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Temple officials seek withholding portion of mayor pro tem’s emails

The Temple Daily Telegram is reporting notification that the city of Temple is requesting from the Texas Attorney General’s Office an allowance to withhold at least some of emails in a Telegram-initiated Public Information Act request seeking emails between Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales and other city officials.

The Telegram’s Feb. 14 request asked for Morales’ emails from Jan. 1, 2011, to Feb. 14, 2014. A letter to the AG’s Open Records division indicates more than 3,000 emails fall within the paper’s parameters. While agreeing to a no later than March 17 release of emails reviewed and determined to not qualify for public disclosure exception, Deputy City Attorney Nan Rodriguez reportedly cited 21 Texas Government Code sections as a basis for excluding some of the emails.

Per the Telegram:

The exceptions included confidential information by constitutional, statutory or judicial decision; confidentiality of certain personnel information; litigation or settlement negotiations involving the state or a political subdivision; information related to competition or bidding; certain legislative documents; and certain legal matters.

Other exceptions included confidentiality of certain private communications of an elected office holder; trade secrets and certain commercial or financial information; agency memoranda; birth and death records; audit working papers; and certain addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers and personal family information. More claimed exceptions included confidentiality of information of neighborhood crime watch participants; certain information submitted by a potential vendor or contractor; some economic development information; email addresses; government information related to security or infrastructure issues for computers; investment information; personal information maintained by municipality pertaining to a minor; and information concerning public employee safety.

This request comes as controversy surrounding Morales moves into its seventh month with the mayor pro tem’s email correspondence a potentially revealing information cache of the activities in which she was involved and attitudes with which she operated in capacities as both a taxpayer-funded employee as well as an elected (although not legitimately) official.

In September 2013, it was publicly revealed that Morales was not eligible for her 2011 election and therefore was illegally serving on the Temple City Council. Morales’ employment as director of a Bell County outreach department violated a “conflict of interest” clause in the Temple City Charter. Instead of stepping down from the position, Morales promptly resigned her county position while the county hastily crafted a plan to transition her from regular employment to contract status. Her Oct. 1 retirement and the plan for her new contract status was announced in early November.

During the same time frame, in response to rumblings that Morales may have violated county employee policies and/or state election laws by utilizing county employees and resources during her 2011 city council campaign, the Temple Daily Telegram filed a Public Information Act request with Bell County seeking Morales’ email from November 2010 to May 31, 2011, the span during which 2011 campaign plans and activities would have occurred.

Mari Paul, a Bell County employee who ultimately filed a complaint over Morales’ instruction to delete potentially compromising computer files, says Morales contacted her after a Nov. 7, 2013, city council meeting reporting that night’s “chatter” was of the Telegram looking into ‘misappropriation of funds’ during her 2011 election. Morales allegedly instructed Paul with regard to the reporter to “take a message” and further directed “do not answer any of his questions.”

Paul described how the next day Morales used her cell phone to call Paul asking for “my help in explaining to her how to transfer documents from her desktop to an external hard-drive,” a process Paul believed was happening as the two remained on the line.

She captured audio on both Saturday, Nov. 9, and Monday, Nov. 11, the county-observed Veterans Day holiday, that offers further Morales’ reaction to the paper’s request.

Nov. 9, 2013, phone recording (Judy Morales, Mari Paul):

MoralesCall131109

Nov. 11, 2013, voice mail (Judy Morales):

MoralesVMail131111

Of information received in response to the Bell County open records request, the Telegram reports:

The emails the Telegram received indicated Morales had been using her county computer, county resources and county employees to assist her in her 2011 campaign for City Council, a violation of county policies and possibly state laws.

Morales’ comments including “delete, delete, delete” with regard to non-county related items on her computer, made her emails all the more a source of interest.

When this reporter submitted a Feb. 12, 2013, PIA request for copies of Morales’ county email from Feb. 1, 2011, through Nov. 30, 2013, Bell County Assistant County Attorney Darrell Guess first responded that the charge for fulfillment of the request was estimated to exceed $56,000. He later revised the amount to $50,372.95.

After taking a leave of absence from the council, Morales has now returned although in a recent statement, Temple Mayor Danny Dunn says it was “against my wishes, and, I believe, against the wishes of the other councilmembers.” She also has filed for re-election.

A Bell County Sheriff’s Department investigation is reportedly complete with the results now under review by Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols.

Meanwhile, Paul has initiated a recall petition effort seeking recall of Morales, Dunn and the three remaining council members Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider. While the Morales’ controversy is a focal point of the effort, other issues related to Temple’s city government may also influence participation.

NOTE: The Temple recall petition effort as well as a recent column Rebel or Patriot? Where would you land in a Revolution? were topics last week when Lou Ann Anderson joined Doc Greene on Raging Elephants Radio.

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