By 12/20/2007 00:00:00
The Ellis County Press
BARDWELL - Maggie Walker stays mostly in her house because she's less apt to get harassed by city police officers, the ones she hired two years ago when she served as a police administrator.
And now that a state agency regulating peace officers informed Bardwell council members of those officers not being in office legally, Walker said she and others are waiting for Mayor P.W. 'Jinker' Gentry to make the officers legit.
'They're [licensed] peace officers, they just can't work here,' said Walker, who serves on the three-member city council with Gentry and Alvie Hollingsworth.
Walker said the council must approve the hiring of the officers, which was not done.
'She hired them two years ago,' said Gentry, the 74-year-old mayor of this town of 583 people southwest of Ennis.
The mayor said he has no plans to have the officers approved, partly because he informed current Chief Michael Spurgeon the officers weren't required to get council approval.
Gentry admitted Spurgeon brought the officers to a council meeting, but only as a 'meet and greet' gesture.
'Whether it was legal or not, we don't know,' Gentry said, who noted he received a letter from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Standards and Education informing him about the officers in question - two non-paid reserves.
'It [letter] just verified their employment.
TCLEOSE Director of Enforcement and Licensing James Heironimus disagreed.
'If these officers did not get council approval, they are inappropriately commissioned,' he said, paraphrasing his letter.
Heironimus said if his agency found out the officers were writing citations while not commissioned, he would 'go after' the police chief.
'We've done it for years. Other things were illegal that we [found out],' Gentry said.
'We were working illegal at the time [of the police officer hiring], we didn't know it.
'There's no use putting this [BS] in the paper,' Gentry said.
No more municipal court?
In mid-August, Bardwell's city judge at the time, Justice of the Peace Jackie Miller Jr., resigned, and since then, Gentry said he has been collecting some fines and fees from residents who have received speeding tickets or other moving violations from the two officers who are not operating in Bardwell legally.
Gentry said he has yet to hire a court clerk to handle the fines and fees, but that a municipal judge can be hired if needed.
Asked to the legality of such a situation, Gentry said he didn't know.
'I've heard of the laws being quoted, but I don't know [if it's illegal or not]. I'd have to look it up [myself].'
City attorney Don Stout could not be reached for comment on this story.
When asked whether a resident needed to talk to a judge or just pay the fines to Gentry, the mayor admitted, 'Yeah, I can take that [fines].'
Texas Rangers investigate
Shannon Spurgeon, a former city employee and wife of the police chief, is working at city hall on a volunteer basis, Gentry said.
She's also not bonded - a requirement for public employees.
'She's not bonded and she's not handled money since July,' Gentry said. Walker, the councilwoman, said Spurgeon has been denied by four bonding companies.
Spurgeon did not return repeated requests for comment.
Texas Rangers investigators, meanwhile, met with Gentry about possible criminal violations by a former police chief, Michael Chase Meissner.
'I met with them two or three months ago at the Ellis County Sheriff's Office. That investigator was as nice as he could be.'
'When [Meissner] was here, we had lots of officers,' Walker said.
'We didn't know many of them. There was quite a few.' Those officers, Walker said, did not get council approval either.
Heironimus, the director with TCLEOSE, said if Meissner's past hires and the current chief's hires were found to be writing citations while not 'appropriately commissioned,' his agency would seek fines, some as high as $100 per day for each violation.
'The police chief is ultimately responsible,' said Heironimus.
'I've been watching him [Meissner] a long, long time.'
When asked to comment about the allegations in this story, Meissner instead praised Gentry.
'As far as Bardwell is concerned, I haven't worked there in almost three years as chief. I observed Gentry to be an honest hard-working mayor,' Meissner said.
'I never at any time observed anything illegal or unethical in his capacity of being the mayor or as a private citizen.
'I cannot say this about everyone but he is one of the finest men I have ever met. Bardwell as a community is lucky to have a mayor that cares so much about the community.'
When first approached by another Ellis County Press reporter for comment, Meissner contacted a local high school and a school district superintendent claiming the reporter was trying to lure him into making 'sexual harassment' allegations, according to this local district's officials.
Meissner has been the subject of numerous media reports on his past arrest history and employment with other agencies, has been on County Attorney Joe Grubbs' radar screen for quite some time.
Grubbs also said his office is 'well aware' of the investigations into the situation in Bardwell, but until those outside agencies' investigations are complete, his office couldn't interfere.
More on Meissner
Meissner, whose entire past spans several Internet websites documenting WFAA-TV (Channel 8) interviews and radio transcripts, recently teamed up with a web developer from Fort Worth, Ali Akbar, to get those prior arrest records, news media reports and interview transcripts taken offline. Akbar, who is on probation for credit card abuse and theft, did not return requests for comment.
However, last Friday, one of the Internet sites was accessed and was deleted. Akbar, admitting to deleting one website earlier this month, has denied involvement; Meissner would not answer any questions related to the deletions. Included in that material were several pieces of information relating to Meissner's criminal investigations stemming from Bardwell and his employment with a Henderson County police department.
Walker, who said Meissner still calls to 'harass her,' had to close down her candle business because of the pressure involved for trying to expose the wrongdoing in Bardwell. She's now afraid that by coming forward in this article, the harassment will escalate.
'I'm afraid they'll come after me.'
Citizens who have received tickets from Bardwell officers, or who have paid fines to Gentry, are urged by the state officials in this story to contact the Ellis County/District Attorney's Office at 972-825-5035.