RUSK – The certification Monday morning of a petition seeking the removal of two local city councilmen may have their legal team scrambling for its next move.
Tyler lawyer Sten Langsjoen, who represents Rusk City Councilmen Ken Ferrara (District 4) and Jan Pate (Dist. 5), was unavailable for comment as of press deadline Monday afternoon.
However, according to Rusk City Secretary Rosalyn Brown, citizen-based petitions against Pate and Ferrara – alleging conduct unbecoming of a public servant and betrayal of public trust – were filed Dec. 6 with her office, and certified Monday morning, Dec. 10.
In a move to block the city's action, Pate, Ferrara and District 5 residents William Holland and Susan Keller, filed a petition Dec. 5 in the 369th District Court seeking an injunction against Brown and the City of Rusk to halt certification of the petition, which had garnered 701 signatures in favor of ousting Pate and 702 signatures calling for the removal of Ferrara.
No date has been set for a hearing of the councilmen's petition, according to District Court personnel. Meanwhile, Judge Mike Davis has recused himself from the bench, with Judge Diane DeVasto of Tyler slated to hear the case.
In the petition, Pate and Ferrara state that “mandatory requirements of the Rusk City Charter were violated when the application for recall petition … were solicited and issued,” including the failure of applicants to affirm that information contained in support affidavits were true, correct and based upon personal knowledge, and that recall petitions “were delivered to a non-city resident who was not qualified” to receive them.
The Dec. 5 petition also seeks monetary damages from Mayor Angela Raiborn, which states that “almost immediately following the publication” of a Nov. 2 declaratory judgment by 2nd District Court Judge Chris Day establishing that a majority vote of the Rusk City Council consists of 3-2 vote – based on a petition filed by Pate, Ferrara and Dist. 3 Councilman Martin Holsome, who later dropped out of the suit as plaintiff – Raiborn “and others conspired to fraudulently initiate a recall campaign against Councilmen Pate (and) Ferrara.”
This campaign, the document noted, “was intended to cause the voters of Districts No. 4 and No. 5 to lose their elected representatives by subjecting (the men) to a city-wide recall election process, and was intended to defame and professionally damage” Pate and Ferrara.
In “working directly or indirectly through a self-proclaimed 'Rusk Recall Petition Committee' to effect a recall vote,” the mayor was part of an effort that “has engaged in public dissemination or false and misleading information; has solicited funds for political purposes improperly; and has disseminated one or more documents and/or publications purposely designed to appear as if generated or approved by the City of Rusk.”
Kim Beathard, spokeswoman and president of the Rusk Recall Petition Committee, said Monday that the “700 signatures (on each petition) speaks very loudly that our city is not very happy with these two.”
The recall effort began Nov. 9. At the time this effort was initiated, a total of 1,818 registered voters were on the election department rolls, according to city officials.
By law, the signatures of 35 percent of total registered voters – in this case, 637 signatures – needed to be collected in order for the petition to be considered valid.
“We worked incredibly hard on this petition,” Beathard said. “Less than 12 percent (of such petitions filed) in Texas are successful, so this is historic – not only for Rusk, but Texas, too.”
According to Article 13, Section 15, of the Rusk City Charter, the certified petition may be presented to the city council at its next meeting, with the officer sought to be recalled notified that it will be posted on the council agenda.
“If the officer(s) whose removal is sought does not resign within five (5) days after such notice, the City Council shall thereupon order and fix a date for holding a recall election,” the charter states.
The Rusk City Council meets at 6 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13, at the Rusk Civic Center; city officials have confirmed that the matter will be on the agenda.
Both Pate and Ferrara have been in office less than a year, elected to their respective council seats in May, 2018.