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Freeman not ready to resign, to ask for AG opinion

 

Port Arthur’s City Council is set to vote Tuesday on whether to call a special election in November to fill the unexpired Position 7 City Council seat currently held by Derrick Freeman, who has stated he would be seeking the mayoral seat in May.

Freeman said that because he did not officially announce his candidacy,

state law does not require him to resign his position at this time.

Texas law requires that a local office holder who decides to run for another position, such as mayor, should immediately step down once they declare their candidacy.

What’s known as Texas’ Resign to Run rule in the state’s election code forces an existing officerholder to resign from office before running for a new office if the amount of time left in the existing term is more than one year and 30 days.

In Freeman’s case, he started his second year of the three-year term in May, leaving roughly a year and nine months before his term is completed in May 2017.

City Attorney Val Tizeno has called for the election and placed the item on Tuesday’s regular city council meeting agenda.

In a letter forwarded via e-mail to The News on Monday Freeman states “I did not announce my candidacy for mayor,” and that he has requested (the city) to get a district attorney’s opinion or a State Attorney General’s opinion on new social media standards and qualifier for candidacy announcement.

Freeman is citing a July 9, 2008 most recent Attorney General Opinion as argument that he should not have to resign at this time.

The AG opinion concerned a constable that had potentially announced his candidacy for County Commissioner by filling out a campaign treasurer report. On that report where a blank asked “office sought,” the constable wrote in “County Commissioner of Pct 1 of Tom Green County,”

The constable in question also went on to talk about his campaign in a video and passed out fliers at a meeting citing his qualifications for the job.

The AG held though one could reasonably conclude that the constable announced his candidacy, the AG’s office cannot conclude that a finder of fact would do so as a matter of law.

The AG’s final ruling indicated “Accordingly we annot determine as a matter of law the constable announced his candidacy for antoehr office, thereby triggering the automatic resignation provision of article XVI, section 65.”

“With these things considered, the bar has been set very high for there to be a triggering of the automatic resignation provision,” Freeman stated in the letter forwarded to The News. “I am confident my references to a potential candidacy fall short of an announcement.”

Or, did they?

In the July 28 edition of The Port Arthur News a Page 1 article entitled, “Two are in for mayor race,” noted that both Freeman and Harold Doucet were running for the seat to be vacated by Deloris “Bobbie” Prince, who is terming out.

The article said Freeman “planned” to run for mayor.

Freeman in the article is also quoted as saying “I would hope to see a clean-run race. In the last couple of Port Arthur elections, people have lowered the bar. We are going to do everything we can to keep the election above-board.”

Freeman, in an article published two days later, on July 30, said when he talked with The Port Arthur News July 28 he was not making a formal declaration of his candidacy.

“When I was asked if I planned to run for mayor I answered truthfully and said yes, but it was not a formal announcement of my campaign,” Freeman was quoted in the article. “I am fully aware of the state election code. I would hate for a small group of people to try and cost the citizens money for a special election over something personal.”

At the time, Freeman said when he did make a formal announcement he would fully prepared to resign the at-large position he was re-elected to in May 2014.

Freeman talked via telephone with The News for comment on both articles.

In the first article, reporter Sherry Koonce called Freeman to ask him whether he intended to run for the position.

Koonce’s notes from the phone conversation indicate Freeman at first said he was “contemplating a run.”

He then called Koonce back and stated, “(I) am going to go ahead and say I am running. (I) have served the city over four years and have initiated a lot of programs and initiated a positive change and want to continue that. Citizens have put their trust in me.”

If Council approves a special election, it will take place during the November General Election. Port Arthur will have a joint election with the county, which will have seven proposed constitutional amendments on the ballot.

Other entities that have indicated they will also have elections during the general election include the city of Groves, city of Port Neches, and Port Neches-Groves Independent School District.

Theresa Goodness, chief deputy with the Jefferson County Clerk’s office, said the cost of the election would be shared by those entities on the ballot.

E-mail: sherry.koonce@panews.com

Twitter: skoonce@panews.com