Alleging a conspiracy, a lack of human decency, a witch hunt and public character assassination, supporters of Precinct 2 Commissioner Lester Gibson rallied during a commissioners court meeting Tuesday in response to claims the elected leader faces memory issues.

The McLennan County Democratic Party and Waco NAACP encouraged people to attend the meeting to support Gibson.

“It is important that the African-American community stand together in these perilous times,” a post from local NAACP President Peaches Henry that was shared on the Democratic Party’s Facebook page states.

Eleven people spoke, many to rounds of applause, during the public hearing section of the standing-room-only meeting, which saw spectators overflowing into a hallway adjacent to the meeting room.

Ramona Curtis, Baylor University Community Engagement & Initiatives director, said she feels behind-the-scenes talk of potential replacements for Gibson has led to this point.

“If you have heard what I have heard by people I think are credible, this is a witch hunt,” Curtis said.

Jo Welter, with Waco’s Community Race Relations Coalition, said she is not in Gibson’s district but has lived in this area for about 25 years and known the commissioner almost as long. Welter said she has worked with Gibson for the past few months on a complex issue with a lot of conflicting facts and has found him to be more than capable.

The outcry of support for letting Gibson fulfill the remaining year and a half on his term, after almost three decades in office, follows reporting Thursday by the Tribune-Herald on elected officials’ concerns regarding Gibson’s memory. It follows another report in which Gibson said he did not remember a major county settlement on Americans With Disabilities Act violations commissioners have been working on regularly for the past two years.

Witt’s letter

Last week, Mart Mayor Pro Tem Henry Witt III sent a four-page letter to commissioners raising concerns about Gibson’s memory and how it may affect his ability to do his job. Gibson’s precinct includes Mart, and, in response to the letter, Gibson denied having any memory issues.

County Judge Scott Felton said at the time that he has heard from constituents, city leaders and county employees concerned with Gibson’s memory. Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry also said at the time it is becoming obvious there’s an issue.

Under commissioners’ policy, they were not able to respond to the public comments during Tuesday’s meeting.

Witt, who wrote to commissioners after the report on the ADA settlement, said Tuesday he’s not concerned about any claims that he is drawing attention to Gibson because of his race. Those claims are only being made to distract from the real issue, he said.

“Gibson’s issues were one of the worst-kept secrets in McLennan County,” Witt said. “Anyone close to county politics knew he was struggling. I was just the person who stood up and said something about it. If the Democratic Party of McLennan County wants to pretend they don’t know about it, more than anything else, it makes them look totally inept.”

Witt said the local group is choosing to defend the party instead of Precinct 2 residents. Witt said he has spoken to party officials before in private about his concerns, despite their claims. Witt said, as he wrote in his letter, that he is not a political opponent of Gibson’s and that he voted for Gibson and even campaigned on his behalf.

Mary Duty, McLennan County Democratic Party chair, said she could make judgments on many elected officials, but that’s not part of the process in this country that she holds very dear. Duty said the county has to start modeling civility if anyone expects statewide leaders in Austin to do the same.

Pastor Bryan Dalco, of One Fellowship United Methodist Church, said he is concerned there has been public assassination of Gibson’s character without private conversations. Gibson is respected locally, and election results must be honored, he said.

“More than ever as this city continues to grow, we need to be inclusive,” Dalco said. “We need to represent all people.”

Jon April, a former talk show host and pastor of 40 years, said he met Gibson 40 years ago when he worked in the streets of Waco for justice and righteousness. April said he is appalled this issue is getting so much attention, because everyone has medical challenges. April said he sees Gibson as a humanitarian, a civil rights leader and someone who is out in the trenches working for the community.

“This is the greatest country in the world, so let that be reflected in what we’re doing,” he said.

Robert Aguilar said he believes a conspiracy is unfolding.

“Hell, I forget things,” he said. “Y’all forget things.”

Aguilar said Witt is being an opportunist, and if commissioners act to remove Gibson, “we’ll go out and get petitions to get you guys kicked out.”

While the chorus of voices pleaded for the commissioners not to move to oust Gibson, commissioners don’t have say over that decision.

Grounds for removal

General grounds for removal include incompetency, official misconduct or intoxication, according to the local government code. An individual would have to file a written petition for removal for a county district court to consider, which could then go to trial. Any resident who has lived in the area six months and is not under indictment in the county can file the form.

The local government code defines incompetency as gross ignorance of official duties: gross carelessness in the discharge of those duties; or unfitness or inability to promptly and properly discharge official duties because of a serious physical or mental defect that did not exist at the time of the person’s election.

According to the Texas election code, if county commissioner’s seat becomes vacant, the county judge will appoint a resident of the precinct to fulfill the remaining term until the next general election.

Cassie L. Smith has covered county government for the Tribune-Herald since June 2014. She previously worked as a reporter for the Beaumont Enterprise and The Eagle in Bryan-College Station. Smith graduated from the University of Texas at Arlington.

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