With Temple Mayor Pro Tem’s Resignation, Special Election Ahead
Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales resigned her city council position this morning just hours ahead of a hearing scheduled to consider her removal from office. In a formal resignation notice Morales additionally noted her intention to submit a letter of declination as the District 2 officer-elect after the May 10 election.
For months, controversy around Morales has centered on her eligibility for office as well as 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. The former mayor pro tem was charged last week by the Bell County Sheriff's Office with Destruction, Removal or Alteration of Public Information. After turning herself in, she was released on a $1,500 bond.
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.”
At a news conference today Morales announced it as being "with a heavy heart that I am stepping down from the Temple City Council as representative of District 2 and as mayor pro tem of the city of Temple."
"Because this situation has caused dissension and division among the citizens of our community, I want to encourage all citizens to put aside their differences and work together as a community," Morales said. "We should love our community and work to improve it, not divide and destroy it."
Citing belief in the justice system and fairness when all facts are presented, she spoke of not prematurely judging others. Morales acknowledged having "made some mistakes in the past" as well as having apologized for them.
With wanting to "set the record straight on one issue," Morales said, "I have never lied to anyone regarding this situation and I have never taken any money belonging to the city, county, or an organization."
Morales' initial office ineligibility relates to a Temple City Charter clause which reads that no council member should receive compensation paid out of public funds. Her Bell County employment 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.
Referring today to the city charter issue and its "many factors," Morales called for "needed changes" that "can only be accomplished by a citizens review board made up of citizens representing all parts of our city."
Calling voters activity and participation in shaping our city's future for the right reasons a "good thing," Morales continued, "I pray that we will all step up and continue to participate and have our voices heard."
Thanking her supporters and District 2 voters, Morales said that at this time she must "step down in order to enable the city to move forward and work together."
She further remarked that history has demonstrated "District 2 and east Temple have been ignored and neglected for years," but commended her supporters and voters having worked together to "make strides in bringing change and awareness" to the area's needs. She also asked that the East Temple Redevelopment and Revitalization plan be continued.
"My commitment has and will always be to serve my community so that all citizens can enjoy the quality of life our city has to offer," Morales said. "I will also continue to work and serve in any way I can to see that we have equity and opportunities for all our citizens."
Mayor Danny Dunn, in a released statement, said:
I respect the decision from Ms. Morales to resign her position as Mayor Pro Tem and District 2 Councilmember. I thank her for her service to the city and wish her well. I would also like to say that her commitment to her constituents will continue to be honored by the Temple City Council. The Temple City Council will continue to strive to make all of our city a great place for all citizens.
Morales' public information destruction, removal or alteration charge, a misdemeanor offense punishable by up to a $4,000 fine and/or county jail confinement of up to three months, remains pending.
Per the Temple City Charter, city council vacancies due to resignation are filled in a special election called by remaining council members within 120 days of the vacancy occurring.
In prior statements, recall petition organizer Mari Paul has said regardless of today's outcome, her effort for a "total recall" of the city council will continue through its 30-day signature gathering cycle. She currently is about halfway through that period.