New Braunfels Herald Zeitung (Newspaper) - March 10, 1996, New Braunfels, Texas
4 A O Herald-Zeitung □ Sunday, March 10, 1996
■ To talk with Managing Editor Doug Loveday about the Opinion page, call 625-9144, ext. 21
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Q U O T
“One voice doesn’t make the voice wrong. Once voice makes it the voice of courage.”
— Laura Schlessinger radio talk-show host, 1994
Stonewalled at CA’s office
Failure to produce public records after more than 60 days leads to AG action
Elected officials are sworn to uphold the law. All the laws. All the time. That includes laws they may consider to be a nuisance, or which require them to do work they might rather not do.
We point this out for the benefit of County Attorney Nathan Rheinlander. More than 60 days ago, the Herald-Zeitung first contacted Rheinlander and requested copies of some public records, which he promised to provide, but which were never produced. The Herald-Zeitung followed up with at least one telephone call every week for more than the past two months, requesting the records, but Rheinlander has not returned any of the calls for more than a month.
Seventeen days ago. the Herald-Zeitung made a formal, written request for public records under Article 6252-17a of the Texas Government Code — The Open Records Act. That request has been ignored for more than two weeks, despite a state law that requires a response within IO days. At the Herald-Zeitung’s request, the Open Records Division of the Texas Attorney General’s Office has agreed to pursue the matter.
Frankly, we are baffled about why it has come to this. At the inception, Rheinlander said it would take less than a week to gather the requested information. In fact. Assistant County Attorney Stephanie Burris has repeatedly told us she gathered the information, made copies and put them on Rhein-lander’s desk — in mid-January.
We can think of no reason the County Attorney’s office would not want to provide the records we requested - copies of lawsuits filed by inmates at the county jail. We expect the records will show a pattern of frivolous lawsuits filed by inmates, which cost the county a substantial amount of money to defend. When published, we are sure the article will inform our readers about an important public issue most people probably know little or nothing about.
And we have always enjoyed a healthy and cooperative working relationship with the County Attorney’s office. We see no reason that relationship has to turn adversarial.
Why have the records been withheld? Did Rheinlander misplace the information? Is he just marking time until his retirement next January? Is there some tiling in-there that would prove embarrassing to the county? Does he lack respect for the press and for state law?
We can only guess, because Rheinlander did not respond by press time to a telephone call asking for his explanation.
They call public records “public records" for a reason. Hie public has a right to see them. Elected officials are under mandate of law to provide them. We’d like to see our records, Mr. Rheinlander.
(Today’s editorial was written by City Editor Roger Croteau.)
The New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung welcomes letters on any public issue. The editor reserves the right to correct spelling, style, punctuation and known factual errors. I setters should be kept to 250 words. We publish only original mail addressed to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung bealing the writer’s signature. Also, an address and a telephone number, which are not for publication, must be included.
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New Braunfels, Texas 78131-1328
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Editor and Publisher............................................................David Sullens
General Manager/Advertising Director..............................Cheryl Duvall
Managing Editor...........................................................Doug Loveday
Retail Advertising Director.....................................;............Jack Osteen
Accounting Manager.......................................................Mary Lee Hall
Circulation Director......................................................Carol Ann Avery
Production Director.............................................................Billy Parnell
City Editor.....................................................................Roger Croteau
Published on Sunday mornings and weekday mornings Tuesday through Friday by the New Braunfels HeruLtZeiiung (LISPS 377-880) 707 Lamia St., or PO Drawer 311328, New Braunfels, Comal County, Tx. 78131 -1328. Second class postage paid by the New Braunfels Herald 7ettung in New Braunfels, Texas.
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Postmaster: Send address changes to the New Braunfels Herald-Zeitung, P.O. Drawer 311328, New Braunfels, Tx. 78131 -1328Another take on office consolidation
As the primary election nears, I have concluded that my views on the possible consolidation of the District Attorney’s Office and the County Attorney’s Office should be made clear to the public. This conclusion stems from both my personal conviction and due to the fact that several people have inquired of my thoughts on the matter.
Initially, I believe that tax dollars are currently being spent in a manner that leads to the duplication of several services provided to the public by both offices. For example, both offices have receptionists—both offices have victims’ assistance coordinators. While both positions provide necessary services for the public, I do not believe that the taxpayers should fund two employees at each position. If the offices were to be combined, it is not likely that anyone would have to be terminated; rather, upcoming vacancies through retirement would simply remain vacant resulting in a possible budget cut and annual tax savings of approximately $40,000 to $50,000 per year including salaries and benefits.
Currently, the lion’s share of criminal prosecution in Comal County, both misdemeanor and felony, is provided by four attorneys. The elected County Attorney and another assistant concentrate on quasi-ciminal enforcement of environmental violations and provide general civil legal services for the county. Additional funds are expended to hire outside legal counsel for more specialized or critical civil legal advice.
Through several efficiency issues which could be addressed if the offices are consolidated, it is my belief that four attorneys can provide the necessary criminal prosecution including the environmental enforcement cases. One such efficiency issue can be addressed as follows. County records indicate that approximately 20 to 30 percent of misdemeanor cases which are currently filed are ultimately dismissed after many hours of resources are expended. By utilizing some of Biose resources to screen the cases more closely before being filed, a net savings of time, effort and resources can be realized which can then be applied as I am suggesting above.
Thus, the remaining assistant county attorney would be able to provide the general civil legal services for the country. Remember this is merely one possible suggestion for reorganization, and I would solicit input from the commissioners, other county t officials and the public to ascertain how the necessary .legal services can best be provided to Comal County. Assuming the scenario I have outlined above is implemented, Comal County taxpayers would be paying for one less attorney per year which would translate into a savings of $59,000 to $60,000 annually.
An additional efficiency issue which could be addressed is that of duplicitous prosecutions. In January of this year, county records indicated that at
the time the County Attorney’s Office and the District Attorney’s Office were both prosecuting 24 identical persons for various crimes. Thus, before each case could be resolved, the following duplicated work would have occurred: (I) each office create and maintained separate files on each individual; (2) each office’s investigator reviewed the separate files; (3) a prosecutor for each office legally prepared each separate case for court; (4) the respective court clerk created separate files and mailed separate notices for each court setting; and (5) both the District Court Judge and the County Court-at-law Judge presided over each separate case on most likely several occasions. Each separate step requires the expenditure or county resources and tax dollars in a repetitive manner. This does not even include the duplicated costs for those criminal defendants who in one case or another (or both) required appointment of a defense attorney at tax payer expense.
I can only make an educated guess that the January number of 24 duplicitous prosecutions would repeat itself approximately three to four times per year totaling about 70 to 90 duplicitous prosecutions annually. If the offices were combined, many of such cases could be eliminated without detriment to any victims. A combined prosecution team would have the ability to ascertain which is the most legally sound case to file and use the other unfiled cases as leverage in plea negotiations including payment of other victims’ restitution in appropriate circumstances.
Putting an accurate dollar figure on the potential savings by eliminating the duplicated prosecutions is not an easy task. However, I am quite certain that the costs of each case from initiation by the law enforcement agency to completion by the court as enumerated in the five steps above could not possibly be less than $600. Assuming that a combined prosecutor’s office could eliminate even 50 of the duplicated cases, a saving of $30,000 of resources could then be reassigned to other critical cases or be used to help provide some of the other necessary quasi-criminal services of a prosecutor’s office such as protective orders, environmental enforcement, or collection of child support payments.
The saving outlined above address only some of the more.apparent and major areas where efficiency and savings in prosecution can be realized. This only touches the surface. One might also consider the cost savings in paper, phone, copiers, fax machines, and other typical office overhead expenses. Even without putting a dollar figure on these less-apparent
cost-cutting measures, just those savings specified above regarding staff and duplicitous prosecutions total a potential savings of at least $125,000 annually-
Comal County’s rapid growth rate will undoubtedly require additional staff and resources to be added in the future to accommodate the necessary legal services rendered to the county. This inevitable increase will occur whether or not the two prosecution offices are combined. If the offices are not combined, it is quite likely that both individual offices will require repetitive increases in all if not more of the areas and issues discussed above. If the offices are combined, the necessary increase will be much less because increased efficiency at this time will result in a reduced work load in the future.
I should also point out that I have nothing to gain by supporting consolidation of the County and District Attorneys’ Offices because my salary from the State of Texas as District Attorney will be the same regardless of whether the offices are combined or remain separate. If combined, my pay will remain the same while my individual responsibility and work load will increase. My support for this proposition is derived solely from my desire to provide the taxpayers of Comal County with an efficient and costeffective method of legal representation.
Having listened to the campaigns of both Bill Reimer and Stephanie Smith-Burris for the office of County Attorney, I perceive that one candidate is clearly for consolidation while the other seems ambivalent to the issue. The voters appear to have a clear choice in this regard, and I urge each registered voter in Comal County to make sure that their voice is heard by getting out and voting on Tuesday, March 12th. If the voters desire to maintain the status quo, vote for the candidate which is more than likely in favor of separate offices. On the other hand, consolidation of the offices can be achieved by voting for the candidate who has made his position on the matter clear.
If the voters issue a mandate for consolidation, the offices can be combined in several different manners each of which would require both local and state approval. I am open to suggestions on how this can best be done to benefit Comal County, and I am confident that the voters will entrust the most qualified criminal prosecutor and experienced attorney with that duty of providing and being responsible for the county’s legal representation. If the public and the county officials choose Dib Waldrip to be that person, I will be humbled and will serve the people of Comal County dutifully. lf someone else is charged with that duty and responsibility, I will wish that individual God’s speed and will assist whenever called upon to do so.
(Dib Waldrip is Assistant District Attorney running unopposed in the Republican primary for District Attorney.)
What would be the best way to fund a renovation of the old LORA building?
Following the tremendous response the H-Z received from last week’s survey question regarding the possible renovation of the old LORA building, we thought we better stick with that topic.
Now that so many have voiced their support of a project to renovate the old structure, the next logical question is, “How would you fund such a project?” Also, “Who should take control of the project — the City of New Braunfels or a private organization?”
We want to know what you think.
Fill out the coupon (right), drop it by our office at 707 Landa St., New Braunfels, TX 78130 or fax survey to (210) 625-1224. Copied forms are acceptable.
Deadline for this survey is Saturday, March 17,1996.
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Today In History
By The Associated Press
Today is Sunday, March IO, the 70th day of 1996. Tfiere are 296 days left in the year.
Today’s Highlight in History:
On March IO, 1876, Alexander Graham Bell made what was, in effect, the first telephone call. His assistant, in an adjoining room in Boston, heard Bell over the experimental device say, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you.”
On this date:
In 1496, 500 years ago, Christopher Columbus concluded his second visit to the Western Hemisphere as he left Hispaniola for Spain.
In 1629, England’s King Charles I dissolved Parliament; he did not call it back for 11 years.
In 1785, Thomas Jefferson was appointed minister to France, succeeding Benjamin Franklin.
In 1848, the Senate ratified the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, ending the war with Mexico.
In 1864, Ulysses S. Grant became commander of the Union armies in the Civil War.
The Survey Says...
Wow, New Braunfels. We now know what questions stir your interest.
More than 150 readers responded to last week’s survey question, “Do you believe the LORA building should be renovated for use today?” Of those, just one respondent said “no", another said "yes and no", and a third said “maybe.”
The “ayes” definitely won the day. Here a sample of some of the responses:
■ The LORA plant was an engineering feat when built in 1926. Renewed use of the structure as a Cultural Arts Center will enhance the original purpose of the building and serve to preserve a legacy for future generations of Comal County.
■ To demolish such a grand old historic building would be a shame. The location is perfect, and the size is such that several different organizations could find housing.
■ The LCRA Building is the visual center of our town. It should be made the cultural center as well since we have no other.
■ New Braunfels needs better facilities for the Mid-Texas Symphony and productions such as the Red Stocking Revue.
■ I agree with Betty Lou. It should be restored. Our city needs a better location for the performing arts — the Civic Center is far from ideal. Besides that, it would a true shame to destroy such an historical and architectural landmark.
■ It could be a potential revenue-maker, from con
ventions, concerts, etc.
■ I feel it could be utilized for many things. It is also a landmark you can see for miles.
■ We need to save our history!
■ The cost of demolishing is about the same as renovating the building. It can really be turned into a much needed public building.
■ New Braunfels has so many buildings with so much history behind them. I think they should be spared demolishing and be kept for historical reasons.
■ You don’t have the pleasure of seeing such a magnificent structure very often.
■ I don’t believe in wasting anything. Why destroy something that can be used as useful.
■ We definitely want to save this building!
■ Having been bom and raised here, some of my fondest memories include going by the LCRA building on our way to the wading pool. Back then, water could be seen spraying all along the banks of the river like a giant lawn sprinkler. It would be a shame to destroy a building with so much potential.
■ The LCRA building would make an excellent art museum, children’s museum...
■ (It would be) an asset for the entire community when renovated. Looking forward to a multi-faceted cultural center. Newer is not always better!
■ Put the wrecking ball to it and use the land for Landa Park. It is an eyesore and a disgrace to Landa Park.