I owe Robertson County News publisher Dennis Phillips a debt of gratitude. I wanted to blog about the upcoming elections in Hearne, but Dennis lit a fire under me yesterday, forcing me to hurry up and git ‘er done. So grab some Lysol, gather the wife and kids around the iPhone, and get ready for another excursion into small-town corruption and cronyism.
In this week’s edition of the News, Dennis endorsed Mayor Ruben “The Godfather” Gomez and Councilman Emmett “Mankiller” Aguirre for re-election, as well as challenger (and former Councilwoman) LaShunda White, a.k.a. “LaShunda Sellout.” In other words, Dennis endorsed the Booger County Mafia candidates.
Normally you would expect a journalist (or someone purporting to be one) to oppose corrupt politicians, and normally you would be right, but then Booger County isn’t exactly normal. For that matter, neither is Dennis.
Back in 2015, I reported that Dennis and his employer accepted $30,000 (or 30 pieces of silver, if your prefer) from city officials for the alleged purpose of remodeling the headquarters of the newspaper. Ever since then, Dennis and the News have been dutifully supportive of the corrupt ruling class, i.e., the Booger County Mafia, and harshly critical of the reformers on the city council. Where I grew up, we would call that a payoff. In Booger County, it’s called business as usual.
According to Dennis, the Mafia candidates are the best choice for economic development and “progress” in Hearne. I suppose that’s true if you define “economic development” as giving taxpayer money to Dennis and his employer.
Seriously, what self-respecting editorialist would endorse Ruben Gomez for mayor? Gomez’s name is synonymous with corruption, and for good reason. Just Google “LawFlog” and “Gomez” and read for yourself. On September 9, 2015, for example, I reported that the mayor’s sister, Sylvia Montelongo, had written nearly fifty thousand dollars worth of hot checks to the city for utilities, but her electricity had never been turned off.
When Gomez’s current challenger, Milton Johnson, organized a petition drive to force a forensic audit of city finances, Gomez supported a lawsuit to block the audit. The audit happened anyway and, not surprisingly, the auditor found evidence that city officials were manipulating utility bills.
Gomez has since argued that the audit found nothing wrong, but that’s delusional. Just read the audit report for yourself. And bear in mind that the audit findings would have been a lot more damaging but for the fact that the Mafia sabotaged it. The city council approved hiring an auditor to report directly to the council, but the city’s sleazy attorneys changed the contract (without council approval) so the auditor would report to them.
Time and again, the audit report alluded to serious misconduct (including evidence suggesting that Gomez accepted bribes), but it usually stopped short by saying that further inquiry was “beyond the scope” of the audit. Except it wasn’t beyond the scope, because the city council never limited the scope. Instead, the city’s law firm (which resigned under a suspicious cloud) must have limited the scope, because the city council knew nothing about the purported limits.
Speaking of that law firm, I suggested several months ago that Interim City Manager John Naron (Gomez’s errand boy) may have formed an unholy alliance with the firm, allowing it to churn grossly excessive legal bills in exchange for representing his interests over the city council’s (the firm billed more than $100,000 in a six month period even though the city was not involved in litigation). The evidence for that unholy alliance is growing.
Before the financial report was finished, I told the city’s financial investigator about the law firm’s excessive billing, and he told me that the current administration (i.e., Naron’s administration) was beyond the scope of his investigation. Since those limitations were not imposed by the city council, they must have been imposed by the city’s attorneys, George Hyde and Sarah Griffin of Denton Navarro Rocha Bernal Hyde & Zech, P.C. In other words, it looks like Hyde and Griffin put themselves and their overbilling beyond the scope of the audit. How convenient.
FOLLOW THE MONEY
Long before the audit began, I voiced my suspicions that city officials were protecting their friends (and punishing their enemies) by tampering with utility bills. At least two council members strongly encouraged the financial investigator to look into utility billing, and he did… sort of.
The financial report discussed general problems with utility billing, but it contained surprisingly few details, and most of those details (e.g., about the mayor’s sister) had already been reported on this blog. There was no information about the number of customers affected, nor was there any information about the amount of money at stake. Why not?
You may recall that Naron and the investigator, Ed Martin, tried very hard to convince the city council to hire an interim attorney so the report could be discussed in closed session. Obviously, they wanted to hide something from the public, and Martin even told the media that he was concerned about litigation, but why? Here’s a possibility: if dozens (hundreds?) of utility bills were tampered with by city officials, the city could be facing some nasty lawsuits, and the perpetrators could go to federal prison for wire fraud and mail fraud. I have to wonder if Hyde and Griffin directed Martin to omit the details for that very reason.
And voters should remember that LaShunda White and Emmett Aguirre voted to filed suit in order to keep their constituents from voting on whether the city should be audited. They also voted to reappoint Michael “Sticky Fingers” Werlinger to the city council shortly after voters threw him off (Werlinger, you may recall, received college football tickets that were purchased with the city manager’s credit card). At the next opportunity, voters booted Werlinger and White from the council.
Yet here comes Lashunda White again, trying to get her nose back in the public trough. Just remember, she has sold out her supporters before, and she will do it again. Incidentally, someone should ask White how many times someone at City Hall intervened to keep her electricity from being shut off for non-payment. In fact, I challenge her to make those records public. Otherwise, people might assume that she tried to block the audit because she had something to hide. And if she couldn’t afford to pay her utility bills, where did she get the money for that new Lincoln SUV? Yeah, I’m talking about the SUV that she started driving right after she sold out her supporters and joined the Mafia.
GET OUT AND VOTE
The choice in the upcoming election could not be clearer. If you want more corruption and cronyism at City Hall, then vote for the Mafia candidates: Ruben Gomez, Emmett Aguirre, and LaShunda White. If you’re tired of being ripped off, then vote for Milton Johnson, Shirley Harris, and Ola Mae Redmond.
Full disclosure: I represent Johnson and Harris in several legal matters. Ola Mae Redmond is not a client, but I know her and fully support her in her race against Councilman Aguirre. Along with Johnson and Harris, she circulated petitions in support of an audit of city finances.