By Joshua Winata
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – The City Council voted to remove Mayor Roger O'Dwyer from office Tuesday morning in a decision that O'Dwyer's attorneys called "frivolous" and "pure, unadulterated politics."
The 6-1 vote at the special meeting was based on the findings of an 11-hour administrative hearing on March 12, at which time the City Council charged O'Dwyer with five specific counts of charter violation. Larry Sheppard was the lone councilman to vote against removing the mayor.
"I think the City Council has done more to divide Copperas Cove than anything the mayor can do. I think the people are behind him, and I would just like to ask the people of Copperas Cove to please take your city back over," Sheppard said before the council vote, as members of the crowd cheered.
The final decision came as no surprise to the former mayor or to residents. O'Dwyer's legal counsel has long suggested that the council has been biased in the proceedings and took offense that O'Dwyer was not permitted to preside over the meeting although he had not yet officially forfeited his seat.
"This is a lynching, and what you plan to do is hang a dead body," said Roy Barrett, a Waco-based attorney representing O'Dwyer's defense.
Council members defended their decision, saying it was the right thing to do despite the potential backlash from the public.
"Just because our supporters that elected us to this council are not here in chambers applauding every word we say does not mean we are not supported," Councilman Mark Peterson said. "It's a very difficult decision, and it's just something that had to be done. I think we made the right decision even though it's very harmful for the city."
Peterson said the council has repeatedly tried to warn O'Dwyer through memoranda and executive sessions before resorting to vacating the mayor's office. Several council members have alleged that the listed charges are only a small glimpse of the many ways O'Dwyer has interfered with city administration.
In last-minute pleas to the council before the council made its decision, Barrett and attorney Michael Scanes, also representing O'Dwyer, implored the council to make a decision based on law and evidence presented during the March 12 hearing rather than on political opinions.
"It's getting to the fundamental question of fairness," Barrett said.
Barrett added the proposed motion to remove the mayor was an extreme penalty for what the attorney called "technical" charges. He urged the council to consider other options, such as revising the ordinances or issuing a reprimand.
"There's a lot of things you can do to heal this city," Barrett said. "I hope you do."
Before the vote, O'Dwyer criticized City Secretary Jane Lees for opening his mail, and he accused council members of communicating behind closed doors to remove him from office. O'Dwyer claimed that the reason for his removal was his unwillingness to conform to special interests.
"It was a bogus set of charges. They made up their mind for political reasons," he said. "There was absolutely no proof that I did anything."
O'Dwyer said he does not plan on taking any further legal action against the city but does plan on running for office again in the November general elections. Until then, Mayor Pro Tempore Robert Reeves will fill the vacancy left by O'Dwyer's departure.
While O'Dwyer's role in the city may be over, the controversy is far from over. On Saturday, Cove resident Frank DiMuccio filed a complaint at the Copperas Cove Police Department, saying that the city violated the Texas Open Meetings Act. The case will be forwarded to District Attorney David Castillo's office for further investigation, according to police officials.
Castillo said Monday that his office has not yet received the report from the police department, but the district attorney added that it is likely that he will recuse himself from the case because of his close affiliation with council members and the mayor.
Supporters of the mayor are hoping that the pending case with the district attorney's office will suspend or overrule the decision made by the council.
DiMuccio said he chose to file the complaint against the city as a concerned resident who has been closely following the council's proceedings against the mayor. His accusations are based on both his own research and experience and the advice of several legal counselors.
"I am not defending the mayor. I don't care if the mayor's committed the worst ... crimes in the world. If he did, then I want it taken care of publicly in open session like it's supposed to be and like the law says," DiMuccio said. "If we're a country of law, I want it done by the law. That means open session, on top of the table, where everybody knows what's going on."
Sheppard has also come under fire from the council. An executive session originally scheduled for Tuesday "to discuss the duties and responsibilities of the City Council Member Place 2" fueled speculation among some Cove residents and O'Dwyer's attorneys.
However, that council meeting was canceled due to the lack of a quorum and has been rescheduled for March 31.
Contact Joshua Winata at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 547-6481