In the wake of controversy related to Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales, former Bell County employee Mari Paul’s newly-announced petition drive to recall Morales along with Mayor Danny Dunn and the three remaining council members – Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider - is creating its own controversy. More importantly, however, it’s generating what some see as a long-needed opportunity for public discussion regarding the response and performance of this central Texas town’s government.
In 2011, despite Morales’ Bell County employment falling under a city charter “conflict of interest” clause thereby making her ineligible to run for the Temple City Council, she ran, was elected and illegally served on the council for more than two years. First coming to light in late 2013, this issue has escalated into a full-blown controversy.
Hasty resolution to the conflict of interest issue was seemingly underway. City and county officials appeared to support transitioning Morales’ Director of Social Services position at the Bell County-managed HELP (Health, Education, Leadership, Progress) Center from regular employment to contract status. New issues mounted, however, when the Temple Daily Telegram filed a Public Information Act request seeking to learn if Morales violated county employee policies and/or state election laws by utilizing county employees and resources during her 2011 city council campaign.
Shortly thereafter, Paul filed a complaint against Morales alleging that Morales not only directed her to work on election and other non-county activities using county time and resources, but that after County Judge Jon Burrows alerted Morales of the PIA request, Morales then quizzed Paul on copying and deleting computer files while also indicating a need for both to delete non-county emails and other materials from both their county-owned computers.
Paul filed a written complaint with documentation that included two audio recordings of Morales discussing the destruction of the public records. Paul ultimately left her county employment in early 2014.
Nov. 9, 2013, phone recording (Judy Morales, Mari Paul):
Nov. 11, 2013, voice mail (Judy Morales):
While the Morales scandal – or Judygate as some now call it – has certainly been a catalyst for the recall petition effort, other unresolved issues are likely to impact the level of broader public support.
PETITION-SIGNING LOCATIONS LISTED BELOW
C.J. Grisham, the U.S. Army Master Sergeant arrested a year ago by Temple police and ultimately convicted in a second trial for a Class B misdemeanor (interfering with a peace officer while performing a duty) charge, a charge twice downgraded after his initial arrest, posted on Facebook multiple reasons for his recall support:
Since I know that there are people here reporting our discussions to members of the City Council (who, by the way, are free to join here for themselves and participate in the discussions), I want to make several statements you can report to the members themselves about the recall effort we just launched. I apologize in advance for its length.
#1: Judy Morales was NOT eligible for office when she ran. I don’t care how great a person she is. We have rules and laws in place for a reason and if they don’t apply to those sitting in their ivory City Council towers, they shouldn’t apply to us common folk. Our own charter is very specific about this and also puts the burden on the City Council to “be the judge of the election and qualification of its own members.” Therefore, every single member of the Council, with the exception of Councilman Davis who wasn’t in office at the time, should have known better. It was their responsibility. There’s also the issue of Morales ordering that emails on public computers be deleted to cover up evidence, a crime in the state of Texas. Granted, the investigation results supposedly haven’t been released, but the audio recently released is quite clear she’s guilty. Because the entire council chose to rally around one of their own instead of upholding the rule of law and enforcing our own city charter, they are all negligent in their duties and must be recalled. In addition, it will come out how Judy Morales is possibly profiting from the city’s revitalization projects and stands to potentially make hundreds of thousands of dollars off the projects through apartment buildings she purchased. Indeed, the chickens are coming home to roost.
#2: I have two issues with councilman Schneider, my City Council representative. First is that he accepts city contracts for his personal construction business. Whether or not these contracts save the city money or whether they fully comply with Section 4.9 of the city charter isn’t really that relevant. I would submit that deciding if Councilman Schneider “use[d] his position, authority or influence in a manner that would result in his financial betterment to a greater degree than the general benefit to the public” is difficult, if not, impossible to prove. The fact is that a member of the city council accepting ANY city contracts smacks of perceived ethics problems. If Councilman Schneider wants city contracts, he should step down from the Council and do so. As a member of the council, there is no way for the public to gauge whether or not he is using “his position, authority or influence” barring any gross criminal actions. Second, it has become painfully obvious to me that Councilman Schneider cares only for himself and not the public he is supposed to serve. Case in point, I went to Councilman Schneider in an attempt to hold Temple PD officer Steven Ermis and his leadership accountable for the false reports he filed against me. I later spoke to Schneider about Ermis’ false testimony in open court during my first trial that was confirmed by Sergeant Thomas Menix on the stand. This is a matter of public record now. I showed Councilman Schneider the sworn affidavit and the dashcam video that wasn’t public at the time. The court order only barred us from releasing the video online and to the media and we had wasted enough time holding Ermis accountable. So, I showed Schneider the falsified report which was confirmed by the dashcam video. What did councilman Schneider do? He didn’t open an inquiry or demand that Ermis be reprimanded or disciplined for his lies against a citizen of the city of Temple. He didn’t seek to fire or hold the Chief of Police or City Manager accountable. Instead, he went to the county prosecutor in an attempt to have me held in contempt for showing him the video. Schneider even showed up on the prosecution’s witness list to testify that I had showed him the video. Schneider was more interested in screwing a citizen than holding his police department accountable. Perhaps the fact that I didn’t violate the order is why Schneider wasn’t called. My wife and I have gone to the city council several times to complain about the documented actions of Temple PD officers only to be met with silence and sideways looks. Schneider and members of the Council had ample opportunity to do something. We are going on one year since my false arrest and assault by one of Temple’s officers. And if they WERE doing something, they had ample opportunity to inform the public. I never once got a call from Schneider relative to the issues we brought before the council, but the moment I accused him of a possible Section 4.9 violation, he couldn’t call me fast enough. But, he couldn’t take the time to look into my claims of being wronged. This smacks of nepotism and self-interest and a lack of respect for the people he is supposed to serve.
#3: The Temple City Council has proven time and again that they don’t listen during public comments. In fact, during one city council meeting, members of the council were asked why they don’t respond to specific questions since the Open Meetings Act doesn’t prevent them from doing so. Instead of responding to that question with “a statement of specific factual information given in response to the inquiry…or…a recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry”, Mayor Dunn instead looked to the city attorney who bluntly stated they don’t have to answer questions. This is false! As I quote above, Section 551.042 of the Government Code that specifically deals with public comments from citizens may be answered with “a statement of specific factual information given in response to the inquiry…or…a recitation of existing policy in response to the inquiry”. However, the City Council doesn’t feel they have to answer questions posed by the public and aren’t accountable to them. Section 551.042 also gives the Council an “out” if they don’t want to answer questions on the spot: “Any deliberation of or decision about the subject of the inquiry shall be limited to a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.” In other words, the council is forbidden from making decisions about or deliberation of a topic brought up during citizen complaints, but is not barred from responding to direct inquiries. If an issue is brought up that requires a decision or deliberation, the council can then and there discuss with the citizen a “a proposal to place the subject on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.” Both the City Council and the Mayor have failed to do any of the above, instead ignoring citizens in the hopes they go away so the city council can go about their own personal agendas. The City Council is more concerned with protecting themselves, their power base, their governmental power (to include the police force), and NOT the citizens. They refuse to publicly discuss their votes for or against proposals. I can’t think of a time when a proposal has been brought before the council that a decision didn’t already seem made, regardless of public comments on the topic. Pay more for trash service? Never mind that it’s unpopular. Gobble up more surrounding land? Sure, why not? Increase our spending? We’ll do what we want. Wasteful and expensive recycling program? Anything to inconvenience the public in the name of supposedly greener policy (never mind that study after study has concluded that recycling only affects one kind of green – the kind with dollar signs). Community after community have scrapped their curbside recycling program because the costs outweigh the benefits. Recycling programs are in fact one the most costly methods of waste disposal. Who pays for that? Us. The Citizens of Temple. What do we get out of it? A little peace of mind maybe? This is just one example of many our city council just isn’t receptive to good public policy. When was the last time a councilman or the mayor held a town hall meeting? When was the last time a councilman or the mayor visited their districts and knocked on your door? When was the last time a councilman or the mayor wrote an op-ed in the Temple Daily Telegram about a particular topic or upcoming vote? Why won’t the City Council pick a more convenient time for their meetings so that more people can attend that work a 9-5 job? By the time most people would be able to attend a city council meeting, it’s usually already over.
#4: Thomas Jefferson and the 5-person committee that drafted the Declaration of Independence famously wrote about what to do when we are faced with this problem: “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, That whenever ANY FORM OF GOVERNMENT becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” (EMPHASIS ADDED) It’s time to abolish this form of government and replace it with one that remembers it was elected to serve to the People, not itself.
#5: I have nothing personal against any member of the City Council. I voted for Danny Dunn and I voted for Russell Schneider. Both are extremely likable and cordial men, as I’m sure are the rest of the council. Emotion has no place in politics…ever. This engagement is solely about holding an unresponsive council accountable to the People. Even if the petition is not successful in removing a single person, I hope the council and Mayor take this as a wake up call to start talking to the People instead of ignoring them.
In response to this post, Temple talk radio host Lynn Woolley noted “Temple officials are simply experiencing some media coverage that councils in Dallas, Houston, and Austin are subject to all the time. It’s called an ‘adversary press.’ We have a duty to report the facts in an honest and forthright manner.”
Woolley is correct that politicians in venues less sophisticated are regularly subjected to media scrutiny from traditional media sources as well as from online media. In fact, as an extension of blogs, social media and grassroots activism, citizen or advocacy – such as for taxpayers – journalism increasingly influences government transparency and accountability coverage in markets of all sizes.
Other outstanding issues around which Temple residents may rally with regard to the municipal recall include the case of Lorenzo Martinez. A May 18, 2013, encounter with Temple police left then 15-year-old Lorenzo Martinez with a broken collar bone. Martinez was never arrested or even threatened with charges. A Bell County grand jury declined indicting two of the police officers involved with the alleged assault, but a few weeks later, Temple Police Chief Gary Smith wrote Martinez’s mother that his investigation was complete and found “violations of the rules and regulations of the Temple Police Department were found to have occurred” and with that, an indefinite suspension of the two officers in question, “the civil service equivalent to a termination,” was rendered. Smith further said it was “the strongest administrative action that I can take,” but noted the matter as “not fully concluded” because the officers had appealed their suspensions.
In response to open records requests from the Temple Daily Telegram, Martinez attorney David Fernandez and this reporter, the city of Temple fought releasing information related to the Martinez investigation. After at least two Texas Attorney General’s Office directives ordered release of the information, the requesting parties have now been notified the materials are being prepared.
With both this and the Grisham case, taxpayers could be additionally liable for upcoming civil suits. While interested members of the public have faced significant challenges getting information regarding government activities that they fund, litigation costs are one thing government passes on with seemingly little thought.
One undoubtedly expensive taxpayer-funded court case involved eight years of litigation with Wind Mountain Ranch LLC v. City of Temple, a complex lawsuit involving control of property adjacent to the Scott & White Memorial Hospital campus. After losses in Bell County’s 146th Judicial District Court and at the appellate level, Wind Mountain Ranch attorneys appealed the case to the Texas Supreme Court which in 2010, without even hearing oral argument, took issue with the lower courts’ decisions and reversed the court of appeals’ judgment to instead render a decision favorable to Wind Mountain Ranch.
As the recall effort creates questions regarding overall city management, stewardship of funds and sound decision-making capabilities, the city council’s May 2012 approval of a $150,000 retention bonus for City Manager David Blackburn may become an issue.
Regarding the bonus, Temple Daily Telegram reporter Jessica Priest wrote:
On Thursday, the City Council unanimously approved a “retention incentive” that would give City Manager David Blackburn $25,000 on his eighth anniversary, $50,000 on his ninth anniversary and $75,000 on his 10th anniversary.
He makes $189,654 a year.
Council member Perry Cloud was absent.
No one spoke against the measure.
“I want to applaud you for taking proactive action to recognize David Blackburn and the great things he does, leading hundreds of employees in the executive leadership role that he has,” said Bob Browder, an area businessman and the chairman of the Temple reinvestment zone.
Councilman Danny Dunn – who collaborated with Blackburn previously as a member of the Parks and Leisure Services board – agreed.
“Our investment in David Blackburn is a wise investment in the future of the city of Temple,” he said. “I’ve never met someone with work ethic and the ability to lead people quite like David has.”
Dunn said he received both negative and positive comments about the issue from constituents.
“While they were expected, I felt strongly enough about David’s retention plan that it was well worth it,” he said.
This year should mark Blackburn’s receipt of the $50,000 installment.
City-related issues will certainly influence public support for the recall effort, but other outside factors may also come into play.
Thursday’s Temple City Council meeting attracted residents speaking both for and against the recall and specifically, Morales’ continued tenure on the council.
The Telegram reported these comments from one meeting attendee:
Frances Fisher was the first to speak, and requested that Morales not be allowed to continue to sit on the Council.
Morales is under investigation by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department for allegedly attempting to have emails destroyed that had been requested through the Texas Open Records Act and for using county resources to campaign for office.
She also was elected to the Council despite provisions in the city charter that prohibit those being paid with public funds to hold office.
Section 4.9 of the charter states: “No Council member shall, during his term of office, hold any other public office or employment, compensation for which is paid out of public funds.
“Any knowing or willful violation of this section shall constitute malfeasance in office, and any elected or appointed official, or any employee of the city, guilty thereof shall thereby forfeit his office or position.”
“You are all in violation of the city charter,” Fisher said. “Leaders need to be held to a higher standard, and morally, well Judy, why aren’t you following your own words?”
Morales used LULAC funds to pay for state dues, and was barred from serving at a state convention, Fisher said.
However, state LULAC officials defended Morales during a meeting earlier this year in Temple, saying she had done nothing wrong. Fisher also estimated that Morales used in excess of $100,000 of public funds for her own personal gain.
“What are we teaching our children?” Fisher asked. “Ignorance of the law is no excuse.”
Fisher also voiced support for a petition to recall all members of the Council and to remove them from office.
Morales and her husband, Michael G. Steinheimer, are well-known in the community. On a monthly basis, the State Bar of Texas announces recent disciplinary actions. The March 2014 list included this mention of Steinheimer:
On Dec. 19, 2013, Michael G. Steinheimer [#19135900], 67, of Temple, received a one-year agreed judgment of probated suspension effective Jan. 1, 2014. An evidentiary panel of the District 8 Grievance Committee found that complainant hired Steinheimer to represent her in a divorce proceeding. After the final hearing on Feb. 15, 2012, Steinheimer failed to complete and file the income withholding documents necessary for complainant to receive child support pursuant to the terms of the divorce decree. Additionally, Steinheimer did not prepare a power of attorney to allow complainant to transfer title to a motor vehicle until Jan. 7, 2013. Throughout the representation, complainant attempted numerous times to contact Steinheimer by telephone, text, and email to ascertain the status of her divorce, but Steinheimer failed to respond. Steinheimer violated Rules 1.01(b)(1), 1.03(a), and 8.04(a)(1). He was ordered to pay $1,275.60 in attorneys’ fees and costs.
Silence with regard to Morales and issues like the ongoing police department controversies has been a point of criticism aimed at Dunn and the other council members. In response to such criticism and in light of the recall effort, Dunn and District 4 Councilman Russell Schneider have issued statements.
Important Statement from Temple Mayor Danny Dunn:
I would like to offer the following comments relating to the letter of intent to file a petition to recall the Mayor and City of Temple Councilmembers and the Temple Daily Telegram article insinuating an assumed lack of action by the Temple City Council.
The Temple City Council has not taken any action regarding Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales because we are patiently waiting for due process to occur in the form of the investigation by the Bell County Sheriff’s Department. At the present time, the final report has not been released and, while everyone seems to have an opinion on the subject, my belief is still that everyone is innocent until proven guilty and I will not serve as judge and jury of a fellow councilmember.
And, while I cannot speak for any other councilmember, I have asked Ms. Morales to resign from her office no fewer than four times, if she believes she is guilty of the allegations against her. The last time I asked her to resign she responded that she would resign if charges are brought against her.
This was also the same day that Ms. Morales chose to end her temporary “Leave of Absence” against my wishes, and, I believe, against the wishes of the other councilmembers. When she took her leave of absence in November, she told us that she did not want her situation to be a distraction from the business of the Council. We agreed, and appreciated her actions in that regard. However, I, for one, feel that her continuing presence on the Council has become much more than a distraction.
During the past few months, I have heard from numerous people regarding this situation, all with differing viewpoints. Ms. Morales has passionate supporters and I have been accused of discrimination, racism and casting stones. Those who are critical of Ms. Morales have gone so far as to say the City Council is corrupt and we are allowing her to get away with whatever she wants. I think the Council has been fair in waiting for a decision from Bell County as to how they are going to proceed before we decide what action, if any, will be taken against Ms. Morales. None of the councilmembers, including myself, know what happened with Ms. Morales in her county office except for Ms. Morales.
Regarding the other councilmembers and the possibility of a petition for a recall election, I can say that we would be hard pressed to find better representation of councilmembers than Perry Cloud, Russell Schneider, and Tim Davis. They are honest, hardworking individuals who were elected by the people of their districts to serve the citizens of Temple and they do so with servants’ hearts. As individuals, we might not always agree on every vote or decision, but as a Council we always try to do what is right for the citizens of Temple. It is the best interest of this community that is always at the forefront of our thoughts, decisions, and votes.
I don’t know Ms. Mari Paul and I don’t know who is hiding behind her encouraging or instructing her to take action against the Temple City Council, but they are welcome to contact me anytime on any subject. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll try to find out. I do that for citizens all the time when they have an issue because I am the Mayor of the great city of Temple, Texas. For those that feel that this issue has been handled poorly, I am sorry. Please know that I have tried to be fair to all concerned and I will continue to do so.
I learned last Friday that I am running unopposed for a full three-year term as Mayor. To me, that says that our citizens believe we are doing a good job for the city or no one else wants to do the work or dedicate the time that it takes to be a member of the Council. I am extremely proud of our community and I am proud of our history, our present and I look forward to our future. We are an exceptional city and we try to face both triumph and disaster with equal dignity.
Mayor, City of Temple
March 5, 2014
Important statement from Councilmember Russell T. Schneider:
Russell T. Schneider
City of Temple
Councilmember, District 4
I take great offense when I am being accused publicly for violating the City Charter. I have always made every effort possible to follow the guides of our City Charter which currently have no provisions disallowing elected public officials from conducting business with the City of Temple. If the citizens of Temple disagree with the Charter and the elected officials that uphold the Charter, I would recommend that they seek the necessary procedures required to change the City’s charter rather than publicly attack those of us that follow its guidelines as presently written.
Removing Mrs. Morales
The current charter states that the City Council may remove other Councilmembers for “cause”. At this time, we do not have all the necessary facts and/or information related to the County Attorney’s investigation. Thus, the Council does not have “cause” for her removal. No decisions regarding Mrs. Morales will be made until the Council is duly aware of the County Attorney’s investigation.
I want the citizens of Temple to know that we are following the guides of the City Charter. I am completely aware that there are a few citizens asking the Council to violate the charter and immediately remove Mrs. Morales from office prior to the determination of the investigation. This would be a direct violation of the City Charter; therefore we will not take any further action.
Prior to signing any petition, I sincerely encourage the citizens to undergo their diligence and read the City Charter as it relates to these issues. It is imperative that everyone understands what they are signing and ask questions regarding the Council’s actions and make their own individual decision as to the facts in these situations.
It is with much respect and honor that I have been chosen to serve the citizens of Temple.
Thank you for your support,
Russell T. Schneider
Schneider’s statement refers to Section 4.15, Rules of the City Council, which states:
The City Council shall determine its own rules of procedure, and shall compel the attendance of its members, and with the concurrence of four (4) members constituting said City Council, may impeach a member, and may remove him from office for good cause. Any Councilmember subject to removal for good cause may request a public hearingof the charges against him prior to removal from office.
While accolades may be more enjoyable to hear, a segment of Temple’s population is attempting to raise hardly inappropriate concerns. As these concerns continue to fall on seemingly deaf ears, the tone and rhetoric may seem to become more harsh, but that’s what happens when people feel ignored.
Government and government officials often want to depict a few vocal detractors as malcontents, extremists, kooks or a host of other similar disparaging terms.
State Rep. Ralph Sheffield undoubtedly knew of his potentially small, but vocal group of critics. This week’s loss of his re-election bid to challenger Molly White by a 53.72 percent to 46.27 percent margin however suggests that he evidently underestimated both the number of discontented voters and the extent of dissatisfaction.
Might this happen again? Time will tell.
Saturday, March 8
8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Miller Park [map]
1919 N. 1st St., Temple
Sunday, March 9
8 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Lions Park [map]
4320 Lions Park Rd.
See the Bell County Citizens for Integrity Facebook page for updated petition-signing locations.