Sheriff demurs in records request

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Private Attorney Mike Dixon will review requests

Waco – Sheriff Parnell McNamara referred a series of eight public records requests about cases and incidents any veteran newsman would call “shaky as cafeteria jello”  to a private attorney retained by the Commissioners Court.

Mike Dixon, who billed McLennan County $153,735.63 in billable hours during the previous fiscal year at $150 per hour, will scrutinize the requests for  a period of 10 days prior to officials’ making a decision about whether to seek the opinion of the State Attorney General’s Open Records Division, according to Sheriff’s Office Records Division chief Tamma Willis.

He joins Baylor Law Professor Guinn, who billed the county some $34,050 to study a plan to redistrict Constable and Justice Court precincts to eliminate two, leaving a total of 5, in which candidates were appointed by Republican Party officials to run in the General Election irregardless of which candidates won primary races.

An Austin attorney named Shindlofsky billed the county $12,615 for services in settling a federal lawsuit against Sheriff McNamara brought by nine employees who were either demoted or dismissed following his election, and another attorney named Allison billed $5,000.

The settlement cost a total of $2 million, the county’s share of which came to $575,000, according to financial records released by the Commissioners Court.

A staff attorney named Dustin Chapman is paid $66,950 per year, according to payroll records. He released the information to Legendary News Services regarding an investigation of a drug detection dog named Ace who was trained in abusive fashion by his former handler, Corporal Joseph Ballew, according to top Captains and Lieutenants who conducted the investigation ordered by former Chief Deputy Matt Cawthon, a retired Texas Ranger. Both Ballew and former training supervisor, Captain Chris Eubank, transferred to new duties in the Sheriff’s Office’s Patrol Division, Eubank in March, when he was re-hired as a Sergeant following his resignation as a Captain, and Ballew in August following his promotion to Corporal. Sheriff McNamara reportedly reprimanded Ballew.

That document is one of many requested by The Legendary in the series of records requests.

“The report should never have been released,” McNamara said in an interview. “The investigation was not completed.”

Though there is no provision in the law to have a private attorney review public information requests, officials are allowed a period of 10 business days to determine if there is information they deem legally excepted from such requests. It is a well-known extension of the fine line between news and history, arbitrarily drawn in the sand by the Legislature in its enactment of Section 552 of the Texas Government Code.

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