A LETTER FROM THE EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR:
On May 4th, the issue of civil service for the Burkburnett Police Department was put to a vote of the citizens and failed by a 2-1 margin. This was very disappointing for the officers who have to continue working under the current “good old boy” system of cronyism that puts them in a constant ethical dilemma. Disappointing, but not terribly surprising.
Where is the Brady List for Reporters? Politicians?
In the weeks leading up to the election, city officials did all they could to demonize civil service and frighten their own citizens. One council member in particular, Mr. Josh Andrajack, went out of his way to spew mistruth after mistruth and convince the voters that somehow providing a system of due process and equal opportunity for the peace officers would endanger the very fabric of the Burkburnett, Texas way of life.
With all due respect to Mr. Andrajack, we have heard all of those lies before, and none of them were his own independent thought.
Cities, under the guidance of the Texas Municipal League (which is basically a union for city managers), have been using the same tired, factually inaccurate rhetoric for decades. The truth is, they just don’t want your police officers to have due process or a fair shake. They believe police officers should be hired and fired on the whim of the local power brokers based on whether or not the officers are enforcing the law against the “right” people.
This is exactly why civil service was enacted and why 75 of the 76 cities that have implemented it still have it: because it works. In every case where civil service has been adopted, the police department is more efficient and more professional today than it was before civil service. Not one of those cities has ever raised taxes due to of the adoption of civil service, but that has never stopped Texas Municipal League and local officials from using that as a scare tactic.
It is impossible to make a police department professional from the bottom up, by holding the officers accountable, but none of their bosses. Professionalism, like character and ethics, flows from the top down. The city council, city manager, and chief must be accountable first. Otherwise, it is a losing proposition.
However, too many city officials, like those in Burkburnett who put out false information about civil service in the water bills leading up to this election, do not want accountability. They do not want transparency. They do not want fundamental fairness for their public servants. Shame on them.
What is even more disturbing is that within a few hours of the polls closing, reporter Landon McBride did a report for Texomashomepage.com - KFDX, KJTL about the election, in which he quoted Mr. Andrajack’s rhetoric freely and gave credence to his unfounded allegations about raising taxes. McBride went as far as to quote a voter who admitted that he voted against civil service because he was convinced it would cause his taxes to go up.
McBride then decided to editorialize. This is a quote from him, not someone he interviewed:
"If the ballot measure had passed, policies and wages would have been determined by state civil service system."
That is a bald-face lie. No such thing exists. We challenge Mr. McBride to quote the section of Chapter 143 of the Texas Local Government Code which would do either of those things in Burkburnett.
The fact is that under civil service, wages are still under the sole and exclusive purview of the City Council. Police Department policies are still under the control of the Chief of Police. City personnel policies are dictated by the city manager. Even the local civil service rules would be created and enforced by three citizens of Burkburnett who would be appointed by the City.
This begs a couple of questions. First, why would a reporter feel the need to publish such an outrageously false statement? More importantly, where are the repercussions for his actions?
If Officer Jane Smith of the Burkburnett Police Department were to make a similarly false statement in an internal memo, or offense report, or arrest affidavit, she would be subject to suspension, demotion, termination, maybe even criminal charges for perjury. She certainly would be subject to being placed on what is called a Brady List* at the District Attorney’s office. In short, her career as a peace officer would likely be over.
Which brings me back to my original question: where is the Brady List for reporters and politicians?
In mid-May, a Baytown Police Officer was forced to shoot and kill a woman in self-defense. Several media outlets immediately ran the story under headlines which described the woman as unarmed and pregnant – neither one of which were true. None have printed retractions, and even if they did, it would probably not do any good. (See “Hands Up – Don’t Shoot” as a point of reference.)
Had there been a “Brady List” for reporters, it is safe to assume these “journalists” would be a lot more cautious with the information they provide to the public. But there is no accountability: once the disinformation is released to the public, perceptions are formed. Even when retractions are made, the damage has long been done. The job of the press has long been to inform the public of the facts of the case — our journalists are failing at their job and failing the American people.
* If you are a law enforcement officer, you are no doubt familiar with Brady. If you are not a law enforcement officer, I suggest you conduct research to further understand the Brady List.