Pubdate: Fri, 25 Jun 2004
Source: Amarillo Globe-News (TX)
Copyright: 2004 Amarillo Globe-News
Author: Greg Cunningham
Bookmark: (Tulia, Texas)


Perry Nixes Request To Replace Lost Task Force Money

Panhandle officials are steamed at Gov. Rick Perry after his office
rejected an application to replace money lost when the area's
narcotics task force was disbanded last month. In a brief letter
received by the Panhandle Regional Planning Commission Wednesday, the
governor's Criminal Justice Division rejected the application for
narcotics fighting funds. The funds would have replaced money lost
when the Panhandle's own drug task force was dissolved in the wake of
the controversial Tulia drug sting.

"The sad part about this is there's a lot of money coming to Texas,
but none of it is coming our way," John Kiehl, regional services
director with the PRPC, told the commission's board of directors. "It
makes you feel like somebody doesn't feel the Panhandle is too
important. Unfortunately this is not the first time it's happened, and
it likely won't be the last."

Potter County Judge Arthur Ware was even more direct.

"I think it's completely unfair the way the governor of Texas is
treating the people of the Panhandle," Ware said. "We're all getting
punished for something that took place in Tulia that we didn't even
have anything to do with."

Perry's office did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.

The emergency application for funds was necessitated by the City of
Amarillo's decision to dissolve the Panhandle Regional Narcotics
Trafficking Task Force as part of a settlement of a federal lawsuit
over the Tulia drug bust.

The suit was filed by two of the 46 people arrested in the 1999 drug
sting. Nearly all of the Tulia defendants were pardoned by Perry after
the cases began to fall apart amidst accusations of racism and police
misconduct, clearing the way for the suit.

Amarillo settled its share of the lawsuit for $5 million and an
agreement to dissolve the task force. The other 30 cities and counties
named in the suit settled for a total of $1 million more.

The PRPC voted last month to ask the governor's office to return some
of the money that was lost when the task force dissolved. The
governor's CJD administers more than $30 million in federal money -
known as Byrne Grants - that the state receives every year.

The grant application totaled $664,097 and included money for juvenile
drug treatment and education, law enforcement training for handling
methamphetamine labs and equipment used to locate and secure the labs.

The governor's letter did not include any reasons for the rejection,
but Gary Pitner, executive director of the PRPC, said the brief time
the CJD took to make a decision says something.

"It didn't take them long to send us a letter saying 'No way, we're
not sending you any money,"' Pitner told the commission. "I'm
disappointed we didn't get a chance to have any dialogue so we could
know why we were denied."

The rejection comes as bitter news to area law enforcement officials,
who say the money would have gone a long way toward replacing the
abilities and expertise lost from the task force, which formerly
handled methamphetamine lab cleanup in the Panhandle.

"I don't know what their thinking is," said Danny Alexander, public
information officer for the Randall County Sheriff's Department, of
the governor's office. "We could certainly have used that money. We're
drowning in meth labs, and they're turning down funds. That's typical.
I'm not shocked, but it makes me mad."

Kiehl said the PRPC would take advantage of a CJD offer to have the
Department of Public Safety provide less advanced lab training while
the commission looks for other sources of funding.
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