The sleaziest little newspaper in Texas, plus more damning news about the Hearne City Council

If public conniption fits are any indication, I must be getting way under the skin of the Booger County Mafia and its flunkies. As I told The Bryan-College Station Eagle last week, witnesses saw Hearne City Manager Pee Wee waiving a printed copy of one of my blog posts at city hall and saying, “This sh@# needs to stop!” (I assume he was talking about my blogging and not his own role in misappropriating taxpayer funds).

Rusty.249111858_stdAt the same time, Hearne City Attorney Bryan F. “Rusty” Russ, Jr.’s wife and sister (not the same person) have been doing his dirty work on Facebook, with his wife implying that I am gay and mentally ill. The latter is particularly ironic, because I suffer from exactly the same mental illness that she does: clinical depression. And while I appreciate the Mafia’s ongoing interest in my sexual preference, I must report – to John Paschall’s apparent disappointment – that I am straight.

Then there’s Dennis Phillips, the publisher and editor of the Robertson County News, who accepted $30,000 worth of hush money from the city in exchange for ignoring most of the crimes at city hall.  On Monday, he published “Booger County Mafia debunked” in an effort to set me straight, but he ended up admitting that he did exactly what I accused him of doing. [UPDATE 9/24/2015: The post has been deleted, but I saved a copy and you can find the link by clicking here.] More on that below, but I am always amused when my blogging is critiqued by a purported journalist who struggles with sixth-grade grammar and spelling.

I view all of this conniptionality (yes, I made that word up) as a positive sign. Crooks always get bent out of shape when they are being exposed. And since we’re on the topic, let’s expose them a little more.

PAYOFF FOR COUNCILWOMAN HAZEL EMBRA

If you were wondering how Hearne Mayor Pro Tem Hazel Embra would be paid off for joining the Booger County Mafia, wonder no more: last night the city council voted 3-1 to appoint her as the municipal judge, a position that she desperately wanted (even though she is totally unqualified) because it pays $20,000 per year for only a few hours of work each week.

Mayor Gomez (edited)Only City Councilwoman Shirley Harris voted against the appointment, and that fact is telling. Councilman Emmett Aguirre has been trying for months to walk both sides of the fence, telling people that he opposes Mayor Ruben Gomez and all of the other crooks at city hall. When push came to shove, however, he voted for the Embra appointment even though he knew she was unqualified.

I had wondered why Mrs. Embra was so hellbent on being appointed municipal judge when all of her allies would likely be voted off the council in May, at which point the new council majority would likely fire her (and reduce the salary for the part-time job). That question was answered last night when the council voted (at the recommendation of Mr. Russ and with the support of Mr. Aguirre) to make the appointment effective for three years. In other words, the current council members are trying to impose their decision on future council members, never mind what the voters want.

I doubt that the current council can bind subsequent council members, and it remains to be seen what will happen if Mrs. Embra and the other blind mice are convicted of criminally violating the Texas Open Meetings Act. TOMA violations are classified as official misconduct, so I doubt that she could continue serving as a judge.

I am also informed that a private contractor has been paid by the city to repair and remodel private homes in Hearne, and that all of those homes are owned by women who attend church with Mrs. Embra. I’ll post more details as they become available.

MICHAEL WERLINGER PLOTS HIS RETURN

Now that Mrs. Embra has resigned from the council to serve as municipal judge, the remaining council members must appoint her replacement, and that’s where things could get really interesting. I’m told the leading contender is none other than former council member Michael Werlinger, who was defeated in the last election by Councilwoman Harris.

WerlingerYou may recall that, prior to his defeat, Mr. Werlinger and Mayor Gomez boycotted all city council meetings in order to prevent a quorum and protect the interests of the Booger County Mafia. On July 29, 2015, I reported that the city manager’s official credit card had been used for all sorts of illegal purchases, including hundreds of dollars worth of football tickets for “M. Werlinger.”

Last week, Roderick Jackson gave me some new documents that he obtained from the city via the Texas Public Information Act. According to the latest records, it appears that taxpayer funds were spent to send Mr. Werlinger to the 2013 Cotton Bowl game between Texas A&M and Oklahoma.

Beneath my July 29, 2015 blog post, a comment was posted under the name “Michael Werlinger,” and it indeed appears to be from his Facebook account: “Ty, you are wrongly accusing me of something I had nothing to do with. I want you to realize this as I am a private citizen now and I don’t have to put up with your slanderous comments anymore.” Beneath that comment, I asked the following question: “So were the tickets purchased for you or someone else?” Mr. Werlinger responded to another comment, but he never answered my question.

The answer to that question is important, because it could determine whether Mr. Werlinger goes to prison. A few hundred dollars worth of football tickets would normally be charged as a misdemeanor, but it can be charged as a felony if public funds were misappropriated. So it’s time for a simple “yes” or “no,” Mr. Werlinger. Did you or did you not attend the Cotton Bowl (or any other entertainment events) with tickets that were purchased using taxpayer funds?

While I’m at it, do you owe the city thousands of dollars for unpaid electricity bills from your now-defunct restaurant? You know I’m going to get those records sooner or later, so you might as well answer now. And with respect to your suggestion that you “don’t have to put up with” my posts, you will soon learn otherwise. I realize Booger County boys don’t like the First Amendment, but as long as it is in effect, you will take whatever I give you.

WHITHER JAN ROE?

As I reported on January 9, 2015, former County Judge Jan Roe has been trying to get her snout back into the public trough, specifically by getting herself a six-figure salary as city manager of Hearne (a town of less than five thousand residents). Since the Mafia is back in charge of the council, and the council was brazen enough to appoint Mrs. Embra to a three-year term, there’s no reason why the Mafia wouldn’t ramrod the appointment of Mrs. Roe.

If Mrs. Roe is appointed, the council will probably give her an extended contract (not unlike Mrs. Embra’s appointment) so that the city will have to keep paying her even if the new council members fire her after the May election. After all, it’s only the taxpayer’s money, and the Mafia has to take care of its own.

HALF THE NEWS THAT’S FIT TO PRINT

I’ve fought crooked politicians in plenty of crooked little towns, but so far Hearne is the only place where the local newspaper has been as tainted and backwards as the local politicians. The first time I met the publisher / editor, Dennis Phillips, he looked like he had been thrown out of a bar and then woke up on a park bench. Dennis is a short, pudgy, middle-aged guy who regularly wears muscle shirts to show off his tatoos, and on that particular day he showed up in the courtroom wearing a reversed baseball cap.

Dennis PhillipsDress for success? Nah, it’s just Booger County.

In my September 18, 2015 and February 28, 2015 posts, I reported that Dennis and the Robertson County News accepted a $30,000 grant from the City of Hearne, and that this looked a lot like hush money, particularly insofar as the News has since refused to report on the ongoing investigation of financial crimes at city hall.

In reality, I understated the problem. The money was not given in the form of a grant but in the form of a forgivable loan. In my February 28, 2015 post, I noted that Dennis and the News have refused to report on the city’s mismanagement of economic development funds, and that the newspaper itself is a recipient of those funds, i.e., that’s where the $30,000 came from.

Among other problems, the city does not track whether recipients comply with the terms of the forgivable loans, yet it retains the discretion to forgive the loans or demand reimbursement. Therein lies the conflict of interest: If Dennis starts reporting on the financial irregularities at city hall, the city could demand reimbursement. If he keeps his mouth shut as he has done thus far, the city will almost certainly forgive the loan.

In his Facebook screed, Dennis admitted that he and the newspaper accepted the $30,000, but he offered the defense that the money was put to good use. That’s kind of like robbing $30,000 from a bank and then giving the money to your church. Try that excuse with the FBI and see how it works.

It was no surprise that Dennis’s latest post was full of falsehoods, as he previously fabricated a story to serve his race-baiting agenda. In his latest post, he alleged that I sought attorney fees after suing former District Attorney John Paschall for stealing from the estate of Marium Oscar, even though I was supposed to be prosecuting the case pro bono on behalf of a charity. In reality, all of the fees that I requested were to go directly to that charity, a fact that was explained in open court.

Dennis is a prolific liar, you see, but not a particularly good one. He claims that I “verbally assaulted Hazel Embra, in front of the audience and at least two other council members” at a prior council meeting.  It never happened, a fact to which numerous witnesses could testify if I decided to sue Dennis and his employer for libel.

Dennis also accused me of misreporting the fact that Judge Robert Stem blocked District Attorney Coty Siegert from listening to the audio recording of an executive session of the Hearne City Council. According to Dennis, KBTX reporter Patrina Adger and I were wrong because after the hearing Mr. Russ allowed Mr. Siegert to listen to the recording.

As with all previous occasions in which Dennis tried to correct me, Dennis was the one who got his facts wrong. Mr. Siegert confirmed yesterday that he was not allowed to listen the audiotapes after the hearing. He and Mr. Russ had reached a tentative agreement to permit him to listen to the recording, but that required the approval of the city council. Last night, the city council gave its approval.

So why did the city council fight so hard to keep Mr. Siegert from hearing the recording only to reverse course after Judge Stem ruled in the city’s favor? Mr. Russ figured out that Judge Stem’s order was a hollow victory. Mr. Siegert could subpeona Mrs. Harris before a grand jury, offer her immunity, and then compel her testimony about what happened during the executive session.

In his post, Dennis touted the fact that he is in Hearne whereas I am 1,638 miles away in Manhattan, so what could I possibly know? Obviously a lot more than he does. And if you’re a paid “journalist” in Hearne being scooped in your own back yard by a blogger in Manhattan, it’s probably time to look for a new career.

Incidentally, you can help Dennis make that career change by sending an email to Jim Moser, the president of the company that owns the Robertson County News. If you intend to boycott The News until Dennis is fired, then let Mr. Moser know that. While you’re at it, send emails to U.S. Senator John Cornyn, Congressman Bill Flores, State Senator Charles Schwertner, and State Rep. Kyle Kacal and ask them to encourage the FBI and Texas Rangers to get involved.

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P.S. Dennis claimed that he would not respond to anything else that I write. That promise probably won’t last very long, and I hope it doesn’t. Every time he attacks me, he drives up my web traffic.