As an alleged charter violation probe against Mayor Christopher Perricone moves ahead, complainant and Mineral Wells City Clerk Peggy Clifton requested a fair and swift process to protect her from what she claims is ongoing harassment by the mayor and his supporters.
Clifton asked Mineral Wells City Council members Tuesday to conduct a hearing within four days of receiving the independent investigator's report, which could come as early as next Tuesday when council is scheduled to meet in a special session regarding the complaint.
Last month council gave Perricone two weeks to prepare for a potential public hearing on the complaint. He had asked for two to three months. The outcome of the investigator's findings, and a hearing should one occur, could result in council removing Perricone from office.
Tuesday's discussion about the complaint and ongoing investigation occurred after council reconvened into open session after an hour-long executive session.
Citing Section 28 of the city's charter, Clifton said the charter seems to intend for council members present to vote on a complaint following any hearing or discussion. She said the charter does not provide for a waiting period but is agreeable to a four-day period, especially in light that she says the mayor and his San Antonio-based attorney, David L. Earl, of Earl & Associates, P.C., have received documents they have requested related to the complaint.
A copy of the statement Mineral Wells City Clerk Peggy Clifton read to City Council on Tuesday regarding her charter violation complaint again…
In a statement she read to council, Clifton said she feels prolonging the matter "could be a violation of the Whistle Blower's Act" by "making me suffer the stress of being harassed. Everything I give the mayor in his official capacity has the possibility to being turned over to his friends on social media to use as mockery against me. Having to work in such a stressful and intolerable condition because of my complaint should not be allowed."
Clifton's specific complaint against Perricone is unclear. The complaint has to date been withheld from the public. However, Perricone has requested, and been granted, a public hearing if the complaint is upheld. Council will allow Perricone and his attorney to cross-examine witnesses.
The city clerk additionally asked council to assure protection for any city employees called as witnesses. Clifton said allowing the mayor to cross-examine city employees potentially sets "a tone of fear to other city employees who might want to report misconduct" and "risks current employees leaving their positions because of having to deal with such harassment."
Clifton requested questions during the hearing be kept to issues directly involving the complaint and that the hearing's presider halt any unrelated questions.
While the hearing will take place in public, Clifton said she wanted it made clear it is not a "public hearing."
"If the citizens are disruptive in any way, I ask that those citizens be removed, or the meeting moved into executive session and reconvened in open session for the sole purpose of a vote," Clifton stated.
City Attorney Andy Messner said he will research to determine whether citizens can be allowed to speak during such a hearing.
Clifton concluded her statement by saying, "I want council to publicly assure city employees that they do not have to be afraid of reporting something for fear that they will have to go through the same ordeal that I am having to suffer through just because they want to report the illegal or wrong doings of anybody or anything."
There apparently are additional complaints filed against Perricone. When the mayor asked council how complaints against council members have been handled in the past, Councilman Brian Shoemaker responded, "I don't know. You're the only person with multiple complaints."
Video from Mineral Wells City Council meeting on Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2019, after council reconvened from a one-hour executive session.
The only city employee or staff complaints filed against Perricone is the current one and a prior complaint filed in March by Finance Director John Moran. He alleged the mayor leaked confidential information related to the city manager search, for which Moran was one of five finalists. Moran's complaint was resolved with a letter of support and an apology.
Shoemaker said Clifton's complaint was the first to claim a violation of the city's charter, which triggered certain actions to be taken by council.
Councilwoman Tammy Underwood tried to reassure Clifton that council seeks to handle the complaint properly.
"To you, Peggy, and the city employees we are trying to do this fairly and legally," she said. "We would most certainly expect you not to be harassed. That is not acceptable."
She said the mayor feels he has also been a victim of harassment over the complaint.
"It is a very awkward situation," Underwood said.
Perricone is reportedly the subject of two criminal investigations, one alleging altering a document and the other a felony perjury probe regarding sworn testimony he have at a Palo Pinto Appraisal Review Board hearing in support of a local business to reduce their property valuation.