I was disgusted after reading another piece on the controversy over Dennis DeWitt’s election to the Commissioners Court. His “retirement party” as community affairs director, announced in a front-page story in the June 23 issue of the Bee-Picayune, was effective at 5 p.m., just hours before the Commissioners Court was to meet Friday morning to discuss charges brought against him for “racist” remarks.
DeWitt was quoted: “The reason for my retirement is to alleviate the creation of obstacles in my political campaign for commissioner (of) Precinct 2.” Say what? The article continues to Page 12, where Commissioner Salazar explained that the Friday meeting was canceled because an agenda item described DeWitt as a county employee (no longer correct). Commissioner Rodriguez went on to say, “Since DeWitt will no longer be a county employee at the time of the meeting, the court cannot take any action toward him.” It would seem Mr. DeWitt jumped ship just in time, retiring abruptly before the commissioners could meet and discuss the validity of charges against him. Nonetheless, all four of the commissioners believe the allegations to be true and have struggled to formulate an appropriate resolution. Whether or not that resolution appears in this newspaper is entirely up to the editorial staff.
In the same June 23 edition, an editorial by Jeff Latcham is titled, appropriately so, “The Scarlet Letter.” It seems to gloss over the accusations brought against DeWitt. I disagree with Latcham’s opinion that the community would feel better if Commissioner Stasny had recused herself “early on instead of broadcasting testimony first in her own radio advertisements for political gain...Stasny’s stature has been diminished because, after some 20 years in office, she can’t recognize her own conflict of interest.” Who says so? I understand the local newspaper disallowed printing of other articles/statements that may have clarified the situation. That decision compelled that radio advertisements address the issues instead of the local newspaper.
Among other issues, Susan Stasny was the only commissioner who defended the taxpayers in the debacle over two years of prepaid rent for county office space during the courthouse renovation, and she also raised questions about robbing hospital reserves to balance the budget. Other commissioners were initially silent on these issues. I don’t believe Stasny’s stature is diminished one bit – in her 20 years in office, nobody ever had to question her integrity or wonder about preferential treatment for anyone, as we must now do with DeWitt – even if the editorial says this big mess “really isn’t much more than high political drama.” Please recall these complainants in the DeWitt case came forward of their own free will, not because of pressure from Commissioner Stasny or anyone else. And please note that four commissioners sided with the aggrieved persons. No, sir. This is not political drama; this is about having a commissioner of high character who stands up for his/her constituents and for the overall well-being of the county...and who does so in a courteous, respectful manner. As we have now learned, DeWitt doesn’t meet this criteria. I believe Commissioner Rodriguez, in his letter to the editor on June 26, indeed seeks to “thread the needle” when he says “...I do feel that he (DeWitt) made inappropriate remarks...I look forward to working with Mr. DeWitt...I feel he brings a lot of experience and knowledge to his new position.”
In a previous story on this topic, DeWitt said it was “unconscionable” to spend limited county resources on this investigation (which he himself called for and supported). However, we should realize such costs are minimal, since (David) Morgan, the investigator, and other central figures, are already on the county payroll. What is truly unconscionable is that DeWitt feigns indignant innocence, which is now proven false. Naturally, as he says, he’d like to put the past behind us and move forward. Given his background, who wouldn’t?
I note that DeWitt is unopposed in November, making him a virtual shoo-in for the office of Precinct 2 commissioner. I would like Mrs. Stasny to run as a write-in candidate, if that is possible. If not, I encourage any independent contender to place their name on the ballot. I would vote for any person of integrity, who has no preconceived views about racial preference or other “self-serving” issues.
Editor’s note: Several points need to be clarified in Mrs. Fish’s letter. First, Mr. DeWitt’s retirement party appeared on the front page of the June 20 edition after this newspaper was contacted by a county official (not DeWitt) about it. We believed that the event was newsworthy in that DeWitt was a county department head effectively forced to step down from his post because of pressure applied by the Commissioners Court.
In addition, the Bee-Picayune reprinted the court’s resolution, word for word, in Wednesday’s edition. Also available online are videos and transcripts of the court’s meeting with the commissioners’ complete side of the story. Again, we believe our coverage of this news has been fair and impartial, and we did not endorse either candidate in the GOP primary.
Yes, this newspaper chose not to run possibly false or libelous letters to the editor attacking DeWitt’s character in the 11th hour of a nasty political campaign between him and Stasny. Because they were used in her radio ads, that is why our editorial writers question Stasny’s integrity in not stepping aside and letting the other commissioners review whether to believe the racial allegations against DeWitt.
And lastly, DeWitt has not been proven false, or guilty of anything. This was not a court of law. Four members of the court chose to believe his accusers. However, others view this as Bee County politics.