Thursday marked one year since the infamous playhouse was hauled out of Terry Ross’ yard.
On Feb. 7, 2012, a string of law enforcement vehicles and trucks arrived in Boonsville with crews to dismantle the structure, which was wired for electricity and featured a climbing wall.
Ross, who was in his third term as Precinct 4 county commissioner, was accused of using county money and employees to build the playhouse. It still sits in the county impound yard, leaving a bad taste with taxpayers and creating a black cloud over Wise County government.
It’s time to clean up this mess and move forward.
Texas Rangers James Hicks and Jim Holland said in the arrest warrant affidavit that Ross admitted to “using taxpayer dollars to purchase construction materials for the playhouse, and that county employees worked on the playhouse on county time.”
In case you missed that, he admitted to it. Yet here we are, 12 months later, no closer to a resolution.
In fact, Ross continued serving as county commissioner for six months after the playhouse was seized and three more months after being indicted on two criminal charges – abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500, a misdemeanor, and tampering with governmental records, a second-degree felony. Both could land him in jail if he were convicted. If the felony charge sticks, he would never be able to run for public office again.
During those three post-indictment months, he had a hand in shaping the county’s $64 million budget and was quite vocal in budget workshops, even making the motion to give himself and the other commissioners a $2,000 raise.
Although a petition for his removal was filed by a citizen in late June, the hearing was not scheduled until Aug. 14. Commissioners gave the budget their stamp of approval Aug. 1. Ross was temporarily suspended Aug. 14, and the budget and tax rate were formally adopted Aug. 15. His trial was set for October.
It’s frustrating that a county official, accused of stealing from the county, was allowed to participate in the budget-making process. I think everyone agrees that makes no sense.
In the meantime, evidence was being gathered for more charges. In October, he was charged with theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant, a state jail felony, for building three grubbing plows (two for personal use) with material belonging to the county, on county time, by county employees.
Taxpayers had heard that song before. He was indicted on that charge in December, and his trial was moved to February 2013.
Now we’ve rolled into the new year with no real end in sight. The District Attorney’s office says the trial has been delayed again to April 23. But we’ve already seen two trial dates come and go, so I’m not holding my breath.
Since Ross was suspended, the county has been paying his interim replacement a commissioner’s salary. If Ross is found not guilty, the county will owe him back pay from the date of his suspension.
That total now stands at $40,734 – and it’s still 11 weeks until the trial.
And what if he wants to run for re-election? It’s just around the corner. He’s up in 2014. Candidates traditionally announce their candidacy in the fall of the previous year, so if this case is still hanging in the courthouse rafters come fall of 2013, Ross could announce his bid for re-election while under indictment and suspension.
That would be a proud moment for Wise County.
There’s no reason to think he wouldn’t. People thought he would resign, and he didn’t. Folks were convinced he would plead guilty, and he hasn’t. So why not run again?
Let’s face it. No one wants to be involved or associated with this case. The situation is ridiculous, and it’s created a circus-like atmosphere surrounding commissioners court.
Guilty or innocent – it’s time for a conclusion.
Kristen Tribe is news editor of the Wise County Messenger.