In a 6-0 vote, Mineral Wells City Council on Tuesday evening issued a reprimand to Mayor Christopher Perricone after an independent investigator found three of 13 identified complaints against the mayor violated the city's charter.
Council's action brings to an end complaints filed by City Clerk Peggy Clifton alleging the mayor violated the city charter in his actions and dealings with city department heads, managers and subordinates.
The investigation conducted by Arlington attorney James T. Jeffrey Jr. found in 10 of the complaints the charges were either not sustained by the facts he gathered, and he exonerated the mayor of wrongdoing in one of the charges.
Perricone recused himself from voting and participating in the discussion and presentation by Jeffrey.
While a consensus of council moved toward an unwillingness to proceed with a hearing to remove Perricone from office based on the sustained complaints, City Manager Randy Criswell stated, “There are still three incidents where the charter was violated. No violation of the charter is ever acceptable.”
The complaints centered on whether Perricone violated Article 3, Section 28 of the city charter by allegedly overstepping his bounds and separations as an elected official dealing with certain city employees in a city manager-council government structure.
The sustained violations occurred before Criswell became city manager in May, and two previous city managers, Lance Howerton and interim Margie Rose, allowed council members direct contact with department heads before Rose subsequently changed the policy.
While city managers allowed council members to contact and interact with department heads and managers, Article 3, Section 28 of the charter states: " ... the council and its members shall deal with the administrative service solely through the city manager and neither the council nor any member thereof shall give orders to any subordinate of the city manager, either publicly or privately."
The charter said a council member who violates that charter rule is subject to removal from office following a hearing and discussion.
"We have a charter and we have rules in place we have to follow," said Councilman Brian Shoemaker.
City Attorney Andy Messer said while the charter did not provide for censuring an elected official, he said it is allowed under common law practice and gave council that option.
“It has no further consequences other than a reprimand,” Messer said.
Ward 1 Councilman and pastor Jerrel Tomlin set the tone for council's direction on handling the charter violations. He said of the three sustained charter violations, "I don't think it rises to that level" to warrant a hearing and vote to possibly remove the mayor.
He called Perricone and his wife, Katie Beth, a "striking couple" and said they have "beautiful children."
"He is the world to Katie Beth and those kids and we need to be careful what we say," Tomlin said.
He called on the mayor to change his tone and approach.
"I don't always agree with the way you have conducted the meetings," Tomlin said. "It might not be the approach I would have used. My wish is that if we must disagree, we agree to disagree."
Mayor Pro Tem Tammy Underwood said, "In no shape, form or fashion do I condone the mayor's approach to individuals. It hurts my heart."
Underwood told Perricone his actions while presenting himself up as deeply religious "do not hold up to your ability to use Scripture."
She agreed with Tomlin that the investigative findings in her opinion did not warrant putting the city through possible litigation by the mayor if he were removed from office.
"Mayor I would ask you to work on your approach with the council and with the city employees and try to conduct yourself in a different manner," Underwood said.
Councilwoman Regan Johnson said there were policy changes, or "flip flops," regarding council members having direct contact with city employees and faulted council for a lack of formal policy.
Shoemaker said he wanted to put an end to the "chaos" surrounding the complaint.
"I don't want to go through a hearing," he said. "I don't want to put the citizens through that. I don't want to divide this city any more."
Ward 4 Councilman Doyle Light also agreed, saying he did not want to put the city through a removal hearing. He called on instead Perricone to change.
"I'd like to give you that chance, Mr. Mayor," Light said. "I'd like to see if you can change and follow the rules."
Here is the full investigative report, including the original complaint filed by City Clerk Peggy Clifton, regarding the alleged charter viola…
Perricone afterward was unapologetic and gave no indication he intended to change.
“I am always going to continue my goal to seek truth and transparency,” Perricone stated. “My goal is still the same.”
Perricone said one of the sustained violations involved an open records request made by the Mineral Wells Index in 2018 concerning the mayor's claims regarding issuance of a certificate of occupancy for his residence. It is that open records request that was at the center of Jeffrey finding Perricone violated the city charter the first time.
Jeffrey determined Perricone improperly gave directions to then building official Tony Stubblefield, who was not a department head but rather a subordinate, requesting to see what information was going to be released to comply with the newspaper's open records request. The information released contradicted statements Perricone made during a council meeting about problems he had turning on water and receiving his residential certificate of occupancy.
The other two charter violation allegations sustained both dealt with Perricone's interactions with city employees, none being directors or managers, regarding formal requests for information – essentially the mayor's contempt for having to make formal requests for information and not receive his requested information immediately.
In one case a request was made March 1 for information held by the inspections department, and the other was an April 10 request for information related to the Baker Hotel, for which Clifton wanted to seek first legal advice. The mayor is not part of the non-disclosure agreement regarding the project.
Jeffrey stated that while the mayor might be entitled to information held by the city, he does not have a right to violate the city's charter while seeking that information.
"Further, I think the city has a right to reasonably determine the manner in which city information or records is made available to a member of the governing body," Jeffrey wrote.
In dealing with Clifton regarding his request for emails from Howerton and Finance Director John Moran regarding the Baker Hotel, Jeffrey found in this instance Clifton was acting in a subordinate role to the city manager, which came after Rose made a new policy a month earlier asking staff to send to her any council member, including the mayor, seeking information.