Mari Paul is suspending her petition effort to recall all members of the Temple City Council. Lack of interest isn’t dissuading the cause, but as her 30-day signature-gathering window ticks down, the city and Bell County’s continued failure to provide hard numbers on registered voters in single-member districts diminishes Paul’s potential for success. And even as preliminary numbers were provided today, receipt of numbers termed as “subject to change” halfway through the city charter-prescribed window hardly offers potential for success.
Temple’s mayoral position is elected at-large. With that, the city charter requires petition signatures of at least 30 percent of the registered voters for recall. After being elected from within single-member districts, the remaining council members are subject to recall with signatures from 30 percent of their respective district’s voters.
Paul has been circulating petitions since early March for the recall of Mayor Danny Dunn and the four council members – Tim Davis, Judy Morales, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider.
Morales resigned on March 20 ahead of a removal from office hearing scheduled in the aftermath of her arrest for a Destruction, Removal or Alteration of Public Information charge. In a statement released upon her arrest, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols also said “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.”
Morales’ pending criminal charge is not the only controversy attached to her public service. In September, a “Conflict of Interest” clause in Temple’s 91-year-old city charter was brought to light. Based on Morales’ long-term employment with Bell County, she had not only been ineligible for her 2011 election, but was at the time of the clause’s discovery, illegally serving on the council.
She promptly resigned from the county position and a hastily-crafted plan to bypass the charter provision by hiring her as a consultant was in development but then put on hold when the criminal allegations surfaced.
With Dunn, Morales and Cloud all running unopposed for re-election, they are presumed as the candidate-elect in their respective positions. Morales has stated her intention to again resign via a letter of declination after the May 10 election.
Though timing again becomes a focal point of the recall effort as, per the Temple City Charter, council members cannot be recalled within six months of their election, Davis and Schneider still remain eligible for recall.
The county and city largely point fingers at each other with regard to why no numbers are available.
“We’re still working on breaking Temple down into single-member districts,” Bell County Election Administrator Shawn Snyder told the Bell County commissioners at a March 10 workshop meeting.
Despite Snyder’s department and city personnel reportedly working for months to update Temple’s elections infrastructure, repeated problems attributed to issues like vendor selection and software package incompatibilities are blamed for the delays.
Absent this information, Temple residents are disadvantaged with any real hope of exercising their right to recall officials as granted by the charter.
The recall effort has prompted community reaction on numerous fronts.
Paul says response to her effort has been largely positive with residents signing petitions for a variety of reasons.
“The Judy Morales issue has people upset, but so do other things,” Paul said.
Council members doing business with the city is another area of concern. Much of that focus centers on District 4 representative Russell Schneider, owner of a local construction company known as a frequent city contractor.
A perception of the council’s resistance to openness and accountability also exists.
Former Temple city council member Tony Jeter credits Paul’s recall effort as raising awareness which is “not a failure at all.”
“When you bring something to public awareness, that’s what needs to happen,” Jeter told KTEM radio host Lynn Woolley on Thursday morning’s broadcast.
“There is an attitude that elected people get – I’ve seen it personally and we see it at state and federal levels where all of a sudden they become smarter than the people who elect them,” he further described. “It’s like ‘we know what they’re saying, but we know what’s best for the city.’”
With regard to suspending her overall council recall action, Paul says don’t consider it over, she’s just preparing to refocusing her efforts.
She calls comments by those casting her as questionably motivated or a disgruntled former employee as “another attempt to minimize this effort.”
“I don’t think 1,037 people signed petitions because I didn’t get a job,” Paul said. “I’m changing my tactics, not calling it quits.”