HOW DO YOU GET RID OF A COUNTY COMMISSIONER?

It’s not that we’re trying to cause the Dallas County commissioners any trouble. They seem to do well enough in creating their own problems without any help from us.

But we did think that if worse comes to worse, somebody ought to be prepared. So we set about to answer the question, how could Dallas citizens remove a county commissioner from office?

“I’m sure there’s a way to get rid of them,” District Attorney Henry Wade mused, “but I don’t know what it is.”

Wade was in good company.

The Texas attorney general’s local office didn’t know.

Neither did County Judge John Whittington.

Sheriff Carl Thomas, who labeled the commissioners “intellectual pygmies” last month, felt certain some removal process must exist. . . “But I’d never exercise it,” he said. “If someone is elected, I figure it’s up to the people.”

Several assistant DA’s, who didn’t know the answer to our question, promised to research the matter and call us back. Only one ventured an answer.

“Basically you have two remedies,” Harry Shultz, assistant DA, explained. “Either the guy is kicked out for committing a felony or misdemeanor offense … or you wait until the next election.”

That didn’t sound right, so we trudged to the courthouse law library and looked up the statute for ourselves. (It’s hidden under Section Five, Article 24 of the Texas Constitution.)

Turns out, any citizen of the state (who has resided in Dallas County at least six months) can file a petition for removal of a county official in district court. Naturally there’s a catch. The DA’s office must agree enough evidence of misconduct exists and join the suit. No DA, no case.

Although the district judge must then issue an order of citation before the case can proceed, only a jury can find a commissioner guilty of misconduct or incompetence.

Commissioners, by the way, can be removed from office for “incompetency, official misconduct, habitual drunkenness or other causes defined by law.” For the record, however, no Dallas County official has ever been removed from office by this procedure.

“Exactly what constitutes ’official misconduct’?” we queried. What about Jim Tyson’s day at the races and Roy Orr’s “family vacation” at Padre Island, both via county transportation? Was it “official misconduct” for David Pickett to spend an exorbitant amount of taxpayers’ money remodeling his suburban office or demolishing privately owned constituents’ buildings?

“No comment,” one assistant DA quickly replied.

“I’d have to go back and read the statute again,” another mumbled.

Wade paused a moment. “It appears at first blush it might have been,” he admitted with a wry laugh.

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