Plot twist or just twisted? After the Temple City Council called a special election for July 19 to fill the vacancy created by former Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales’ council departure, Morales has filed to run for her old seat.
Morales, a long-standing Bell County employee, was elected to the Temple City Council in May 2011. At that time, a city charter clause clearly stating council members may not serve while holding other “public office or employment, compensation for which is paid out of public funds” was either unknown or ignored.
In late 2013, controversy erupted over Morales’ office ineligibility as well as her potential misuse of public funds and possible violations of county employee policies and/or state election laws by utilizing county employees and resources during her 2011 city council campaign.
She was charged in March by the Bell County Sheriff’s Office with Destruction, Removal or Alteration of Public Information. A statement released by Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols further noted “there is convincing evidence that there was a violation of campaign or abuse of office statutes,” but that “as this conduct occurred in 2011 under Texas law, prosecution of this conduct is barred by the statute of limitations.”
The following week, hours ahead of a hearing scheduled to consider her removal from office, Morales resigned.
At that point, Morales had also filed for re-election. In her formal resignation notice Morales additionally noted the intention to submit a letter of declination as the District 2 officer-elect after the May 10 election.
In an April plea agreement, Morales pleaded no contest to the Class B misdemeanor charge. Per Nichols, the charge was punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or confinement of up to three months. The plea arrangement, however, gave Morales deferred adjudication with nine months of probation and 24 hours of community service. The deal also included a $750 fine along with $239 in court costs.
The upcoming election
The special election was called at last week’s Temple City Council meeting. Early voting will run July 7- 15.
Candidates have until June 4 to file. Morales is the only declared candidate to date.
During the months of controversy, Morales has often described her district as historically underserved. Even with her resignation, Morales continues as a vocal advocate for the ongoing East Temple Redevelopment Plan.
A prospective return: smooth sailing or stormy waters?
Morales’ prospective return to the council could be interesting in light of comments made at an 18-minute special meeting called days before her actual resignation. Morales refused to resign despite council members openly citing disappointment with her conduct.
At that meeting, Mayor Danny Dunn thanked Morales’ for her attendance and expressed his “condolences for going through this” before asking Morales to resign. Each council member followed individually expressing their own thoughts and echoing Dunn’s request.
In response, Morales said she was not ready to resign citing major issues with which she’s concerned about within the city. She also repeatedly referred to her years of public service reminding that this commitment was performed without being a local business owner – a reference to all other council members having individual business interests within the community.
When Morales stated there were city issues she did not wish to “bring to light in this public forum,” supporters nodded in agreement while others audibly questioned the statement as a threat.
Morales additionally told the council “you need to look at the whole picture before you come to judgment.”
Dunn responded that Morales’ actions were “tearing the city apart.”
“To all of us singularly, you have admitted guilt, been untruthful. Actions are making it more difficult for us to govern,” he further explained. “If you are unwilling to resign at this time, I am willing to remove you for good cause.”
Morales’ perceived dissatisfaction appears to not end with the council. In April, WBDaily.com published an undated memo termed as “ostensibly written” by the former councilwoman which alleges persecution, discrimination, harassment and oppression on the part of city officials, other citizens and the Temple Daily Telegram. WatchdogWire.com offered this analysis of the piece.
With that backdrop, Morales rejoining the council is likely to produce a new dynamic that can’t help but influence city governance and other aspects of the council’s functioning.
Meanwhile, candidates have another two weeks in which to file. And Morales’ potential return – plot twist or just twisted?