Sheriff Tommy Thomas comes out of his bunker long enough to answer a few questions about all that nasty news about himself and his office. Looking at what he’s got to say for himself, I’m thinking he’d have been better off staying quiet.
“I’ve been in this business nearly 40 years, and I’ve never had my integrity questioned. To have this happen, obviously, I think is pure politics,” Thomas said. “Unfortunately, some things happened that I’m not happy about. But the responsibility lies with me. I understand that.”
Amid the controversies, and some internal questions about why he was not publicly defending himself or the department, the sheriff accepted a Houston Chronicle request for an interview. The 30-minute conversation occurred Monday, a few hours before activist Quanell X and other critics held a rally outside the jail calling for his resignation, a demand Thomas rejected.
[City Council Member Adrian] Garcia criticized Thomas on Monday, accusing him of “management through damage control, not good leadership.”
“It’s about time that Sheriff Thomas stopped hiding long enough to answer some questions,” Garcia said. “But the fact remains that his lack of leadership has severely damaged the reputation of the good, hardworking deputies.”
One by one, Thomas addressed the various allegations and widespread rumors swirling in political circles in recent months:
- Thomas said he did nothing wrong in accepting design services from Hermes, who he said was selected for county work by a committee reviewing at least three bids. He said he paid Hermes to redesign plans for a “retirement home” to save some oak trees. He declined to disclose the amount. “You’ll just have to take my word for it,” he said. “I paid him, and I paid him fair market value.”
- The sheriff beat back the suggestion that he lives beyond his means, noting that his wife, Debra, makes a good salary at a software company. He said he no longer has a mortgage on a $200,000 home in Katy and noted that he bought the ranch land 15 years ago for $90,000. “I think it was a damned good investment,” he said.
- Thomas also said information technology staffers prompted the decision to delete e-mails on a 14-day schedule, but he acknowledged the “bad timing” after controversy erupted over the e-mails of former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal. “We were told by our technical people that we’re about to shut down the system, we’ve got so many e-mails,” the sheriff said.
- He declined to discuss much about the Ibarra case, citing the ongoing lawsuit. But he suggested their complaint was overblown. “As far as the surveillance goes, it was something that was a matter of a few hours. They were suing the county for millions of dollars,” Thomas said. “They (deputies) didn’t approach these guys or anything. They merely went by their house. I guess I don’t see the real harm when we’re being sued for that kind of money.”
Where to begin? Well, it seems to me that if you’re being accused of getting a sweetheart deal from a contractor who’s done official county business, the first thing you’d do is disclose how much you’re paying him to do your own stuff, so that anyone would be able to see that you’re being charged a fair market price for his services. To do otherwise would just further the speculation that you got something that the rest of us couldn’t get.
As for the email deletion issue, which was a crock from the beginning, how about the fact that a state district court judge ruled that the Sheriff’s office violated state law by implementing that policy, and called its arguments in defense of it “not meritorious”? How about the fact that this policy led to the deletion of emails that were relevant to the Ibarra lawsuit, despite the HCSO’s claim that that sort of thing would never happen, and the fact that the same judge chastised the HCSO for its lack of credibility and its reluctance to follow his orders? That’s all a bit more than “bad timing”, isn’t it?
And then there’s the Ibarra lawsuit – lawsuits, really. I don’t know what to say, other than it’s pretty easy to see why the first suit wasn’t enough to get the message through. Does the Sheriff not know anyone familiar with the concept of public relations, or do none of those folks want anything to do with him?
Finally, there’s this:
Sgt. Richard Newby, president of the 1,800-member Harris County Deputies Organization, said he was compiling a poll showing deputies siding slightly with Garcia.
But he said many do not believe the negative allegations about Thomas.
“The sheriff has always worked behind the scenes, not in front of the cameras, and he’s been very effective,” Newby said. “Have there been problems and mistakes? Yeah. But they’ve been taken care of as they’ve come up. A lot of this we wouldn’t be seeing if it wasn’t an election year.”
So, what, it’d all have been hushed up instead? Forgive me if I’m not terribly reassured by that.
Well, there you have it. I hope it won’t be as long till the next time Sheriff Thomas speaks. The entertainment value along make the experience worthwhile.