Dallas County Commissioners Settle Document Debate

County judge says new document policy is "no protection at all"

Dallas County will continue to allow people sentenced to community service to move sealed boxes of sensitive county documents, ending months of contentious debate.

People sentenced to community service as punishment for misdemeanor crimes moved loads of boxed documents from various county offices to the records center. Those serving community service also sometimes sorted documents for shredding.

The county saved money by using the community service labor instead of paying people to do the work.

But the practice ended when officials discovered someone took juvenile court records in January.

"Some of us believe that identity theft is a real risk if PSP enrollees are able to access documents," County Judge Clay Jenkins said.

"We want to see public service people -- many of whom have criminal backgrounds -- out of the document business, and that's the bottom line," Commissioner Maurine Dickey said.

The other three commissioners on Tuesday supported an alternative from Commissioner Mike Cantrell to add more supervision. People serving community service would not be allowed to handle actual papers but would be allowed to move sealed boxes of documents.

"It's an appropriately measured response that establishes public trust that sensitive confidential information is protected," Cantrell said.

"It's the middle of the road," Commissioner Elba Garcia said. "It makes documents safer but, at the same time, continues to allow public safety personnel to be part of this process."

Jenkins disagreed.

"There's no compromise here at all, and there's no protection here at all," he said.

Garcia added a provision that checks back on the program in one year to see how the new restrictions are working.

During a heated debate over similar issues last week, Commissioner John Wiley Price grabbed the gavel away from Jenkins.

Jenkins grabbed it right back and said Price has since privately apologized.

"He did, and that issue is a closed matter," Jenkins said.

In a note of unity, commissioners were all pleased to hear that Dallas County budget officials currently forecast a surplus of about $5.4 million.

After several years of severe budget cuts, commissioners want some of the surplus to go toward modest employee raises.

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