Many citizens in Mineral Wells, along with Mayor Chris Perricone, are being silenced by the members of the town’s city council.
After Perricone’s election last May, citizens of the shrinking town freely spoke on agenda items throughout meetings when deemed appropriate by the mayor. But since the meeting on July 17, public comment has been regulated, as per a motion by Councilwoman Beth Watson. The motion is known among the public as “Beth’s Rules.”
“Beth’s part of the cool kids club, the good ol’ boys club,” said resident Brandon Johnson. “She was with the Chamber of Commerce for a long time. In fact, she used to be the head of the Chamber of Commerce.”
Watson’s involvement in city government in the area has tainted her reputation for many. Once the executive director of the Mineral Wells Area Chamber of Commerce, her membership on the council is seemingly a continuation of the status quo. She also served on the soon-to-be-replaced Area Growth Council for a time.
Her proposed regulatory policies on speech handicapped the mayor’s efforts to dig more deeply into the town’s economic development problem, stealing presiding power from Mineral Wells’ top executive official and using it to enable a city council gone rogue. The motion passed 6-1, with the mayor in protest, a common occurrence for council votes since May.
“[She’s] trying to muzzle the mayor and the citizens,” said Johnson. “He’s been ruffling feathers and holding folks’ feet to the fire [since his election], and they aren’t having it.”
The new rule prohibits the mayor from inviting public comment as he sees fit. Now, important and controversial testimonies like that of Caleb Shipman, pastor of Gospel Light Bible Church, will not be heard by the council or the public in an official forum setting. In addition, the policy enables the members of the council to bar any persons from speaking if they deem them to be “personal,” “loud,” or “slanderous.”
Furthermore, the new rules enable the council to overrule any of the mayor’s rulings and motions with a second and a majority vote. The exact language is as follows:
“Any councilmember may move to require the Mayor to enforce these rules and the affirmative vote of a simple majority of the Council shall require the Mayor to do so. A motion to enforce is an allowable interruption and is not debatable.”
This means that the mayor is subject to the simple majority of the council. At any given time, four of the seven council members can exact their will on almost any ruling. If the mayor fails to fulfill his obligations, he may be punishable by the Sergeant-at-Arms and subject to removal of office.
Many citizens have said that these new policies are retaliatory, targeting Mayor Perricone for pursuing an investigation and legal action against the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation. Some citizens are even being personally targeted.
“The mayor is having to run everything he does by the city attorney and the city manager,” said Johnson. “They even want to know what outside meetings he’s going to because they think he’s trying to run a coup on them.”
One resident who corroborated this information told me that she has been put on a “city hate list” for her involvement with an article written in the Star-Telegram before Mayor Perricone’s election last May.
“[Mayor Perricone] was asked by the city attorney that he not talk to the media before their questions are submitted to the city clerk and the mayor can come to an agreement on the answers,” said the resident.
As part of my research into the goings in the city, I have spoken to Mayor Perricone and have been in his home. Nearly a month later, one phone call from me might put him in the courtroom. The backlash from the council comes in lock-step with an establishment effort to change the method of economic development. This effort resulted in a new “Economic Development Task Force.” However, citizens are not buying it.
“It’s the same old [thing] just repackaged into something different,” said resident Lann Murphy, owner of LannTex Electric. “[Watson] even nominated herself to be on the new economic board.”
In a post on his public Facebook page, Perricone shared this sentiment when he stated the following:
“My fear is that the people that have been operating in [an] outdated system, [and] will simply transfer those ideas and repackage it into our new system. To have people that are tied to the [Industrial Foundation] now on the task force to make a new way of doing business becomes a PR nightmare to regain the confidence of the people. For crying out loud, Councilwoman Watson voted herself on there!”
Considering citizen testimony and Watson’s self-nomination, many in Mineral Wells believe that a recall election for her seat may be in order.
On August 23rd, Mayor Perricone will be holding a community forum meeting at the VFW (1400 Veterans of Foreign Wars, Mineral Wells, TX 76067) at 7:00 PM. The event is open to all.
This is a developing story as part of an on-going investigation by Texas Scorecard into the actions of the Mineral Wells Industrial Foundation, the City of Mineral Wells, and its “Area Growth Council.”