Seek note to the Judge

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Lester Gibson, Democrat

Waco – As election Tuesday looms, the reality of politics is thrown into stark relief against the brilliant surface of a black and white screen that is plainly visible from the nickel seats.

When McLennan County Commissioner Lester Gibson, a Democrat, slipped out of a Court session last Tuesday only minutes after the session opened, Republican County Judge Scott Felton said he left to fulfill prior commitments on the campaign trail, where he is defending his seat against Republican challenger Tony Abad after 6 terms of service.

A local media representative published an article about the matter, quoting the Judge. Felton said, “He slipped me a note.”

The report also mentioned a proposed measure to allow elected officials who return to service as newly hired employees to transfer their credit for sick days accrued during their elected term of office. Former Constables whose precincts were eliminated in a recent redistricting ordered by the Court after the Primary Election could have claimed that benefit if they were to be hired as Deputy Constables.

Gibson missed voting on the agenda item when he left early. The news report quoted his having said at some point that it would be a policy he would not vote against.

When the proposal failed unanimously on the votes of the four Republican members of the Court, the media outlet claimed it had been scheduled for discussion by Republican Commissioner Ben Perry, who promptly voted against the notion once it came up for discussion.

Veteran Commissioners Court watcher R.S. Gates promptly filed a request for public information. He writes:

As you can see…I sent a public information act request to the county judge requesting access to the note…As of today11/2/14, I have received no response. It causes one to wonder. Is the judge just indifferent to the public information act? Did he destroy a government record? Did he lie to the newspaper about the note? We do not know, and indications are, we may never find out.”

Gates is a former police officer who won election as a Justice of the Peace from Moody, Texas, in a Constabulary and Justice Court Precinct the Court eliminated following his victory in the 2006 mid-term election. He was never permitted to take the bench, nor was he compensated for the term of office for which he was elected because the Commissioners Court under the administration of former County Judge Jim Lewis refused to issue a certificate of election after canvassing the voting tally that clearly indicated his victory.

The 10th District Court of Appeals split two to one in its refusal to grant Gates mandamus relief. Chief Justice Tom Gray, a Republican, issued a minority opinion holding that a candidate is elected by the highest number of votes, and not by a certificate of election. The Supreme Court of the State of Texas refused to hear the case. State law dictates that candidates who are elected prior to the elimination of their precincts by redistricting are to be allowed to serve the term of office for which they were elected. Local Republican officials have interpreted all this to mean that election to office is no guarantee that a candidate will be allowed to serve in that office.

One may read a copy of Gates’ Public Information Act Request seeking the note Gibson wrote to Judge Felton here:

“This is a request for access to public information in the form of a note from Commissioner Gibson as referenced in the news story in the Waco Trib.

 “‘During a break in the meeting, County Judge Scott Felton said Gibson slipped him a note to say he was leaving to campaign. Felton said it’s the same reason why Gibson missed last week’s meeting.'”

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Tony Abad, Republican challenger for Lester Gibson’s seat

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