Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross was legally removed Wednesday from the job he’s been suspended from performing for more than two years.
The action by District Judge Roger Towery ends a two-year saga revolving around a child’s playhouse.
Judge Towery granted County Attorney James Stainton’s request to issue a summary judgment in the civil suit regarding the commissioner’s removal. The order, filed in the clerk’s office of the 271st District Court, reads:
“The court finds that (Ross) was convicted of a misdemeanor involving official misconduct during the time he held public office. Pursuant to Local Government Code 87.031, the court orders that Terry Ross is immediately removed from the office of Wise County commissioner, Precinct 4.”
Stainton said it’s “the right result.”
“It fits the law. When you plead guilty to a criminal offense tied to your elected office, you shouldn’t expect to stay in office,” he said.
Ross pleaded guilty Sept. 23, 2013, to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor, which was tied to the construction of a playhouse for his grandchildren in the Precinct 4 barn. Two felony charges were dismissed as part of a plea agreement, which gave him $500 restitution and 180 days in jail, probated for one year.
The removal was the result of a civil suit filed by retired Texas Ranger Lane Akin of Decatur in June of 2012. The civil suit was filed four months after the playhouse was seized from the Ross home as the result of an investigation that started in late 2011.
UNDECIDED ON APPEAL
Ross now has 30 days in which to appeal the ruling on his removal. Friday he told the Messenger he hadn’t yet made up his mind.
“I haven’t even talked to my attorney,” he said.
At stake is close to $150,000. If Ross gets the job back, the county would be required to pay him for the time he was suspended, which totaled $146,453.12 as of March 15. His removal does not affect his retirement.
Ross, 53, has worked for the county for 11 years and was serving his third term as county commissioner.
Despite being temporarily suspended, he ran for re-election in the March 4 primary but was defeated soundly by Gaylord Kennedy, 981 to 319. A third candidate, David Stewart, received 351 votes.
Ross said, “It was kind of hard to [win] with the press,” and doubts that he’ll seek public office again, although his removal doesn’t prohibit it.
“It just depends on what I start right now and get into doing,” he said.
Ross’ attorney, David Fielding, did not return the Messenger’s call.
Stainton said Towery had reviewed the pleadings and had made his decision when he arrived in Decatur Wednesday morning to file the order.
“The lawyers agreed to submit everything without argument,” Stainton said. “It was about as simple as it can be.”
The county attorney said he’s glad to be moving forward.
“It’s taken a significant amount of time from my office,” he said. “But I believed in it from the beginning. When former Texas Ranger Lane Akin brings something to you, you pay attention.”
Stainton said he believes the ruling shows that if a person is entrusted with taxpayer money, he or she will be held accountable for it.
“When you choose to plead guilty, you choose to accept the consequences,” he said.
HUGHES STEPS DOWN
On Thursday, interim Precinct 4 Commissioner Glenn Hughes resigned. He was appointed to the position by Towery in August 2012 at the time of Ross’ suspension. Hughes is also the county’s special project manager.
His resignation leaves two vacancies on commissioners court – the Precinct 4 post and the county judge position, which was left vacant following the death of the late County Judge Bill McElhaney.
Wise County commissioners will discuss appointing an interim county judge at Monday’s commissioners meeting, and the newly appointed judge will later appoint someone to fill the Precinct 4 position.
The meeting starts at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. The public is welcome.