Clerk under Texas Rangers investigation
Chamber, EDC focus of probe
The Ellis County Press
ITALY – A municipal court clerk is under investigation by the Texas Rangers for her chamber of commerce bank account, allegations of nepotism are rampant and the small town south of Waxahachie cannot verify the legal documents that set up its economic development corporation.
Italy, a town of about 2,000, is known as the "Littlest Big Town in Texas," but for several months, attention has been focused on several allegations of corruption, including the misuse of hotel/motel tax dollars for projects not outlined in state law.
Mayor Frank Jackson confirmed the Texas Rangers investigation shortly after it was revealed city officials used city funds to pay for street signs
throughout downtown Italy, which is dissected by Highway 77.
"We did go ahead and use the hotel tax money at first, but I talked to the city attorneys and they said it wasn’t right," Jackson said after a council meeting in September.
Italy is allowed to collect a 6-percent hotel occupancy tax that is administered by the Texas Comptroller’s office in Austin.
Funds can only be authorized to be spent on tourism and hotel usage, according to Comptroller Susan Combs’ office.
Jackson said Italy officials put the tax dollars "back where they belong."
The mayor also confirmed the Texas Rangers were investigating allegations into Susan Delephimne while she was the lone signature on the Italy Chamber of Commerce account.
Questions regarding spending and other account-related issues helped prompt the investigation, according to other elected officials in Italy.
Delephimne, who told Italy-based NeoTribune.com she was being instructed not to talk to the media, was also alleged by current and former city administration officials of using her position on the Italy Historical Society to have an out-of-compliance home transferred to city hands.
Delephimne, who reportedly used the Italy City Hall address for historical commission correspondence, was told to keep the two entities separate.
City workers said they noticed Delephimne and her husband taking items from the dilapidated house before a contract or other paperwork produced the arrangement.
A former city administrator also alleged Delephimne of selling the items, which included valuable antiques.
This former administrator said she met with the relatives who owned the out-of-compliance house, who were inquiring about the taking of the items.
City officials said they began questioning the authority the historical commission held over the matter, but were met with silence.
Lower bids, council divided
At the November city council meeting, a pair of vendors approached the City of Italy and asked why their bid for work was denied, even though they were $109,000 less than the contractor who won the job to do street and roofing projects.
The contractors lost to a firm who at one time employed Italy’s current public works director, who is also related to other city officials.
Councilman John Droll, who was recently re-appointed on a 3-2 vote after stepping down to tend to work-related reasons, said the city should make certain that situation never happens again.
Droll was re-appointed in a rare Saturday morning meeting on Sept. 27 after he had resigned to focus on his job.
The council appointed Jimmy Hyles over the summer, who subsequently resigned due to health issues.
Droll, according to city administrators who provided much of the information for this story, is considered the council’s "questioner."
"They don’t like him because he asks all the questions, he’ll do the right thing," one former city clerk said.
Italy’s economic development corporation, created, staffed and funded by Italy taxpayers, has not been in legal standing with the State of Texas, according to published media reports earlier this year.
The EDC, which acts as a vehicle to promote and entice economic development using sales tax dollars, was fined by the state due to legal incorporation paperwork that was never filed.
However, the business of the EDC continues, and at the November council meeting, Italy voted to increase the number of board members from seven to nine, even though Italy’s city administrator said statutes prevent that action.