless and often dangerous job.  No one wants to be sued, evicted or have children taken from them.  A large percentage of papers are generated from District and County Courts. If our paper counts are low, wouldn't District and County Court numbers be low as well?  I truly believe this is not about paper numbers or there would be major cuts in all County offices.

At Budget Hearings, we were told the County was in dire straits and needed to cut Constables 43 percent.  This financial situation was not caused by Constables but by poor management decisions.  You should know that two weeks before budget hearings commissioners voted to spend almost seven million dollars on courthouse renovations.

The paper numbers Mr. Jeff Branick uses do not accurately reflect the amount of work that goes into serving our papers.  We are not a paper route.  I assure you, we work days, nights, weekends, often under stressful and dangerous conditions to deliver court papers.

Commissioner Arnold offered an “Olive Branch” of 2 to 3 Deputies shared between six Constables.  This cannot even be considered when State regulations require Deputies be commissioned by an agency which has total responsibility for the Deputy's actions while on and off duty.

Please understand we are a public service agency, not a “for-profit business.”  Our service fees are set by Commissioners' Court. The charge for a citation is $60. If taxpayers use private process servers, the charge could be as much or more than $100.  This does not address court-ordered free work (pro-bono) that our office does.  Last year we received over 250 papers to deliver at no charge.

Mr. Branick states Constables made a “DEAL” with the Attorney General's Child Support Office (AG's) to accept lower service fees to use Constables instead of private servers.  This is NOT the truth.  As an attorney, Mr. Branick should know that the Federal Government sets amounts that AG offices pay Government Agencies.  Mr. Branick should also know we do not make “DEALS,” we serve any and all process directed to us under the laws of Texas. The local AG's office told us private process servers were using computer programs allowing them to track service, something we did not have.  In an effort to get AG's business back and better serve the public, we worked diligently for three years to set up a system they could use.  Last year we were given computers and the programs we needed.  The AG's office agreed and started sending process to Constables again.  As of April 2010, we are seeing a dramatic increase in child support papers received.  Getting these papers served forces dead-beat parents to pay child support and gets kids off welfare.  For this program, we received the “2010 Best Practices Award” out of all Texas Counties by our State Association.  You should know that the Commissioners and County Judge did not even consider the numbers from April, May and June of this year in their calculations.

I've worked for Jefferson County 28 years, 17 in this office, and have never been visited by County Judge or Commissioners.  I do not know how to build roads and I can assure you Commissioners do not understand duties and pressures Constables and Deputies face.  I welcome citizens of Jefferson County, County Judge, Commissioners and anyone interested to come to my department and see what we actually do. We want you to have an accurate understanding of how we serve you, the citizens and taxpayers of Jefferson County.

Charles L. Wiggins, Jr.
Precinct 1 Constable
Jefferson County

1 comment :

Anonymous said...

Charley, We love ya but we just can't afford you.