Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Sheriff's role - administrator or law man?

Candidates debate issue, pro and con

Waco – Is the Sheriff of a Texas County an administrator, or mainly a law man?

Five hundred decision makers, among them jailers, judges, lawmen, detectives, politicians, GOP functionaries, and voters thronged a brand new 1,000-seat, state of the art auditorium at University High School Wednesday night to hear two law enforcement veterans argue the question.

Their remarks were carried live on ClearChannel NewsTalk 1230 and will be live streamed by as the candidates responded to questions from a panel of three area Republican Party officials.

Randy Plemons, who for 12 years has held down the number two job at the McLennan County Sheriff's Office as chief deputy for retiring Sheriff Larry Lynch, sees himself as a problem solver, an administrator who settles the details into place, balances budgets and plots long range plans. He is proud of his role as the administrator who keeps things running at the department, which employees 370 persons, commands a $27 million budget – roughly one quarter of the county's gross yearly expense – and operates three jails, two of which are contracted to a private corporation named CEC, Inc.

Parnell McNamara, a retired Deputy U.S. Marshal with 32 years experience putting federal offenders behind bars, tracking down fugitives from both state and federal prosecution, and transporting prisoners via “Con-Air” in the great circle route between federal correctional facilities throughout the U.S., sees himself as a lawman.

The central question that echoed through an hour of spirited debate punctuated by boos, hisses, thunderous applause and shouts of approval was answered consistently by each candidate for the GOP nomination in the same way.

Administrator – no question, according to Deputy Plemons.

Law man - “Absolutely!” said Marshal McNamara.

The contrast in their track records at performing in their respective chosen roles is stark, to say the least.

Deputy Plemons has consistently seen his jailers and deputies allow violent offenders to walk out of jail scott free on personal recognizance bonds when they are still wanted on federal charges.

The Fugitive Warrant Task Force of the Federal Marshal's Services has rounded up many of those thus mistakenly released.

But that's nothing new for Marshal McNamara. He has made many dramatic arrests of dangerous criminals – some of them on reality television shows such as “America's Most Wanted” and Arts and Entertainment specials – such as Kenneth McDuff, one of America's most dangerous and vicious serial killers.

His attitude is this. “Law enforcement makes the jail.”

It's simple enough, really. The finest jail administered in the best possible way is of no value unless accused and convicted offenders are arrested and placed behind its bars.

Then there is the service of arrest warrants that are attached to sealed indictments.

According to District Attorney Abel Reyna, “They (sheriff's officers) are having trouble serving them.”

He said so following the debate when The Legendary quizzed him about it.

Marshal McNamara told the audience that there are hundreds of outstanding unaided alias warrants and capias warrants, legal instruments, the process of criminal lawsuits, which have been issued by judges, and have not then been served.

Deputy Plemons disagreed.

He said there are actually thousands of them languishing in files and in computer databases.

As he made the remark, there were heard plainly audible, very loud gasps from numerous members of the audience.

In other administrative areas, there is an ongoing problem with overpayment for overtime, sick days, vacation and regular hours - services that are often not, in fact, performed.

According to County Treasurer Danny Volcik, a retired DPS State Trooper who is two years into his first term in the job, there are nowhere near as many problems since County Auditor Stan Chambers, a new hire from Palestine, took over the job.

Nevertheless, the problems that still occur come straight out of the jail, according to Mr. Volcik, who answered questions about the matter when The Legendary interviewed him briefly in the lobby of the auditorium.

“Their (jail) supervisors fill out their time cards wrong. We don't catch it until the staff pulls an audit.” He shrugged.

According to a Corrections Officer whose pay accounts have often been at odds with reality, according to a database obtained from a confidential source, “We don't ever know until three or four weeks where we stand on overtime or sick pay. Some pay days we don't get anything. Other times, we get paid way too much.”

Mr. Volcik's fondest hope is for an automatic deposit system with which to deposit pay to county employees' accounts. This way, the employees could use debit cards to manage their money affairs.

“If they had a debit card, they wouldn't need a checking account,” he explained.

That's something that would require a rewrite of the McLennan County employee policy manual and subsequent approval by the County Commissioners' Court.

He and Mr. Chambers persuaded the Commissioners' Court to convert the payroll accounting system to a 26-week pay period schedule in which all time cards could be audited and verified before the checks are written.

Employees of the Sheriff's Department complained long and loudly, their objections falling on the sympathetic ears of County Judge Jim Lewis, Commissioner Lester Gibson, and Commissioner Ben Perry, who voted to return to the old, less efficient system.

It's a situation that sometimes requires court action to collect overpayments by default judgements sought and obtained in County Courts at Law through placement of liens against real property owned by employees who have been terminated or resigned.

Then there is the privately operated jail system, which consists of a 300-some-odd multi-story lockup next door to the Courthouse. It is standing empty and cannot be fully refurbished until a new roof has been applied, according to Deputy Plemons.

The privately operated Jack Harwell Detention Center, located next door to the County Jail on Highway 6, has failed repeated inspections by the State Commission on Jail Standards. Built to house prisoners of such federal agencies as the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Division of the Department of Homeland Security (ICE), the lockup is minus about a hundred such prisoners who were moved to another lockup in Williamson County due to filthy conditions.

Though he is generally opposed to such privately operated lockups, the law man Marshal McNamara said he “wouldn't be opposed” if the jail could pass its inspections. His supporters cheered his remark.

They were even more enthusiastic when Marshal McNamara recalled how he and his Fugitive Warrants Task Force had to hunt down and arrest a murderer after a CEC employee took a bribe to allow the violent offender to escape from the old downtown lockup.

His crime resulted in the kidnapping and murder of a young woman.

The entire debate may be heard by clicking on this link:

View a video of the entire Sheriff's debate by clicking here:


  1. What about the program at the McLennan County Jail where a group of jailers took the initiative the have Dispatch do a full warrant look up on visitors to the jail, since people with active warrants or not permitted to visit the jail by law and the jailers have no way to look up warrants outside Sheriff warrants. These jailers only have access to McLennan County Sheriff warrants, but no access to Waco, Hewitt, Bellmead, DPS, or Federal warrants. The results were that in a single month, these jails made 170 arrests on active warrants which included 4 of Waco's Most Wanted. That's 170 warrants that didn't get added to the thousands of warrants that Plemons admitted they can't find. That's 170 warrants that won't end up with the Marshal Service Fugitive Task Force having to remove an armed fugitive from their home in someone's neighborhood. That's 170 warrants that don't cost the tax payers an extra cent to take off the street. That's 170 warrants that stretched thin resources aren't bein spent pursuing. Most importantly, that's 170 criminals off the streets.

    So why is this a problem? Well it's a problem that was solved by "Problem Solver" Plemons. Apparently, the Dispatchers complained about having to field look up calls from the jail. So to solve the problem, Plemons had the dispatchers stop taking calls from the jail, and these jailers that had made 170 extra arrests without costing the taxpayers a dime, were ordered to stop calling the dispatchers to check for active warrants and stop making those arrests. Problem solved, the dispatchers don't have to take calls, and 170 extra criminals walk free with their cases adding to the thousands of cold cases.

    Is stopping 170 extra criminal arrests a month how Plemons solves problems? Is that how he solves overcrowding at the jail by just not arresting criminals? Is that how inovation in coming up with no cost methods of doing a better job protecting citizens is rewarded, by reprimands?

    This is what happens when you put an "Administrator" in charge of law enforcement instead of a "Lawman". McLennan County needs a lawman to protect us, not an administrator. So when you see the newest addition of Waco's Most Wanted, just think 4 of those people could have been put in jail already if we a lawman as Sheriff instead of an administrator.

  2. Outstanding! Thank you for this gifted polemic, my dear reader. This is what I am talking about when I say that The Legendary is actually a Committee of Correspondence similar to those founded by such luminaries as Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, Benjamin Franklin, and others, in the early days of the American republic. Please come and visit early and often and feel free to add such observations as this to The Legendary dialogue. - The Legendary Jim Parks

  3. I will say this to those readers that cared enough to listen to the debates:
    I believe that the sheriff's office is in dire need of actual "leadership". Now if you want to break it down, does anyone truly believe that the SHERIFF makes all the decisions, crunches those numbers for budgets, or comes up with all the answers to all the problems they face on a daily basis? Most citizens understand that he is the CEO if you will. He is normally smart enough to surround himself with people in his "administration" that are probably better at this than he himself. What he is supposed to do is represent "his" people and the people in this county in the decision making process when it comes to these budgetary issues. THATS HIS JOB...and if you have no practical experience in the streets and havent ever felt the pain of officers trying to do a good job, or what its like to have someone presenting themselves as though they are one of you, knowing they truly consider you just a means to an cant relate. Nobody EXPECTS, the Sheriff to be out there doing the task officers are faced with everyday,,,,thats why when you have one that LEADS by getting involved with his officers every now and then,,,it inspires those officers. And when they are inspired they perform better. Because "he gets it". It creates the "he's one of us" mentality. All the programs, grants, projects, fluff talk of better days coming cant buy one moment when you look up and see that YOUR BOSS, OR YOUR SHERIFF is behind you 100%. Then you, the citizens are getting what you voted for in this race because those officers are proud of where they work and what they represent. The only question from this article is ask your family member or friend who works there if they feel that way now. Truthfully as far as boots on the ground, most probably have awesome amounts of experience in "doing the job" beyond their "administrators".

  4. That post reminds me of the difference between the 2 candidates. McNamara comes across as a salty sheriff played by someone like Tommy Lee Jones or maybe Sam Elliot in a movie bio pic.

    Plemons reminds me of the kiss-up paper pusher, promoted well beyond his experience and skill, that keeps good officers from doing their jobs because of paperwork. I can see a scene where deputies are going out to arrest a dangerous drug kingpin, only to be stopped by Plemons because they didn't fill out the proper paperwork to draw body armor and ammunition for the arrest. Meanwhile the kingpin gets away, and Plemons demotes the deputies.

  5. Why are jailers calling Dispatch and bothering them with warrant checks when all the Jailers have to do is run the TCIC/NCIC check through the Jail? I guess it is easier to pick up the phone and have someone else do it instead of doing their own work. Dispatch has enough to do without doing the Jailers work.