Goodrich city election lawsuit draws response

A former Goodrich City Council member has filed a civil lawsuit in the 411th District Court, challenging the results from the May 7 city council elections.
Earlene Williamson has filed a suit contesting the City of Goodrich election that saw Mary Orozco defeat Williamson’s brother, Robert Earl Williamson, by a margin of 26-18. In the suit, she lists five complaints for the filing. They are as follows.

(Editor’s note: punctuation added for clarity)
“I, Earlene Williamson, a registered voter in the City of Goodrich, do hereby contest and complain against the City of Goodrich Election held May 7, 2016.
My complaints and reasons for protests are:
1. Marlene Arnold, a sitting city council member, served as an election official.
2. There was only one election official present for the City of Goodrich.
3. The ballot box was an open box turned upside down on a table, allowing access to anyone all of the ballots.
4. There was only one position up for election on the ballot, but other position’s terms had ended and were not on the ballot.
5. Evelyn Orozco announced on her Facebook page May 8 that she had won this election before the vote was canvassed, with enough pending provisional votes to change the outcome.”
Early voting for the May 7 election was from April 25 to May 3. Ballots by mail were applied for any time between Jan. 1 and April 26. Williamson, though contesting the election, did not cast a ballot, according to officials.

Mayor Jeremy Harper said the citizens of Goodrich should not have to exhaust tax money on what he called a “frivolous lawsuit.”

Multiple calls to Williamson by the Enterprise were not answered or returned.

“This is a malicious and vindictive attack against the city and the taxpayers of this community,” Harper said. “We intend on countersuing and getting the taxpayers their money back. Ms. Williamson has done several things to harm the city and I can prove that. One of the things she did not long ago was have people digging where she works at Economy Housing and ruptured our pressure sewer main. We went out to fix it and she called TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) to say the city had sewer on the ground.

“Another malicious attack was to call TCEQ and tell them the city’s wastewater ponds were overflowing. Our wastewater plant has never overflowed since 1985 when it was constructed. This is about her brother not winning and her not winning the election in 2014. She was so upset about the way the community voted (in 2014) she would not give me a motion to accept the election results. Instead she stormed out. To cost the taxpayers’ dollars is not acceptable. Her saying that the city did something illegal in our elections is absurd.”

When asked about the first complaint, Harper said that Arnold, an alderman that chose not to run for re-election, attended the election as a volunteer. A call to Arnold verified that she was in no way an official from the city or school district.

Harper said the second claim is not true, because there was no one present from the City of Goodrich.

“(The city) did not appoint a judge or a clerk, because in an ordinance, the council appointed the school to take care of our election,” Harper said.

Ordinance No. 2016-01, passed in a special called meeting on Feb. 27, called for the general election on May 7. In Sections 4 and 5 of that ordinance, the Goodrich Independent School District was designated as the place for the election. Early voting ballots by mail were also to be sent to Goodrich ISD. Gwen Messner was appointed clerk for early voting and also presiding judge. Sherry Mitchell was the election’s alternate presiding judge.

The secretary of state’s office disputes the third complaint in a report from the inspector overseeing the election in Goodrich. According to the report, election workers did not leave ballots or voting equipment unattended while the polls were open. The ballots were counted by a set of counting officers consisting of at least one officer to remove the ballots from the box and read them aloud, and one or more officers who entered the votes cast on three original tally sheets.

The only comment left on the report was of checking a list of eligible voters.

“The clerk representing the city allowed several voters to vote before she checked (if) they were on the list of eligible voters,” the comment from state inspector Angelia Buford read. “She checked after they voted and several of the voters did not live in the city, which resulted in spoiled ballots.”

Williamson’s fourth complaint also appears to have been handled in the same ordinance.

Section 2 of the ordinance — in accordance with Section 2.053(a) of the Texas Election Code — allowed for unopposed candidates to be declared duly elected to the office of alderman. The aldermen and positions listed in the section were Louie Hill for Position 2, Bobby Wright in Position 3, and Kelly Nelson in Position 4.

As for the final protest, Harper did not seem interested in what Orozco had posted on her Facebook page.

“We are not the Facebook police,” Harper said.