It's the details, stupid

Candidate Bob Stimson claims his opponent's shoddy bookkeeping is a sneaky way to campaign at taxpayer expense

Taking a page from Investigative Reporting 101, former City Councilman Bob Stimson, who is running a heated race for the District 4 County Commissioner seat against incumbent Ken Mayfield, decided to check out rumors about the loosey-goosey way his opponent has allegedly run his office during the last four years.

An accountant by trade, Stimson requested a heap of Mayfield's records: office calendars, staff time sheets, etc.--under the Texas Open Records Act. Stimson says what he found--and didn't find--raises troubling questions about Commissioner Mayfield's ethics and laissez-faire approach to spending taxpayers' money.

For instance, Mayfield refused to let Stimson see records that would show exactly how much time the commissioner devotes to his private law practice and where he meets with clients. Although it is not illegal for the commissioner to continue practicing law while in office, it is against the law for him to meet with clients on county property.

The records Mayfield's office did turn over, meanwhile, show that his top administrative aide, Jim Hamlin, amassed a huge amount of comp time--most of which was undocumented--during his three years in the job. Hamlin used that comp time to campaign for Mayfield and for himself when Hamlin successfully ran in the Republican primary for county clerk last spring. Mayfield allows Hamlin and several other staff members to sign their own time sheets. The Dallas Observer found that in at least four instances, Hamlin did not earn the comp time he claimed he did.

"The devil's in the details," Stimson says. "It's painfully transparent. It has all the appearances of someone concocting a way for the county to fund and run a campaign. It's absolutely inexcusable."

Commissioner Mayfield, contacted early this week, denies Stimson's allegations. He says he doesn't have to hand over calendars documenting his legal work, because they include clients' names, which he says are "personal."

As for how he runs his office, Mayfield says he verbally approves his staff's comp time and occasionally looks at their time sheets. Hamlin, he adds, has done nothing wrong, because there is no rule or policy barring county employees from using comp time to campaign for public office.

In addition to Stimson's allegations, the Dallas Democratic Party recently accused Mayfield's county office of engaging in underhanded tactics by improperly attempting to replace three Democratic election judges in his district with Republicans. An election judge's role is to ensure that each voter who shows up at his polling place is kosher--that he has a valid voter registration card or proper identification. By coming down too hard on some voters or not hard enough on others, an election judge can cadge a few extra votes for the candidates in his party, but the numbers don't amount to much unless it's a very close race.

While Stimson's complaints seem picayune and the Democratic Party's micro-analysis of the election details seems paranoid, it shows just how pitched a battle the District 4 Commissioner contest is. In fact, it's the only real political horse race this season. If the 1994 election for county commissioner, in which Mayfield beat longtime Democratic incumbent Chris Semos by only 250 votes, is any indication, every vote cast in this contest will be crucial.

Even before Stimson requested copies of his office calendars, Mayfield's lock on a second term was undermined by concerns about his integrity. Since Mayfield took office, the Observer has reported about Mayfield's insistence on practicing law, which requires him to appear before county judges whose budgets he and his fellow commissioners set, and many of whom they have appointed.

Several high-profile Republicans, including City Councilwoman Donna Blumer, recently endorsed Stimson for commissioner--the first time Blumer's ever endorsed a Democrat--citing concerns about Mayfield's legal moonlighting, among other reasons.

As far as Stimson is concerned, if Mayfield has time to practice law, he's not working hard enough as a commissioner, which is a full-time job with a yearly salary of $90,000, thanks to the recent 11 percent raise the commissioners gave themselves. Last November, Mayfield told the Observer he puts in 40 to 60 hours a week as a commissioner. He practices law an additional five to 10 hours a week, he said.

Stimson decided to see just how and where Mayfield spends his time. He asked for copies of Mayfield's office calendars for the past four years and tried to determine whether Mayfield has met with any law clients in his road-and-bridge district office in Duncanville. None of the calendars Mayfield handed over mentions any legal work, but almost every weekly calendar has huge gaps of time left blank.

Stimson is certain the copies Mayfield gave him have been amended to remove any mention of his law-related appointments. Stimson may be right. Several years ago, the Observer requested copies of Mayfield's appointments calendar for the first six months of his term, which he was required to make public, according to a Texas Attorney General ruling. The calendars Mayfield gave the Observer showed he was practicing law--going to court and meeting with clients--between six and 10 hours a week. On the calendars that Mayfield gave Stimson for this same time period, that information is conspicuously absent.

"The calendars have been doctored, and it is obvious he is trying to hide his private law practice," Stimson claims. "Maybe he's spending more time on law than he says he is. Or maybe he's conducting his law practice out of his county office, which is what we've been told. That's one reason we were asking for the records. This makes you wonder even more."

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