Constable Staffing Plan Accused of Being Retaliation

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    NEWSLETTERS

    The Dallas County Constables have a restraining order blocking a county budget cutting plan that was to eliminate nearly 100 deputy positions.

    Update: Dallas County Constables have won a temporary federal restraining order blocking today's Dallas County Commissioners Court vote on a plan to eliminate about 100 deputy constable positions.

    The constable deputies claim whistle blower protection over testimony many of them have given in past investigations of county issues.

    County Judge Clay Jenkins who presides over Commissioners Court has said the staffing plan is simply a budget move and has nothing to do with eliminating whistle blowers.

    The plan is now blocked pending additional court review.

    Constables Block Budget Cutting

    [DFW] Constables Block Budget Cutting
    The Dallas County Constables have a restraining order blocking a county budget cutting plan that was to eliminate nearly 100 deputy positions.

    The former head of the FBI Dallas Field Office says a Dallas County plan to eliminate nearly 100 deputy constable positions is retaliation for deputy cooperation in an investigation he conducted two years ago.

    County commissioners endorsed a plan Tuesday that would turn most warrant-serving work over to the Dallas County sheriff.

    The five elected constables would still provide bailiffs for Justice of the Peace courts.

    Danny Defenbaugh, a security consultant and the former Special Agent in Charge of the FBI Dallas Field Office, said the plan would not produce the budget savings the county claims.

    Defenbaugh was hired by county commissioners to investigate many constable issues in 2009.

    "Because of them doing the right thing, their positions are being eliminated," he said.

    Defenbaugh's report last year included accusations that surfaced again in June when FBI agents executed search warrants in a corruption investigation of Commissioner John Wiley Price.

    Price remains in office and has denied any wrongdoing as the FBI investigation continues.

    In Defenbaugh's investigation, deputies said they received county pay to volunteer at a charity event run each year at Fair Park by a foundation Price founded called Kwanzaafest.

    "The deputies were extremely concerned that if they came forward, they were going to be retaliated against," Defenbaugh said.

    He said the plan that eliminates nearly 100 deputy constable positions is the retribution the deputies feared before.

    "They were going to be given whistle-blower status, and now they're going to be eliminated,” Defenbaugh said.

    County Judge Clay Jenkins said Tuesday that the staffing plan was strictly an efficiency idea. He said he suggested it when he took office in January and denied that it is retaliation.

    "I'm not concerned about their disagreements in the past," he said. "I'm concerned about, in an urban county like this, what law enforcement agency is best to go forward and do this -- the service of this process."

    Commissioner John Wiley Price has declined to answer most reporter questions since the FBI raids on his home and office in June. On Tuesday, he walked away from reporters' questions about the constable issue.

    Commissioner Maurine Dickey, the only remaining member of the three commissioners who supported Defenbaugh’s investigation in 2009, said Tuesday that she supported phasing in the new staffing plan.

    "It is very important that we look at it from a business decision after three months," she said.

    Sheriff Lupe Valdez plans to hire 19 of the 97 constable deputies being eliminated to take over the constables' warrant-serving duties.

    "That sounds pretty nonsensical to me," Defenbaugh said. "I'd sure like to see the numbers on that."

    Dallas County constable deputies are also responsible for serving up to 100,000 eviction notices per year. The Apartment Association of Greater Dallas has voiced concerns that the sheriff's department is not prepared for that duty.

    County budget officials expect to save nearly $200,000 per year with the staffing plan.

    Precinct 4 Constable Roy Williams, who took office in January after two decades working at the sheriff’s office, said the arrangement would fail.

    Williams said he has presented budget officials with ways to save much more than $200,000 while still keeping his deputies.

    "So if it's about budget, it's a no-brainer. If it's political, then we'll know," he said.

    Jenkins said county reduction in force policy would release the last hired first so there is no opportunity to discriminate against any whistleblower for that reason alone.  And Jenkins said the Sheriff could eventually add up more than 70 people in the phased in program, not just 19.