A decade of Ellis County politics
JOEY G. DAUBEN
The Ellis County Press
ELLIS COUNTY - Has it really been 10 years?
From 2000 to 2010, Ellis County has seen a transformation economically, spiritually and more importantly, politically.
It wasn’t what it used to be. With goals as a sports writer, I landed a job at The Ellis County Press in November 2001 after two years of writing experience at Focus Daily News in DeSoto, where I covered sports and entertainment and as divine plans would have it, local government.
My first test as an investigative reporter required me to study the archives from 1992 to 1999 to get a real grasp of just how dirty the political cesspool that was and still is Ellis County politics mirrored that of our state and federal nightmares.
If we do not learn the past, we will repeat the mistakes and disasters of political decisions made before us — 10 years ago this county was dark. There’s still hope for Ellis County...
Dec. 28, 2000
Overtaxed grassroots Republican activists, led by GOP county chair John Tabor, Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government chairman Marshal Evans and The Ellis County Press columnist Duff Hale turned in 541 pages of 8,740 signatures to County Auditor Mike Navarro and Delton Ake as part of a countywide effort to roll back a double-digit property tax increase spearheaded by (now former) County Judge Al Cornelius and his four-member commissioner’s court (only one, Ron Brown, voted against the tax hike and still remains on the court) — amid cries and howls from the Waxahachie Daily Light and the political establishment.
The Dec. 28 issue of the paper carried a front-page story, "Al’s tactics worry rollback leaders" by a reporter named Diana Buckley, now the county’s human resources director.
Dec. 21, 2000
In what will become known politically and jokingly as the Pink Elephant, a top-of-the-fold photo of the groundbreaking of the Ellis County Justice Center, graced the front page.
The justice center was one of two building projects voters had rejected at the polls but that county commissioners and Al Cornelius used a tax anticipation note to fund and build anyway.
The Pink Elephant, as it later became known, was financed using $7 million in borrowed money, and was later razed due to excessive mold and water damage, as well as haphazard construction work.
Included in the photo: Red Oak Mayor Todd Little; Waxahachie Mayor Chuck Beatty; architect Vince Staccio; County Judge Al Cornelius; County Commissioner Jerry Holland; Commissioner Hallie Joe Robinson; architectural consultant Peter Arnold; Commissioner Charles Waller; 378th District Judge Al Scoggins; 40th District Judge Gene Knize and project manager Jo Bhore.
Cornelius and Waller were later censured by the local GOP for their votes on the double-digit property tax increase and the justice center fiasco. Holland, a Democrat, was defeated for re-election in 2002 and Hallie Joe Robinson, the last Democrat to represent Precinct 1, opted not to seek another term.
keep in mind that during the petition-signature gathering, Cornelius and the political establishment successfully had Walmart, RaceTrac and other locations kick conservative activists off the property.
Also keep in mind that Cornelius and the official establishment mouthpiece, the Waxahachie Daily Light, continued a barrage of scare tactics and lies about how a property tax rollback would result in mass layoffs of sheriff deputies — which happened after the rollback passed.
But within six months, those positions were put back on the payroll.
To date, Ellis County taxpayers must pay for not one justice center, but two, as the one currently under construction was done the proper way (with voter approval.)
Dec. 7, 2000
Petition forms seeking to support a property tax rollback come up missing from a teacher’s lounge at Ennis High School to a Midlothian cafe. Jimmie Simmons, a columnist with The Ellis County Press, is quoted as saying, "Businesses making forms available are receiving threats.
"They’ve been warned allowing the petition to be signed in their place will mean loss of business."
Nov. 23, 2000
County Auditor Mike Navarro said a referendum to hike the salaries of Ellis County Sheriff’s Office deputies would also result in the loss of 40 of those deputy jobs due to a successful property tax rollback (which would later prove to be untrue, as the county had money in their budget for the pay raises and the re-hiring of laid off deputies.)
Election 2000 Recount: Republican Richard Schmidt won a recount over then-Democrat Bill Woody in the Precinct 1 constable’s race. Schmidt was the late husband of former Justice of the Peace Sue Schmidt, a Democrat who was defeated for re-election in 2002 by newly-minted Republican Bill Woody.
The final results after the recount:
Precinct 1 Constable | 2000
Republican -Richard Schmidt - 5,286 (votes)
Democrat - Bill Woody - 5,237
November General Election 2000
To see how the general election in Ellis County shaped up:
County Commissioner Precinct 1
Democrat - Hallie Joe Robinson - 3,725 (votes)
Republican - G.T. Morton - 3,145
County Commissioner Precinct 3
Republican - Jackie Miller Sr. - 6,794
Democrat - Sidney Osteen - 3,005
Constable Precinct 1
Republican - Richard Schmidt - 5,286
Democrat - Bill Woody - 5,237
Ellis County Sheriff’s Office Pay Raise
FOR - 21,007
AGAINST - 7,462
Sept. 28, 2000
Somehow, a state license plate belonging to then-Court at Law No. 1 Judge Bob Carroll, found itself auctioned on eBay.
Sept. 21, 2000
The 3-2 vote on the commissioner’s court approved a $51,523,611 budget that included $1.3 million for a 30-percent pay raise for ECSO deputies and a 20-cent property tax increase. The three votes: Al Cornelius; Jerry Holland; Charles Waller; the nay votes: Ron Brown; Hallie Joe Robinson.
Aug. 31, 2000
The Federal Bureau of Investigation launches a probe of Precinct 4 Constable Perry "Bubba" Curry for civil rights violations. A transcript of the audio recording is quoted on the front page.
June 21, 2001
Tax Assessor/Collector John Bridges has to cope with commissioners closing down the tax offices in Ennis, Midlothian and Red Oak as a result of a successful March 2000 property tax rollback election. Lines of people waiting to pay their taxes circle downtown Waxah-achie as a result.
June 7, 2001
40th District Court Judge Gene Knize was investigated by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct for his handling of an attempted injunction into the layoffs of ECSO deputies after voters approved a property tax rollback.
April 26, 2001
Reporter Diana Buckley pinned County Judge Al Cornelius on questions surrounding personnel layoffs and tax office closures issued to local newspapers before the actual property tax rollback vote took place.
Separately, a Buckley story titled, "Blame Game: Rollback accused as source of Ellis County’s problems," quoted Citizens National Bank Vice President Danny Rodgers: "The rollback situation damaged all of us in ways the taxpayers didn’t take into consideration. People did not take the time to consider."
Waxahachie ISD school board trustee Jim Phillipps blamed the rollback on loss of revenue for the school district.
"With so many delinquencies, from January through March we lost over $30,000 in interest alone. That’s money we’ll never get back."
Note: CNB contributed thousands of dollars to defeat the property tax rollback.
March 29, 2001
The Taxpayers Alliance for Good Government asked county officials if the Certified Annual Financial Report of Ellis County’s government could be used as a source of revenue to stem the layoffs. The CAFR is a source of widespread controversy in local government, as it is the source of millions in stored-away investment funds for statutorily-regulated monies.
March 22, 2001
The city of Red Oak’s 2000 Census data showed it with less than 5,000 people, despite the fact the city had been annexing property and running with a city charter.
March 8, 2001
Election Day: the March 3, 2001 referendum on the property tax rollback was finalized with this:
Property Tax Rollback | March 3, 2001
FOR - 4,501 (votes) - 53.2%
AGAINST - 3,958
The tax rollback resulted in the property tax rate being reduced $0.419498 per $100 of valuation to $0.351498 per $100 valuation.
Citizens Against the Rollback raised and spent $19,006.53 in efforts to defeat it. A turnout of only 12.3 percent of registered voters decided the election, or 8,459 in all.
For the first time in Ellis County history, Republicans swept out the last remaining Democratic strongholds in commissioner precincts and countywide offices, and became the new majority party.
The year 2002 was also the last election in which Democrats mounted serious challenges to GOP insurgents.
The 2002 primaries brought forth County Judge Chad Adams, County Treasurer Ron Langenheder, new commissioner Larry Jones (Precinct 2), as well as the defeat in the general election of County Treasurer Mark Price, who squared off against Adams. Price was the last remaining Democrat in Ellis County countywide.
Here’s how the 2002 general election fared:
Republican - Chad Adams - 17,600 (votes) - 61%
Democrat - Mark Price - 10,434 - 36%
Republican - Ron Langenheder - 16,697 - 58%
Democrat Mike Grant - 10,760 - 37%
Court at Law No. 2
Republican - A. Gene Calvert Jr. - 18,840 - 65%
Democrat - Cindy Hellstern - 8,959 - 31%
Republican - Billie Ann Fuller - 20,164 - 70%
Democrat - Jean Consalus - 7,593 - 26%
Justice of the Peace Precinct 1
Republican - Bill Woody - 4,539 - 58%
Democrat - Sue Schmidt - 3,062 - 39%
Constable Precinct 1
Republican - Ben Fry - 4,921 - 63%
Democrat - Dale Bible - 2,427 - 31%
Commissioner Precinct 2
Republican - Larry Jones - 3,520 - 54%
Democrat - Jerry Holland - 2,741 - 42%
Having already established myself as an investigative, outspoken reporter, I drove around downtown Waxahachie one day and found an unlocked door to the first Justice Center (the one that had been closed off due to mold and water damage) and armed myself with my press pass and digital camera.
When I resurfaced, the digital camera had images never before seen from the inside of the building.
The damages were plastered all over the front page in the next issue.
And in 2003, I cemented my status as a conservative, anti-higher tax, anti-overspending politicial activist.
I ran for Midlothian school board (Place 2) in a four-way race, receiving 29 percent of the vote (297 votes total), losing the seat by a mere 19 votes.
The election of commissioners Dennis Robinson (Precinct 1) and Heath Sims (Precinct 3) solidfied the turnaround on the commissioner’s court. Sims defeated incumbent Jackie Miller Sr. in the GOP primary run-off in 2004 by 90-some-odd votes.
After a very prolific writing career (Nov. 2001 to Oct. 2005) at The Ellis County Press, I wanted to concentrate on school and society’s view of education. It didn’t last long. I launched The Ellis County Observer blog to monitor campaigns and elections and from there it blossomed into the first bloodbath primary — 40th District Court Judge Gene Knize vs. Midlothian attorney Dan Altman. This election marked the beginning of the end for Knize, who announced in November 2009 that he would not seek another four-year term due in large part to the primary controversies of 2006.
Fresh off a successful bar exam and with several months of lawyering under his belt, Red Oak’s Rodney Pat Ramsey would shock the political establishment again, this time against his longtime nemesis County/Attorney Joe Grubbs in the GOP primary.
Grubbs shelacked Ramsey, but this election marked the second bloodbath primary with two sections: one for county/district attorney and the other for Ellis County Sheriff (Johnny Brown vs. James Ledbetter vs. Steve McKinney.)
In a wordy nutshell, this is and was the political scene for the past 10 years in Ellis County, and right, wrong or indifferent, the county has come a long way since 2000.
This, however, doesn’t mean that certain miniature controversies along the way didn’t creep up — my arrest in September 2008 by a politically-motivated ex-ECP writer can confirm that (all charges were flat-out rejected, the cop resigned and I’m waiting for a settlement check) — and this is no season to lay low.
With a new era of leadership and change will give rise to a new crop of vigilant taxpayer-activists.
This time, fueled by the Internet, the political establishment in 2010 will officially be dead — at least in the sense that they have no more hold over the information flow — we will monitor, watch and inspect every move, decision and vote — sometimes and usually armed with video cameras (cue ECP-TV.com reference now.)
To the Tea Party activists and those who are genuinely representative of the newfound liberty-loving movement, please take this special report and study it, and learn the history of our past leaders’ mistakes, and always, no matter the odds against you, or the negative material said or printed about you, remain vigilant.
This is our county, too.
The imposters had their say, and they lost.
The past 10 years was the culmination of many men, women, children and groups of people.
Most importantly, the thing to remember most about Ellis County is that none of the changes could have been made without a true, independent newspaper: the very Defending Truth and Freedom newspaper you are now reading.