By Joshua Winata
The Cove Herald
Former mayor Roger O’Dwyer is seeking legal action against the city of Copperas Cove after the City Council failed to meet his ultimatum to restore his office.
During the citizens’ forum at Tuesday’s council meeting, the ousted mayor demanded that Mayor Pro Tem Robert Reeves vacate his position on the spot and allow O’Dwyer to “reassume duties of mayor from which, in my opinion, I was unlawfully denied,” he said.
The ex-mayor threatened the council with the possibility of writ of mandamus filed with county and state officials.
On Wednesday, O’Dwyer was in Gatesville seeking legal advice and said he would be filing a letter of notification with the city as soon as possible.
As grounds for his demands, O’Dwyer cited an opinion from the Texas Attorney General’s office issued in 2000 based on a case in Georgetown in which a councilman resigned in order to run for mayor.
In the document, the Attorney General references the Texas Constitution, which states that “officers within this state shall continue to perform the duties of their offices until their successors shall be duly qualified.”
However, the case O’Dwyer cites refers to an elected official who automatically resigned, not those who have been removed from office. Another state attorney general’s opinion says the constitutional provision “applies to an officer who vacates office through losing a qualification.”
Council members were prohibited from responding to O’Dwyer’s demands during citizens’ forum based on the rules governing council meeting procedures. However, after the meeting, Reeves said he doubted the legal legitimacy of O’Dwyer’s claims but further research is required.
“I don’t agree with what he presented. I don’t know if the council wishes to take action on it. We haven’t discussed it, and no one brought it up as an agenda item,” Reeves said. “From what I read of the state attorney general’s position, he’s interpreting the law the way he wants to interpret it.”
O’Dwyer was removed from office by a majority vote of the council during an administrative hearing in March that charged him with five counts of charter violation. The former mayor continues to declare his innocence, citing testimony from city staff presented during his hearing.
Cove resident Bill Thomas, who was vocal in calling for O’Dwyer’s removal, also addressed the council at the last citizens’ forum, reminding residents that the mayor’s removal was not a trial and accusing the council of being too easy on O’Dwyer.
“It was an administrative hearing for an administrative job that this council took a great deal of courage and integrity to do properly except for the fact that they leaned over backward to be overly fair, and it came back to bite them,” Thomas said. “Quite frankly, if you violate the charter, then you can be removed from office.”
Council members also continue to staunchly defend their decision to remove O’Dwyer as the right choice for the city, citing instances of interference and meddling by the former mayor and his disregard for the chain of command.
“Council stood its ground against someone who violated the city charter,” said councilman Ray Don Clayton. “When you’ve been personally involved in Mr. O’Dwyer’s actions, you don’t need someone else to tell you what took place. We’ve lived it.”
The council is reaping the consequences for its actions in removing the mayor, resulting in recall petitions against four of the members involved. During the meeting, the council announced the results of the petitions against Reeves, Mark Peterson, Charlotte Heinze and Ray Don Clayton.
In a 4-1 vote, the council passed a resolution calling for a special election placing the recall on the November ballot with Clayton opposing the action.
“I do not believe that reason for recall is legal and valid,” he said.
The petition incorrectly asserts Clayton interrupted a Cove resident during the citizens forum by saying, “I’ve heard enough.” The incident actually occurred during an executive session O’Dwyer requested be held publicly, and the individual interrupted was Roy Barrett, a Waco-based attorney representing O’Dwyer.
Clayton’s decision to oppose the election raised eyebrows since the city has sought legal advice as to whether the subjects of the recall should recuse themselves from participating in the vote.
In response, attorney Patty Akers from the city’s contracted law firm Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta wrote an opinion that “members of the city council, including those that are the subject of the recall petition, have a ministerial duty to vote to call the election.”
Heinze had an excused absence from the meeting due to a business trip but said she would have voted in favor of calling the special election.
“I’m just ready for it to go to the voters,” she said.
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7476.