Last night (January 11, 2016) was the much awaited (read: nobody knew about it) “Meet the Candidates” forum at the Brazos River Plaza. As a pre-election event, it was worthless as nothing was gained as far as real knowledge of the candidates, themselves. That was due to no time being given to questions for the candidates. Oh yes, I know the line those who put on the forum will use. “There was an informal question and answer period after the candidates spoke so the public could ask them whatever they wanted.” Ok, that’s homey and warm, but the only ones who heard the answer were the ones asking questions, and that was a joke altogether.
But more of that later, let’s get on to the “heart” of the forum. The three candidates (yes, Parnell was actually there) were each given 15 minutes to speak about themselves and their qualifications. It went something like this: Parnell McNamara bragged, Patrick Swanton threw mud, and Willie Tompkins … well … Willie was his normal understated self. Don’t get me wrong, Willie did tell a little about his experience, but for a preacher, he really surprised me as he only used five of his 15 minutes. Now what preacher speaks and gives time back?
Let’s move on. Of course, Parnell boasted about the 450% increase in arrests since he took office. What he failed to explain was that was from serving traffic warrants inside city limits. That isn’t the job of the Sheriff’s Department. That’s why we have local police. Yet, McNamara feels it is more important to interfere with the business of the local LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) rather than patrol the areas of the county where there is no local police presence, which IS the job of his Department. I live in the “county,” an area outside any city limits, and I can count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I’ve seen any Sheriff Patrol since Parnell took office. Anytime the Sheriff is called to the area it takes about an hour (or more) until they arrive. That’s because they are busy transporting a “hardened criminal,” that has a speeding ticket he didn’t pay, to the County Jail so the arrest numbers can stay up.
Parnell also bragged about all of the new toys the Sheriff’s Department has and how they “didn’t cost the taxpayers a single dime.” All his “good ole boy” friends just uped the money out of the blue to buy expensive SWAT vehicles, helicopters, guns, and all kinds of riot gear. You know, like the Taser that was used on Iretha Lilly in October 2014, the day she died from a supposed “heart attack.” And all of this money was given with no strings attached because McLennan County needed another SWAT team. Oh, and we have a drug taskforce that has only uncovered one drug operation in three years. That’s because they aren’t patrolling the Beaver Lake area where I live. There are plenty of drugs out there.
Parnell has a new bomb disposal team, too. That’s something else he’s proud of, and it’s for the County! So, this Bomb Team that’s “for the County” is in demand all over the State of Texas. Parnell’s proud of that, too. In fact, the team was called down to Fredericksburg (wait, ain’t that where “good ole boy’s good ole family lives?) to take care of a bomb threat there. I only have one question. What happens when there’s a bomb threat here at home when the team is out on the other side of the State? How will the County benefit from that one? Oh well, Parnell … guess you just can’t please everybody. But, you might remember it wasn’t the Gillespie County voters that put you in office, just Gillespie County money.
Anyway, Parnell “Texas Ranger” (forgive me, Chuck Norris) is proud that he has all of these new toys. Forget the fact that he had to pull patrol officers to train how to use them. That’s another reason there’s no patrols in the county anymore. Oh yeah … Parnell’s proud of his jail, too. He said that last night. He’s proud of how well run the jail is. I asked him later how he could be proud of a jail he claimed no responsibility for after three people died in it and it went under investigation from the State. He quickly corrected his statement to mean he was proud of the “County” jail, not the privately run jail. Seems to me I remember the News 10 article stating Lilly was booked into the County Jail not the correction center. Also, she died in “booking” which is overseen by Sheriff’s Deputies, not LaSalle Correction.
Well, we have to remember that Parnell is getting on up there in years, and a little stooped over from all of that “front-line police work” he did for all of those years. His short-term memory might be a little less than it used to be. It must be memory loss and a bit of confusion, too, as I asked him why these three young men from LaSalle Corrections were charged with a felony crime when they falsified guard ledgers, but his family member got off with a spank on the hand and 7 days with no pay for the same thing. His answer was, “There was a death involved.” So, let me get this straight. It’s a crime to falsify books if someone dies, but not if there is no death. I guess that’s like it’s a crime to drive drunk, unless you’re Abel Reyna.
But, let’s not beat on poor old ageing Parnell and turn instead to the good Patrick “Criminal Biker Gang” Swanton. I know he’s good, because he says so. He must be, because his whole campaign is based on how bad the current Sheriff really is. Of course, I can’t disagree with him there, but there’s more to Swanton than meets the eye. The good officer tallied up his credentials, being sure to tell us he had all of the qualifications to put the Sheriff’s Departments toys to good use, while all of the time telling us in an underhanded way that they were all a waste of time and manpower. You know, the manpower that should be out on patrol in the County instead of writing tickets and playing with said toys.
Swanton also let us know how well the Sheriff’s Department would fare publicity-wise, at least that’s what I gleaned from it. He told us how much he loved the job as Public Relations Officer for the Waco PD, so that must mean he’ll be a great spokesman for the Sheriff’s Department, too. That means even when all hell breaks loose underneath him, he’ll still be able to tell us what a great job he’s doing. Of course, there wasn’t much else to Swanton’s 15 minutes, other than he spent most of it in “tongue-in-cheek” allegations about the current Sheriff. Oh yeah, he did take time to tell us he was the youngest candidate running. I’m not sure if he was telling us he had all that experience crammed into fewer years or that he could take the beating better. Must be a “Twin Peaks” thing.
And about Twin Peaks, I asked him a question about that, too. Back during his “face-time” on National Media, Swanton made the statement that the bikers in attendance were:
“A bunch of criminal element biker members that came to Waco and tried to instill violence into our community and unfortunately did just that…. This is not a bunch of doctors and dentists and lawyers riding Harleys. These are criminals on Harley-Davidsons.”
I asked him if, since it was now well-known that there were more than a few Veterans Groups, Motorcycle Ministries, Charity Riders, and Independent Riders present at what was to be a political meeting for Biker’s Rights Legislation in the State, was he willing to offer an apology for lumping all of them under the heading of “Criminal Bikers?” His answer? “Not at all. I stand by what I said at the time.” I pressed him with, “So you still consider the VFW and Christian Motorcyclists Association to be “Criminal Bikers?” You could see the “oops” look on his face when it sunk in, but rather than correct himself, he ran under Abel Reyna’s “gag order” umbrella.
I reminded him that the statement in question was a public statement, recorded and archived by every major news source national and local, therefore not under the gag order. His comment from the time he put his foot in his mouth on remained, “Gag Order.” It became so monotonous and sickening that I almost gagged. Why can’t politicians simply say “I’m sorry. That was wrong.” It would play a lot better with the voters. But our dear Sergeant Swanton would rather sling mud at others rather than get any on himself. I hope he has plenty of “Wet Wipes.” He’s going to need them as this campaign heats up.
Then there’s Willie Tompkins, a soft-spoken man of varies backgrounds. For a Preacher, he amazed me because he came with an ill-prepared statement. He kind of rambled back and forth through his life and credentials, but seemed to get most of them in. I had to pull his background from the campaign website, as he was hard to hear from the back of the room. First, here’s the little bit I was able to hear. Willie came to Waco a little over 50 years ago on a basketball scholarship to Paul Quinn College. He graduated with a Bachelor’s Degree and immediately went to work for the Waco PD. While there, he served first as a patrol officer, then went into narcotics and vice as an undercover officer. While in Narcotics, he work with the equivalent of a joint taskforce comprised of the Waco PD, Texas DPS, and DEA. Now comes the part from the website.
Tompkins made Detective in less than 9 years. He left the Waco PD after 10 years and became Chief Investigator for the McLennan County District Attorney’s Office. He became Chief of Police at MCC and was head of Loss Prevention for Albertson’s. It was during that time he overheard conversation that led to the capture and conviction of the Lake Waco Killer, against whom he testified. His training included:
600 accumulated hours of training at the Waco Police Academy
Drug enforcement training at the HOT Regional Police Academy
Completed the Southwest Texas University Crime Prevention Institute
Loss Prevention at the HOT Council of Government’s Regional Police Academy
U.S. Army extension training in explosives and sabotage devices
So, Patrick, it sounds like Willie is right up there with you in experience. He can run the Bomb Squad for you, Parnell. And has the background to really investigate drug crimes so your little narcotics detachment might really make an arrest. Besides that, when he left the Law Enforcement field, he became a teacher and a Pastor, gained two … count ‘em … two Masters Degrees. His service as a teacher and Pastor gives him a unique view to the problems facing our youth and those facing the community.
The “joke” part comes now. This “forum,” of a sorts, accomplished nothing. It was poorly planned and poorly conducted. Parnell brought his supporters and Swanton brought his. So did Willie, and none of these for any candidate are likely to change sides, as they were family and friends. There was no public Q&A period after the candidates spoke. The “questions” were asked in an “informal chat session” in another room where each candidate had a table set up so supporters could get bumper stickers and signs. Nobody heard the pitiful answers Parnell and Swanton gave, although one of Willie’s comments made it into the paper. It would have been nice to have seen a debate, but Parnell refuses to participate in one.
He’s really got nothing to say, since he has already cost the County $2 million in damages from lawsuits and has been under investigation twice, once for cheating on his law enforcement exam and the other over the multiple deaths in his jail. Swanton wouldn’t be able to answer for his part in the half-a-billion dollars it will cost the county to try the bogus indictments from Twin Peaks … gag order, you know … but he’ll be there to through his “mud.” Problem is, he doesn’t have anything on Tompkins so, him and Parnell will beat each other up while Willie takes the day.
So, here’s how the candidates line up for McLennan County Sheriff. Parnell is a broken down old man, the “Joe Biden” of McLennan County that has to be hidden away so he won’t say anything stupid to the press. The parade has long passed him by and he needs to go. Swanton is a slick-talker that lives to throw mud. His credentials are sound, but he spent the crown of his career with Waco PD as a face for the TV. He talks a good game, but after Twin Peaks (gag order) do we know how deep in bed he’ll get with Reyna and the judges after he becomes Sheriff?
Well, it seems like the forum did some good after all. It showed me, at least, that Tompkins is the only one with experience … no, Parnell, being a prisoner escort for 30 years doesn’t count … and no baggage to bring to the office. Ok, I guess. TOMPKINS FOR McLENNAN COUNTY SHERIFF in 2016!