The Wise County Democratic Party filed a lawsuit Tuesday in 271st District Court against the interim elections administrator and the county’s elections commission.
An Oct. 1 press release from the party said Tracy Smith, Democratic Party chair, filed the suit after Wise County commissioners “failed to block the passage” of the Sept. 23 appointment of Jim Parker as interim elections administrator.
Parker, who was serving as a vice chair for the Wise County Republican Party at the time of the appointment, replaced Lannie Noble, who had recently resigned. Smith’s lawsuit claims the appointment violates the Texas Election Code.
Although the information was presented to commissioners in their regular meeting Monday, they could not take action on the item. Even Smith’s attorney, Stephen C. Maxwell, with Bailey & Galyen, said he didn’t think commissioners court “has the power or authority to do much.”
“The decision to appoint is in the hands of the commission instead of [county] commissioners,” he said. “I think Tracy was hoping they had the power to overrule the decision.”
Members of the elections commission include Smith, Republican Party Chair Allen Williamson, County Clerk Sherry Lemon, County Tax Assessor/Collector Monte Shaw and County Judge Glenn Hughes.
During a commission meeting last week, Williamson made a motion to appoint Parker. That action was vehemently opposed by Smith, who spoke out at the time against the nomination and favored naming Deputy Elections Administrator Karen Valenzuela as interim EA.
Although she voted against Parker’s appointment, it passed 3-1, with Williamson, Lemon and Shaw voting in favor.
Smith maintains that the appointment violates 31.035 in the Election Code, which states, “A county elections administrator may not be a candidate for a public office or an office of a political party, hold a public office, or hold an office of or position in a political party.”
Parker resigned his post with the Republican Party immediately after the Sept. 23 meeting and started the EA job Sept. 29. Noble’s last day was Sept. 26.
“Tracy tried …,” Maxwell said. “She had let the county judge know that this was an improper appointment and beyond that the next step is exactly what we did (Tuesday).
“Ultimately, all the lawsuit is seeking is that the judge will enter an order that the action is void, set it aside and say they did not comply with the statute,” he said. “… the point we’re trying to make is to keep partisan politics out of this, but we hope the lawsuit gets the point across that the person in this position should be someone who doesn’t have deep ties to either party.”
County Attorney James Stainton said he doesn’t see any “dramatic flaws” in the action of the commission.
“It’s simply they say there’s a flaw, and we say there’s not,” he said.
Stainton said it’s not uncommon to have disagreements about elections, and these issues come up regularly in Dallas and Tarrant counties.
“It’s America – we have different points of view,” he said.
Stainton said a hearing has tentatively been set for 9 a.m. Friday, Oct. 10, in the 271st District Courtroom in the Wise County Courthouse. It will be heard by Judge David Evans of the 48th District Court in Fort Worth.
On Friday morning, the Wise County Elections Commission posted notice of a 10 a.m. meeting Wednesday, Oct. 8, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur for “discussion and possible action to provide clarification of the appointment of the interim elections administrator.”