Local Council Recall Effort Stems From 2011 Campaign Allegations

Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales (city photo/file)
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TEMPLE (March 6, 2014) A former Bell County employee is working to collect signatures for a petition in an attempt to recall the entire Temple City Council, which includes her former supervisor at the Temple HELP Center, Temple Mayor Pro Tem Judy Morales.

Mari Paul, who initiated the drive, worked for Morales at the HELP Center, and alleges that she was asked to work on materials for Morales’ City Council campaign in 2011 during office hours.

She also says Morales wasn’t eligible to serve on the council because she worked for a publicly-funded agency.

In a letter of intent to seek the recall, Paul alleges, among other things, misconduct and noncompliance with Sec. 4.9 of the Temple City Charter, which governs conflict of interest.

The section says, "No Councilmember shall, during his term of office, hold any other public office or employment, compensation for which is paid out of public funds."

Morales, who was elected to the council in 2011, retired from the publicly-funded Temple HELP Center in 2013.

The HELP Center is a government organization that's run through Bell County Human Services to provide resources to area residents who are in need.

Morales is a Temple native and graduate of Temple High School who had worked as director of social services at the HELP Center since 1972, according to her online city council biography.

Paul said she worked at the HELP Center with Morales in the months leading up to Morales' election to the City Council in 2011.

Paul said she recently left her job, but said while she was working at the center Morales asked her to help work on campaign materials at the HELP Center during office hours.

"I was also an employee at the same facility where she worked at, she was my immediate supervisor and my director and I did help her with her 2011 campaign, unknowingly on my behalf I didn't know what I was doing was wrong," Paul said.

Paul said she filed a complaint about Morales with the Bell County Attorney’s Office last year.

In November 2013, Bell County Attorney James Nichols asked the Bell County Sheriff’s Department to look into the complaint, sheriff’s Lt. Donnie Adams said.

"We conducted that investigation and the sheriff said there was sufficient reason to believe that there might be a violation of law there," Adams said.

Adams said his investigators presented the evidence they collected to Nichols, who will decide whether charges should be filed.

"The county attorney is going to have to look and see does he have a criminal violation? If he believes he does, does he have sufficient evidence to prove a crime has been committed?" Adams said.

But in the meantime Paul said because of a lack of action by the council and the mayor, she decided to initiate the recall petition drive.

"When she ran in 2011 she ran illegally, she should not have run and for them to allow her to sit on (the) City Council...at this point they're as equally as guilty as Judy is and more so,” she said.

Paul also claims the council figured out a way to allow Morales to circumvent the city charter ban on publicly-funded employment by resigning from her position and then contracting the center’s operation to a consulting firm that Morales owns.

"They decided to meet in executive session and make her this sweetheart deal where they would continue to pay her $40 an hour, but would pay it to her consulting firm to stay and maintain her position," Paul said.

Online records show that Judy Morales Stein is the president of a company called J/R Enterprise 400+ at 1005 S. 13th Street in Temple.

Calls to the number listed for the business were not returned Friday.

A statement released by Mayor Danny Dunn said the council has not taken any action regarding Morales because members are waiting for due process to take its course in the investigation by the Bell County Sheriff's Department.

"While I cannot speak for any other council member, I have asked Ms. Morales to resign from her office no fewer than four times, if she believes she is guilty of the allegations against her. The last time I asked her to resign she responded that she would resign if charges are brought against her," Dunn wrote.

Dunn, Morales and other council members are running unopposed in the upcoming May election.

The city is currently processing the paperwork to cancel the election because none of the incumbents is opposed.

On Thursday during the regularly scheduled City Council meeting several people showed up in hopes of addressing the issue during the public comment section of the meeting.

Paul was at the meeting along with several others who have openly supported the petition for the recall, but there were also several people at the meeting who seemed to be supporting Judy Morales.

One woman talked about how she met Morales in meetings for the East Temple Development group.

"I met Judy attending a meeting and wanted to make a difference in our community, it has been neglected for years and it's still being neglected so the whole council from the mayor down is responsible for that and unless we keep her it's going to be like that so we ask you to leave Judy where she is and let God be the judge," she said.

The council did not address the issue in Thursday night's meeting.

Morales could not be reached for comment Friday.