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Grand jury requests Wilmer councilmen testimony

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Wickliffe hires attorney over possible nepotism violations
The Ellis County Press
WILMER - Three city councilmen - Billy Wickliffe, Eugene Lowe and Dean Rolison - have been sent letters from a Dallas County grand jury inquiring into alleged nepotism law violations.

Councilwoman Tiny Lange refused to vote on rehiring Wilmer City Administrator Thom Lauer last year when his mother-in-law, Teresa Bain, was serving on the council.

'Tiny [Lange] and John Eggan [Wilmer citizen] are playing politics,' said Councilman Billy Wickliffe, who received a letter but declined to release a copy of it to this newspaper.

'I could see the rope coming.'

Due to Wickliffe's recent bout with pneumonia, the matter was pushed into mid-January, he said.

Wickliffe, who said he hired a lawyer to defend him in this case, was the only councilman to speak on record.

Eugene Lowe and Dean Rolison could not be reached as of press time despite numerous attempts at contacting them.

Bain, who was elected in 2004, resigned on June 7 of this year, but two checks issued to Lauer were dated in May, according to copies obtained by The Ellis County Press.

And according to city budget documents, Lauer also received a check the same day Bain resigned.

Lauer said he was laid off by the city late last year due to the city's financial condition, but was rehired after revenues were keeping the city afloat.

City Attorney Bob Dillard, in a letter addressed to all of the council members on Nov. 13, 2006, stated Lauer could not be rehired by the council. Dillard cited Section 573.041 of the Local Government Code, which states, 'A public official may not appoint, confirm the appointment of, or vote for the appointment or confirmation of the appointment of an individual to a position that is to be directly or indirectly compensated from public funds or fees of office if... the individual is related to another member of that board...'

And in an e-mail opinion from the Texas Municipal League, Laura Mueller stated, 'My advice [on the Lauer rehiring] is that this ‘reinstatement' would be contrary to nepotism laws and would subject whoever voted on the matter to liability under the nepotism statutes.'

Dillard, however, made note Lauer served lawfully a previous time.

'The reason Lauer was able to serve as city administrator previously is that Section 573.062 contains an exception with regard to continuous employment when an individual is employed in the position immediately before the election of the public official to whom he is related in a prohibited degree for at least six months.'

Lauer admitted to receiving paychecks before his mother-in-law, Bain, served on the city council, but said he earned them.

He told The Ellis County Press he would talk only if 'questions were asked nicely.'

Wilmer, a town of 3,100 north of Ferris, is located in Dallas County.

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