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With criminal charges pending, Temple mayor pro tem faces removal from office

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Despite facing a criminal misdemeanor charge, Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales earlier this week refused to resign her council position. With that, Temple Mayor Danny Dunn and council members Tim Davis, Perry Cloud and Russell Schneider have scheduled a 5 p.m. public hearing Thursday to consider adoption of a resolution authorizing Morales’ removal from office.

Morales was charged on March 11 with Destruction, Removal, or Alteration of Public Information, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or county jail confinement of up to three months. After turning herself in, she was released on a $1,500 bond.

The mayor pro tem’s alleged action appears to have been prompted by the November 2013 filing of a Temple Daily Telegram-initiated Public Information Act request seeking to learn if Morales, while working for Bell County as Director of Social Services at the county-managed HELP (Health, Education, Leadership, Progress) Center, violated county employee policies and/or state election laws by utilizing county employees and resources during her 2011 city council campaign.

The PIA request came shortly after Morales’ city council eligibility was called into question. In September, two months before the PIA request, a city charter “conflict of interest” clause was reportedly discovered.

As the charter reads that no council member should receive compensation paid out of public funds, Morales’ Bell County employment not only made her ineligible for her 2011 office run, but also rendered her more than two years of council service illegitimate.

The Application and Affidavit for Arrest Warrant, prepared by Investigator Wayne Corley, is largely based on information provided to the Bell County Sheriff’s Office by Mari Paul, a Bell County employee who filed a complaint over Morales’ instruction to delete potentially compromising computer files.

  • Per Corley, he met with Paul who identified her hire date at the Temple HELP Center as in November or December 2010.
  • Of her employment tenure, Paul said “shortly after going to work for the help center she was assigned many tasks by the Help Center Coordinator Judy Morales.” She further described tasks as involving the design of campaign brochures for Morales’ 2011 campaign as well as logs to track residents voting in the election. “LULAC projects Morales was involved in” were other responsibilities given to Paul who described this work as projects assigned in addition to regular HELP Center duties.
  • The affidavit describes Paul’s statement of how Morales returned to the HELP Center one day in late September 2013 and informed employees that “an old law” precluded her serving in office while receiving pay from a taxpayer-funded position. Paul said employees were told Morales would be resigning to become a volunteer until such time as she was hired back as a consultant.
  • Paul further described reading a Nov. 6 article about Morales having the HELP Center position while on city council. She then told of Morales returning the following day from a city council meeting discussing “chatter” at the meeting that media calls questioning misappropriation of funds could be forthcoming and if so, to “just take a message.”
  • On Nov. 8, Morales reportedly called Paul asking for direction in deleting files from her Bell County-issued laptop computer. Though Paul had previously given Morales such instructions, she again walked Morales through the steps, a process Paul believed was happening as the two remained on the line.
  • The morning of Nov. 9, a Saturday, was marked by Paul receiving a call from “a person she knew as Judy Morales” who expressed a need for Paul to delete files on her – Paul’s – work computer. The affidavit describes Paul advising how Morales suggested Paul provide her password if not wanting to delete the files and that Morales “would go in to the office and delete the files for her.” As noted in the affidavit, a portion of the call was recorded and has since been released to the media.
  • Not mentioned in the affidavit is Morales’ reference to having been alerted to the PIA request by “the judge,” presumably referring to County Judge Jon Burrows. In the audio, the person identified as Morales tells Paul:

“Friday evening the judge called me. He said that this guy—he wanted me to be aware they called and asked for a public information request, which means they can go in our emails and..and..search, you know. But, but you know, I don’t want them to search everything because they’re going to know about all this other stuff, from LULAC and everything else. Can you imagine the heyday they’re going to have on the news if these…they get low and dirty.”

MoralesCall131109

  • Also not mentioned in the affidavit is a voice mail Morales reportedly left for Paul on Nov. 11, the county-observed Veterans Day holiday. That recording has also been released to the media.

MoralesVMail131111

  • A final affidavit point details Paul’s filing a complaint against Morales with Bell County Human Resources Director Steve Cook upon returning to work Nov. 12. The report included a written narrative of event as well as materials supporting the allegations made.

Morales’ misdemeanor charge remains pending. Per a statement released upon her arrest, Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols 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.”

It is with this backdrop of criminality that the remaining Temple City Council members are calling for Morales’ removal from office. Allegations of racism and sexism are however surfacing, as the council’s “four white males” seek to remove Morales, a Hispanic female.

Other undertones were also in evidence based on Monday’s meeting when Morales, 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.

Other factors likely influencing this municipal drama include a recall petition effort seeking to remove from office Morales, Dunn and the other council members for action and inaction on a variety of issues including but not limited to the Morales controversy.

Additionally, any removal from office will apply only to Morales’ current term which expires in May. She has filed for re-election and is unopposed.

In other words, the drama is far from over.

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