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Commissioners can’t agree on punishment
by Jason Collins
Jun 23, 2010 | 788 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Bee County commissioners were unable to reach a consensus Monday morning as to what punishment should be given to Dennis DeWitt, head of the county’s community affairs department, in response to allegations he used racial slurs when dealing with two people.

Stemming from incidents in 2003 and 2009, DeWitt is accused of using the derogatorily racial terms “Mexican” and “wetback.”

Neither the motion to fire nor the motion to suspend DeWitt two weeks could get a majority vote from commissioners.

Commissioner Carlos Salazar Jr. said later that afternoon that the same item will be placed on the court’s agenda for further discussion at 9 a.m. Friday.

Commissioners had previously asked that David Morgan, Bee County emergency management coordinator and former Texas Department of Public Safety officer, take statements from those making the accusations against DeWitt.

In his report to court, Morgan writes, “I will attempt to answer any questions you may have, but I will not give an opinion of the veracity of any of the statements, or give an opinion of how this complaint should be classified.”

By classified, Morgan was referring to whether the court believed the occurrences in the statements were true.

Commissioner Eloy Rodriguez said, “These allegations are very serious and something that we shouldn’t brush under the rug.

“I believe there has been a pattern throughout the years of unprofessionalism in that office.

“It is not a clear-cut case. I think there is enough evidence to show that there were some racial remarks made.”

The motions

Salazar made the first motion that was seconded by Commissioner Susan Stasny to fire DeWitt. It was voted against by Commissioners Rodriguez and Ronnie E. Olivares and County Judge David Silva.

A motion by Rodriguez to suspend DeWitt without pay for two weeks and place him on probation until he takes office as commissioner on Jan. 1 was seconded by Olivares.

It failed to pass when it was voted against by Stasny, Salazar and Silva.

Salazar said that when he heard the final 3-2 vote, he assumed that the vote was in favor of suspending DeWitt.

Salazar, who along with Stasny had voted against the option, said, “My deal was to vote against that as a way of saying that wasn’t enough.

“I didn’t realize the judge had voted with us.”

Salazar, after realizing that the court had actually taken no action, said “This can’t be left like that. We need to have a consensus.”

The allegations

Prior to the vote, commissioners discussed at length the allegations against DeWitt which came to light during his race for commissioner. DeWitt ultimately won that election against Stasny.

DeWitt does not have a Democratic opponent in November.

Silva reminded DeWitt that when he ran for political office, he opened himself up for criticism.

“You know how politics are,” he said. “The other thing is when you run you open yourself to all kinds of criticism.

“That doesn’t mean that they are not true. It means they were brought out because of that.

“If Mr. DeWitt had not run for political office, these things would not have been brought out.

“One of them is seven years old. The other is a little over a year old.

“My feeling is that the political atmosphere prompted people to come forward.”

Stasny said that at least one of those involved in the events had tried to notify someone within the county about the incident after it occurred.

Amanda Gonzales, in her statement, said that it was seven years ago that she approached DeWitt for septic and electricity approval for her property on Farm-to-Market Road 2824.

It was during her conversation with DeWitt that Gonzales says he used the terms “Mexican” and spoke to her in an unprofessional manner.

“When this happened, I was working at the municipal court,” she says in her statement. “Judge (Fred) Garza said that I should just let it go, not to do anything about.”

Gonzales’ account of the events that day was also used by Stasny as part of a paid political ad on the radio during her campaign for re-election.

“I feel like they have spoken the truth,” Stasny said, “even though it was some years later, seven years later, that they have come forward.”

The discovery

Stasny was the commissioner who brought the issues to the attention of the court prior to the election by preparing the statement Gonzales signed.

“I did not solicit this information. However I did my job and I dealt with it in a professional manner. I feel that I did the right thing to bring it forward,” Stasny said.

Gonzales told Morgan in her interview that she was concerned about bringing the accusations forward.

“...Not that I’m a liar... it’s just one Mexican against all these other people, you know, Anglos and blacks, you know,” she said in her statement.

She was assured by Stasny that if there were any legal ramifications, that they would be taken care of by Ron Stasny, Susan Stasny’s husband, Gonzales told Morgan.

Salazar, prior to any vote, said, “The court has a hard job to determine who is telling the truth. Somebody is not telling the truth.

“Is it four or five individuals filing complaints against Mr. DeWitt or is it Mr. DeWitt?

“Obviously what they are telling us is not comfortable. I am not comfortable with it.

“We also got a statement from Mr. DeWitt himself.

“I find it disturbing that the a majority of the hard questions that were asked him straight to the point, ‘Did you say what you have been alleged to have said?’ He could never recall. He never denied them. He could never recall.”

Ron Fritz, an employee in the community affairs office, said in his statement that he would be surprised to learn that DeWitt would make the remarks he is accused of using.

“That is not Dennis DeWitt. It’s not the man that I work with and that I know and that I deal with,” he told Morgan during an interview.

Jason Collins is the editor at the Bee-Picayune and can be reached at 358-2550, ext. 121, or at editor@mySouTex.com.

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