Commissioner John Wiley Price, who has opposed the Defenbaugh investigation, said there is no attempt to retaliate against those who spoke up.If the cuts were narrowly targeted at the 3-4 deputies who reported wrongdoing, I'd certainly be against the firings. But the idea that commissioners - including those who opposed the investigation - would eliminate 80 positions just to go after a handful of whistleblowers makes little sense. I feel sorry for the individuals who may lose their jobs, but from a public policy perspective it's the right move.
"That has nothing to do with it," Price said. "I don't know where they worked – whether it was traffic or civil [divisions]. We have no way of knowing who spoke to [investigator Danny] Defenbaugh."
In Defenbaugh's reports, witnesses who were interviewed are referred to by coded numbers. County officials say that was done to protect them.
Price said the constables can "write all the tickets in the world," but that the collection rate for those tickets is very low. As a result, the traffic units more or less break even each year, county officials say.
"It's just a business decision," Price said about the constable cuts. He and fellow commissioners Maurine Dickey and Mike Cantrell have sufficient votes to eliminate the traffic deputies.
Commissioners have slowly whittled down a $60 million budget shortfall in the $450 million general fund with cuts to every county department. Eliminating the 80 traffic deputies would save the county about $2 million, officials say. Commissioners can only eliminate positions. They cannot target individual deputies.
The fact is, constables' offices frequently suffer from a relative lack of competence and professionalism, as evidenced by 5,600 old warrants recently found in a box at one Dallas constable's office that were never entered into the computer system. Dallas Sheriff Lupe Valdez also recently questioned the relative physical fitness of area constables.
This blog has long held that it's unwise and wasteful for constables to take on everyday policing duties normally performed by municipal police and sheriffs' deputies. In Dallas, traffic enforcement has frequently come at the expense of constables' traditional duties like serving papers in civil proceedings. That's redundant and expensive for taxpayers, but it's taken a budget crisis to get Texas counties to reconsider this ill-conceived trend.
The chance to shake up distended, anachronistic government agencies like constables is a silver lining to the current budget crunch, and I hope Dallas isn't the only county taking the opportunity to scale back tumid constable budgets.