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Mayor objects to open records request, seeks AG ruling

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J. HOSKINS
The Ellis County Press
             BARDWELL – During the April 7 council meeting, The Ellis County Press served Mayor P.W. Gentry with an open records request.

The ECP sought the release of the following items, pursuant to the Public Information Act:

      1)  All meeting minutes and agendas since January 1, 2004

 2) Copies of all traffic citations issued since January 1, 2004

 3) Copies of all bank statements, cancelled checks and deposit slips since January 1, 2005, for all city funds

 4) Copies of all water bill account statements since January 1, 2005

      5)  Copy of the City of Bardwell Municipal Court Docket book since January 1, 2004

 6) Copies of the status of each citation issued since January 1, 2005, to include the disposition (guilty, not guilty, nolo-contendre, whether or not a fine was assessed, if the driver’s license was suspended, or if a warrant was issued for the arrest, or if the person who committed the alleged violation appeared in court; and to whom that person made appearance to), and if a fine was collected, who assessed the fine, and the person who collected the fine.

 7) Copies of all receipts for all fines collected by the City of Bardwell, and by whom the fine was collected

       8) Copies of all gas receipts, account statements, or charge slips for the City of Bardwell Police Department since January 1, 2005.

      9)  Copies of all mileage/activity logs for the Bardwell Police Department, including time sheets.

      10) All city personnel payroll records since January 1, 2005

      11)  All documents relating to the drawing of Unemployment Compensation of Shannon Yvonne King Spurgeon, a white female with a DOB of 9/12/1970, sent to or received from the Texas Workforce Commission.

      12)  Job application of Chief of Police Michael  Wayne Spurgeon, a white male with a DOB of 10/1/1951

      13) Oath of office and application for candidacy of Mayor Prentice W. Gentry

 These records may shed light on the lack of information available to the citizens, which is possibly detailing extensive public corruption in the city, and abuses of their tax dollars.

 Citizens have voiced concerns over city funds to the ECP, including how the funds are collected, and by whom.   The records will identify those potential abuses, something that the ECP believes the mayor is trying to suppress and keep from the eye of the public.

One example of possible corruption is that Shannon Spurgeon is on tape trying to coerce a citizen out of a puppy, in exchange for reducing that citizens water bill.  Spurgeon has also had a history of collecting money from people at their residences, another practice that some see as strange.

Others accuse the mayor and police chief of misusing city equipment and funds.  The mayor is currently under criminal investigation.  The police chief admitted to the ECP on April 7, that he too, uses city equipment and tax payer dollars for personal use, which is a potential violation of state law. 

In light of the corruption that is being exposed, and based on citizens demands for answers, the ECP is seeking the above documents, which may reveal the true picture.

It should be noted that failing to produce the records required by law, is an offense.  It should also be noted that tampering or altering a government document, is against the law.  Making public documents inaccessible to a member of the public, who requests them is against the law.  The only option at this juncture, is to file for an AG Open Records Decision or produce the documents.

Many in this small town see this as nothing more than a delay tactic by the mayor in keeping them from finding out the truth.    This infuriates the towns people, who demanded, but have received no answers, in person, or during the council meeting.  Their only venue- to contact the press to compel the mayor to reveal what has been transpiring though legal action and records requests.

While the contents of the records have not yet been revealed, the ECP is looking into the issue.  The ECP, in the citizen’s interest, and because of its journalism ethics, is requesting documents regarding the issues from both local and state officials and agencies.  Its goal- to inform the citizens about the true situation in Bardwell, with a complete accounting from 2004 to the present of funds, customer’s water accounts, and police activities, as well as expenditures.

The ECP is in the process of attempting to locate any past or present charges against the mayor, including offense reports and arrests.

Gentry filed a two-sentence request for review of the documents dated April 10.  In that letter Gentry, who made numerous typographical errors, made the following request:

“Dear Sir,

Please give ruling on these items enclosed.  We know some of them but not all of them.

Thank you very much,

Sincerely,

P.W. Gentry,

Mayor, City of Bardwell

What is unclear is what is enclosed, as well as the lack of proper grammar usage.

Gentry’s request is vague and ambiguous. It lacks detail and information leading to the basis of the request.

 

ECP Fights For The Citizens In Demanding Production Of Documents Subject To Disclosure

The Ellis County Press and County Press Group, LLP. believe information requested under the Public Information Act is in the public's interest.  Numerous questions have been raised about the legality of the operation of the City, as well as issues surrounding the police department, municipal court, and water bills. 

ECP's motivation is to inform the citizens of the state of their city, and to conduct an outside review of all the printed documentation available.  Citizens have made allegations and accusations, and the Ellis County Press is working to confirm or deny those allegations.  A simple immediate production of the documents requested, could do just that, however the mayor has chosen to delay the production of the documents.

The Ellis County Press is seeking an immediate release of these documents, and is preparing a brief for the Attorney General's Office, which cites case law, in addition to previous open records rulings.

Clearly, from all indications and research conducted on previous rulings, that the AG should rule in our favor, and compel the city to produce the documents.  The tactics being employed by the Mayor, P.W. "Jinker" Gentry in requesting an opinion is nothing more than a delay tactic.  In turn, the citizens are delayed in finding out the true answers regarding their government.However, once final, the city must comply with the AG's ruling on the matter.

According to the Texas Attorney General's Open Records Division, Gentry's letter is a common stall tactic used to keep cities from producing documents.  The Open Records Division states that Gentry is supposed to send all of the requested documents to them for review.  The Ellis County Press will be filing a brief before the Attorney General's Open Records Division immediately, citing numerous case laws and prior rulings.

A brief review of the case law indicates that the Ellis County Press is entitled to most, if not all of the documents requested.  Citations, court dockets, water bills and account information, such as deposits, cancelled checks, etc, are all in the public domain, and subject to disclosure, according to the AG's office.

Citizens call Gentry's efforts to suppress information from the citizens "absurd" and "downright despicable".  They said that the mayor has shown his true colors, and should immediately resign "if he knew what was good for him".  Some said "the mayor got the bull by the horns this time, and should have avoided this fight."  They say that the mayor is doing nothing but delaying the inevitiable- which is his removal from office, as well as the prosecutions of Michael Spurgeon, Shannon Spurgeon, as well as himself by concealing the documents which may reveal a large pattern of illegal behavior and abuse of their positions.


What happens next?

Once the AG's ruling process is completed, immediate research will commence on the documents, which will expose light on the situation. However, in the mean time, it is not known whether documents are being tampered with or destroyed, therefore, the ECP will file a request that the documents in question be immediately produced to the Attorney General's Office for review and safekeeping.

In the mean time, however, state agencies such as TCLEOSE and the Department of Public Safety have begun the immediate production of documents.  While the Bardwell documents are important, work is not ceasing in exposing the alleged corruption in Bardwell, which according to some citizens, dates back to 2001. 

The work will not stop by a two sentence request. By law, the Attorney General's office will issue a ruling within 45 business days.  By the first week of June, citizens may finally begin to get the answers they have been wanting for years, but did not know how to get the information from the City. 

This may shine the light on their water woes, financial situation, and corruption inside the City's administration.  The Ellis County Press will continue to keep its readers up-to-date on the situation in Bardwell and it's investigation into public corruption by the mayor, among other officials in the small Ellis County town.


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Nelson Propane

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