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Temple election gives Morales chance to address “major issues” of concern

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A city of Temple special election is scheduled July 19 to fill the vacancy left with the resignation of former Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales. Four candidates – including Judy Morales – have filed to run. As issues are an integral part of any campaign, Morales has new opportunity to address the “major issues” she mentioned at a March public meeting, issues she told her fellow council members “that I don’t think you want me to bring forward.”

Morales resigned from office in March after being arrested on a Class B misdemeanor Destruction, Removal or Alteration of Public Information charge. The charge came in response to Morales attempting to destroy emails generated during the course of her Bell County employment, emails which showed that Morales used public resources including county employees in her 2011 city council campaign.

With her arrest, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols released a statement additionally noting “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.”

Ironically, Morales should never have run for the city council position based on a conflict of interest clause in the Temple City Charter, a clause which despite the council being “judge of the election and qualification of its own members” (Temple City Charter Section 4.14) was not publicly acknowledged until late 2013.

Morales’ initial office ineligibility is based on a clause which reads that no council member should receive compensation paid out of public funds. Her 40+ year Bell County employment including as Director of Social Services at the county-managed HELP (Health, Education, Leadership, Progress) Center not only made Morales ineligible for her 2011 office run, but also rendered her more than two years of council service illegitimate.

Morales initially resisted calls for her resignation. With her term expiring in May, she even went so far as to file for re-election.

At a March 17 special called meeting, Morales refused to resign despite Mayor Danny Dunn and each of the remaining three council members – Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider – each individually and publicly asking her to do so.

Morales remained defiant and at a point, directing her remarks to the council, commented “there are some major issues that I’m concerned about within the city that I don’t think you want me to bring forward today and I won’t” (7:46 on the video). The mayor pro tem’s supporters immediately acknowledged agreement while others audibly questioned if the statement was a threat.

On March 20, however, hours ahead of a public hearing at which she was expected to be removed from office, Morales did resign. With no re-election opposition, she also noted her intention to submit a letter of declination as the District 2 officer-elect after the May 10 election.

Morales ultimately plead no contest to the criminal charge. Though per Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols, the charge was punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or confinement of up to three months, Morales’ plea arrangement brought 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.

With the May 10 election and Morales following through on the office declination, the July 19 election was called. Morales promptly filed for office and shortly before the deadline, three others – Cynthia Arriaga, James Dean Zeptner and Gregory Wise – entered the race.

At present, Morales appears the candidate most actively pursuing the office. As Temple City Council seats are district-based, only District 2 residents will be allowed to vote.

Through five months of controversy, Morales defended remaining in office often by positioning herself as the person best qualified to represent Temple’s east side. Critics routinely responded reminding that while council members come from specific districts, they are charged with protecting the interests of all Temple residents.

With that, Morales’ statement regarding “major issues that I’m concerned about within the city that I don’t think you want me to bring forward today” keeps coming to mind.

If these “major issues” were important enough to bring up with her removal from office imminent, they are equally important as Morales seeks a return to office. A candidate truly committed to their city’s welfare would have it no other way.

And if Morales is unwilling to identify these concerns, that is also a noteworthy development for the other District 2 candidates, that district’s residents as well as anyone else impacted by Temple City Council decisions or believing in open government.

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