Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Owning the railroads

The Attorney General's office will make its decision.

Things will move along and I hope that Commissioner Parker gets to stay in office. However, having said that, the law must be followed if the AG decides otherwise.

AG opinion will decide commissioner future

As of Monday, the direction of Comal County Commissioner Greg Parker’s future is in the hands of the Texas Attorney General.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office received a 39-page document Monday morning from County Attorney Geoff Barr, requesting the attorney general’s opinion on whether Parker, county commissioner for Precinct 3, triggered the “resign to run” provision of the state election code through questionable fundraising activities over the past three months.

The 39-pages contains evidence collected by Barr, including affidavits from Comal County residents Barron Casteel and Ed Clark and a letter from James and Norma Blackwell. Clark, Casteel and the Blackwells each claim they were personally solicited by Parker for his campaign for Texas Railroad Commissioner.

In his affidavit, Clark said, “Parker stated to me that he had already raised over $30,000 in contributions for his campaign for Texas Railroad Commissioner.”

Along with the affidavits, the 39-page document includes an Oct. 2 Herald-Zeitung article titled, “Commissioner under review,” as well as images of a Web site registered to Parker that solicited donations under the heading, “Greg Parker, Republican for Railroad Commissioner.”

Lauri Fuathoff, a spokeswoman with the AG’s office, confirmed Monday the office was in receipt of the document, initiating a 180-day period for state attorneys to review the evidence and submit a brief to Abbott. In the packet, a nine-page fact review of Parker’s actions prefaces Barr’s request for Attorney General Greg Abbott to issue an opinion on two points: Whether, based on the evidence, Parker has “announced his candidacy”, or whether Parker has become a “candidate in fact” for the Office of Texas Railroad Commissioner under Article 16, section 65 of the Texas Constitution.

Barr said he expects an opinion within 45 to 60 days.

Abbott will make an official ruling and return it to Barr, who will convey the results to County Judge Danny Scheel. Scheel is responsible for replacing Parker should he be found in violation of the “resign to run” provision.

“If he is found in violation, I will replace him immediately,” Scheel said Monday.

Scheel previously said he believes Parker is in violation of the provision, which requires county commissioners running for another public office to resign from their current post if they have more than one year left on their term of service. Parker has three years left on this term as commissioner.

The Investigation

Parker’s campaign activities drew the interest of county officials after questions were raised by the Herald-Zeitung in September asking whether his actions put him at odds with state law.

ParkerforTexas.com operated as recently as Sept. 29, soliciting donations through a PayPal account and providing a link for supporters to purchase campaign gear. Photos of merchandise bearing the “Greg Parker, Republican for Railroad Comissioner” logo were included in the document submitted by Barr, which also confirms the site is registered to Parker.

Under state law, a person becomes a “candidate” for public office if they take “affirmative action for the purpose of gaining nomination or election to public office.” Examples of affirmative action include “the soliciting or accepting of campaign contributions.”

In two newspaper interviews with Parker on Sept. 29 and Oct.1, the commissioner denied he had announced a candidacy for Railroad Commissioner and said any funds he raised would fund his role as county commissioner.

Parker contributed a statement in the document submitted Monday, including his interpretation of the “resign to run” provision.

“While I have spoken privately to some individuals about my desire to seek the gubernatorial appointment … I have not stated in any public meeting or press release that I would run for any particular office,” Parker said in his statement. “Further … an expression of interest does not constitute an announcement of candidacy under constitutional provision article XVI, section 65. I do not believe I have triggered an automatic resignation ….”