As expected, Mineral Wells City Council on Friday voted to elevate Mayor Pro-Tem Tammy Underwood to interim mayor until a new mayor is seated in May.
Council voted 5-0-1, with Underwood abstaining, following a motion made by Councilwoman Beth Watson. Underwood will return to being the Ward 2 representative once a new mayor is in place.
The action came in the wake of Christopher Perricone making himself ineligible to serve after failing to file property taxes by Jan. 31, thereby putting him in debt to the city. The city charter states among qualifications to serve on council, a member ... "shall not be in arrears in the payment of any taxes or other liability due the city or be disqualified by reason of any provision of any other section of this Charter. A member of the council ceasing to possess any of the qualifications specified in this section or any other section of this Charter, or convicted of a felony while in office, shall immediately forfeit his office."
Underwood began Friday's specially called session by acknowledging that in 2012, in the middle of her first term, she and her husband "because of financial reasons" paid their taxes in February, after the Jan. 31 deadline. She said she was unaware at the time of the charter provision.
"No one said anything," Underwood said. "I want you to know the truth. If you feel like that disqualifies me I will understand that."
Underwood has been re-elected four times since, and had she been behind in taxes owed the city she would not have qualified for the ballot. A check of council members earlier this month showed no other members in arrears on property taxes owed.
The 2019 tax filing deadline was Jan. 31. According to the Palo Pinto County Tax Office, Perricone currently owes $3,477 in property taxes on his home on Alamo Street, including $853.63 owed the city. A house in his name on S.E. 13th Street shows $628.42 in taxes owed, including $139.28 owed the city.
City Attorney Patricia Adams, of the contracted law firm Messer-Fort & McDonald, said the charter provision was "self-enacting" as far as Perricone's removal from office.
"The council's obligation is to uphold the charter," Adams said.
As for Underwood in 2012, Adams said when she was re-elected her issue resolved itself.
Adams said the issue with Perricone's non-payment of property taxes owed the city came about as the result of a routine check and that, as of noon Friday, his property taxes still had not been paid.
"Mayor Perricone was notified there was an issue," Adams said.
Watching the meeting live online via the Index's Facebook page, Perricone responded, "I was not notified."
Still a Republican candidate for the Texas House District 60 seat, Perricone has had multiple issues – politically and personally – in recent months. Last fall, a citizen-led recall effort fell short of the required signatures needed to call an election. Perricone soon after filed a lawsuit against the city in a Parker County district court that was moved to federal court in Fort Worth. That case remains pending.
In December, he was indicted on a third-degree felony charge of aggravated perjury. Two days later, police were called to his home regarding a possible domestic disturbance. While police said no offense was committed, an officer stood by as his wife and four children left the home. She filed for a restraining order and divorce several days later.
While some of his closest supporters have criticized the former mayor's personal issues being aired publicly, they have not refrained from doing so publicly on social media or verbally, including Friday's public meeting.
"We know the mayor is going through a divorce and having a lot of trouble financially," Lann Murphy told council. He said council could have first reached out to help Perricone, "rather than drop a hammer on him."
Perricone has campaigned on a platform that property taxes are unconstitutional. He wants to eliminate them through implementation of a consumption tax or find other ways to replace the revenue property taxes create. Property taxes fund local government operations and services, school districts and special districts like hospitals, fire and EMS and utilities.
Brandon Johnson said, "I understand why you want him out. ... I haven't agreed with a lot of things he's done and the way he has gone about things. He was a voice. He was elected by the people. It is a technicality. This technicality shows how oppressive government is."
Councilman Brian Shoemaker reiterated that Perricone's removal was not an action by council, but through the city charter which was voted on by the citizens. Any changes to the charter requires an election.
"It gives you plausible deniability," said Johnson. "That charter is unconstitutional."
"It looks like you are selectively applying the laws," said Joe Swirczynski.
Bridgette Goldstein was one who supported council for standing behind the rules that govern the city.
"I would like to applaud you for making everybody accountable," said Goldstein. "Now we have a council that is willing to stand up for the laws and I really appreciate that."
Perricone was constantly at odds with council over policies and how meetings were conducted. Councilman Doyle Light took issue with those who said he constantly opposed Perricone, seeking ways to remove him from office.
"That is not in my heart," Light said. "That has not been part of my agenda as I sit up here. I didn't go looking for this. The information came to me."
Councilman Jerrel Tomlin praised Underwood for bringing to light her late property tax payment eight years ago.
"She didn't have to do that," Tomlin said. "I think it is most Christian and most admirable what she did."
Light raised the question of council needing to elect a mayor pro-tem for the next three months. Adams said that will be placed on the next council agenda.
The filing deadline for the May 2 election is today at 5 p.m. So far At-Large Councilwoman Regan Johnson is the only person to file for the mayor's position. Tomlin and Watson have also filed for re-election to their respective Ward 1 and Ward 3 seats.