‘I refuse to live in fear’

Jerry Pierce

The Honorable Jerry Pierce, Mayor of Valley Mills, Texas

Valley Mills, TX – He’s way too much of a man to let on, but one can only assume there have been threats.

People have actually suggested that Jerry Pierce wear a bullet-proof vest. He waits for a reaction, and the interlocutor remarks, “That would make one about as uncomfortable as could be.”

He smiles broadly, says, “I’m not going to do it. I refuse to live in fear. I lived in fear for 25 years before I came out of the closet and began to live openly as a gay man….”

The rest is history. He recounts some major events during his tenure as mayor of this little jewel of a city located where the Bosque River meanders through a picture perfect valley, past the place where the main stem of the Burlington Northern-Santa Fe turns due south for its run to Temple, thence to the terminus of the long line from Chicago and midwestern Kansas, Los Angeles, and northern New Mexico, at Santa Fe, near Galveston.

“I’ve had to make some hard decisions,” he recalls, then ticks off the facts – that two chiefs of police have been terminated,  and all but one member of the city  council have moved on.

A forensic audit shows, “They were operating unethically…,” and the town is fairly well polarized over the issues, all of which involve the appearance of corruption. The municipal judge is gone, as well as the city clerk, the chief of the volunteer fire department. The list goes on.

Anger is the key emotion. Hostility oozes from the blazing eyes and the flared nostrils of some of the people you meet at City Hall and on the streets; others are all smiles.

Jerry Pierce is smiling.

“The folks that are angry are the folks that either worked for the municipality, or were on previous city councils. I can lay my head down and sleep at night; I’m curious if they can,” Mayor Pierce says.

It’s a moral issue, for sure. The one remaining angry city councilman is a preacher, and he’s “in cahoots” with Pastor Gaylon Turner of Oak Grove Baptist Church, a former adherent of the cult known as the Children of God. Mr. Pierce shrugs; he grins, shrugs again, shakes his head. He’s incredulous. The preacher is the only member of the city council who voted against an ethics ordinance. “Does that make sense,” he asks, “that a preacher would be against adoption of an ethics law?”

“The Texas Rangers don’t seem to be interested, and that disappoints me.”

The story is to be found in the series of forensic audits done by an Irving firm, the findings of which led to adoption of an array of ethical policies that are in step with state laws governing record keeping, handling money, and the checks and balances required to make auditing possible.

In some cases, according to auditors, there was not enough information available to make an audit of where the money goes once contracts are signed, citations issued and plead out, records kept of the deposit and parceling of monies received as a result of court judgments, purchases and sales of property, and equipment.

One name that comes up repeatedly is that of City Councilman Curtis Wiethorn, who made various motions to enter agreements to to buy equipment and property, negotiate leases, and the like.

There is a mysterious transaction involving an oil and gas lease and the $221,985 deposit split into various CD’s and then paid out into city funds such as paving. “During the examination of documents related to the oil and gas lease, no executed documents were found…Subsequent contact with the Venture Oil & Gas, Inc. by the City shows that the company is not an active entity at this time…The remaining use of the funds related to the oil and gas lease in CD’s were not able to be completed.”

The Dollar General Store is located on a piece of property acquired under a dark cloud from the estate of a deceased citizen, owned by a corporate entity of which no one is quite sure of the identity of its investors.

The minutes state, “This ratification and authorization presentd an emergency and/or an urgent public necessity…” One thing for sure, “Doucments show that the City of Valley Mills sold approximately 1 acre of land to RLM Commercial Realty, Inc., for $65,000. It could be any of three possible, but the truth is, “Dollar General does not own the land where the business is located. It is unknown at this time if a relationship exists between the City representatives and the final owners of the land. There are pending requests for the limited partnership information from Nevada.”

The same goes for the acquisition of a fire truck from Medina County. Murky record-keeping has rendered the transaction an investigator’s trip through a time tunnel of advertisements, deposit slips, and cancelled checks. “The City issued check #21088 to Medina County ESD #1 in the amount of $195,000.” Whatever.

Examination of the monies paid the former city executive, Bill Lancaster, show that his company, Bill Lancaster, Lan-co, Ltd., and Lanco/Bill Lancaster was paid approximately $50,760 in 2013, $47,794 in 2012, and $47,025 in 2011. “A contract with Lanco was not located at City Hall…The business purpose of Lanco is unknown at the present time.”

“The payments were allocated for the most recent periods to the Water & Sewer Fund, although the general fund included payments for 2011 and prior periods.”

The auditors noted a “lack of proficiency” on the part of the municipal judge, who doubled as the court clerk; negligence in turning in traffic citations by police officers and their chief; and stated, “Upon our review of the Valley Mills municipal court operations, the many problems uncovered were systemic and chronic…”

And then, there’s the cops. Somewhere between the cop shop and the court, revenue steadily decreased from $87,709.67 during the period between fiscal year 2007 and 2013 – to $33,226.04.

“There is a difference between the amount below for 2013 and the amount reported to the State in the amount of $2,271.96.” Average revenue for cities population 900 to 1,500 is $84,834, according to the audit.

Little is known about what happened to the citations, but an inventory of money orders received shows that “a payment (money order) of an amount that is collected for a certain citation and is diverted for non-business use and then another payment (money order) for the next citation is posted to the first citation. A possible pressure motive for non-business use is gambling.”

Chief David Jiminez and Officer Randy Threkkeld are no longer employed; their personnel files note the reason for their leaving as misconduct, a fact reported to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE). Said Mayor Pierce, “If TCOLE wants to get involved, we would welcome their interest.” So far, he says, there has been no inquiry from the commission.

He concludes, “I believe the police should have what they need, but I am not in favor of militarization of little town police departments.”

And then there’s Reserve Officer Phil Harmon, a wrecker service operator who has been a police officer for more than 50 years. He’s had a run of bad luck lately.

In February, a man reported to have assaulted his wife during a domestic disturbance attacked him with his fists and teeth, biting and punching him. Last week, a passenger car ran him over where he stood on the highway easement  after he stopped two tractor-trailers for speeding in a 30-mile-an-hour zone and alighted from his cruiser.

In August of 2013, he told the scribbler a strange tale about chasing a car load of people through Valley Mills to Clifton along Highway 6 at speeds in excess of 100 miles per hour.

A search of the car yielded a large amount of cash – and a book, a ledger, showing where the funds were obtained in payment for drugs. Asked if we could get an arrest and offense report regarding the confiscated car and cash, he said he’d have to ask Chief of Police Ricky Ray.

A week later, he told we of The Legendary that “The Chief said we won’t do that.”

According to Mayor Pierce, Chief Ray was terminated by the City Council after he failed to relocate his residence inside the city’s corporate limits.

Another mystery.

“I never heard anything about any of that,” said Mayor Pierce. He shook his head. “Never did.”

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