The Mart mayor pro tem Wednesday sent a letter to McLennan County commissioners raising concerns regarding Commissioner Lester Gibson’s memory and how it may affect his ability to do his job, specifically citing potential projects in Mart.
Mart Mayor Pro Tem Henry Witt III sent the four-page letter mentioning a few examples of Gibson’s inability to recall projects that have been ongoing for more than a year, as well as discussions he said the two men had about those and other initiatives.
Gibson, whose precinct includes Mart, denied he has any memory issues.
The letter followed Gibson’s comments last week when he stated he was not aware of a large countywide Americans With Disabilities Act project that’s been in the works since 2015. Fellow commissioners expressed surprise at Gibson’s comments, given that it has been a topic of frequent discussion, including at recent meetings.
Witt’s letter states that he thinks Gibson’s cognitive reasoning abilities and memory have degenerated to the point that he can’t be effective in forming judgments and therefore isn’t effectively representing the people in his precinct.
County Judge Scott Felton told the Tribune-Herald last week that he has received feedback from constituents and county employees about Gibson’s memory.
“People in the precinct, his constituents, have called to tell me that Precinct 2 will not return their calls, and those issues are important issues and what can the county do about it,” Felton said. “Department heads have also expressed concerns that they get mixed messages, different messages, from him on any particular discussion item.”
Witt said the matter has weighed heavily on his heart.
“I keep telling myself I’m doing the right thing for the people I represent,” Witt said.
Phone call in 2016
Witt details in the letter how in October 2016 the city of Mart received a $2.7 million loan to complete a large infrastructure project that would completely overhaul city streets and waterlines. In his excitement about receiving the news, Witt said, he called Gibson.
“I did not preface my call by reminding him of the project we had discussed many times over the past several years,” Witt wrote in the letter. “He seemed surprised by the call and quickly became combative. Commissioner Gibson repeatedly yelled that he did not know who I was or what I wanted. I realized he was not in his right mind. I told him who I was and that we knew each other. I told him that I knew his family and he knew mine.”
Since that time, Witt wrote, he’s continued to try to keep Gibson in the loop regarding the project and work toward interlocal agreements between the county and city to help bring the city’s overhaul to completion. Witt said that in another phone conversation May 16 with the commissioner, Gibson again did not know who Witt was, nor was he able to recall the project.
“After I reintroduced myself to him, he proceeded to tell me that Mart had never done anything for him in elections and, in turn, he would not make Mart a priority,” the letter continues.
Witt said it would be one thing if Gibson was noncompliant because of sound judgment.
“But I believe he has some type of impairment that is keeping him from being compliant with plans we’d already put together before,” Witt said in an interview Wednesday.
Felton said Wednesday the letter is concerning, as it comes from one of Gibson’s biggest supporters. Witt even wrote a guest column in the Tribune-Herald in October 2014 praising work Gibson had done to support initiatives in Mart and calling on residents to join him in voting for Gibson.
“Prior to this letter, Mayor Pro Tem Witt expressed problems with communication with Commissioner Gibson, and I advised him to keep trying and working with (Gibson’s administrative assistant, Pat Chisolm). I guess I’m not totally surprised,” Felton said of receiving the letter.
Felton said he wanted to be sure Gibson and Gibson’s family have seen the letter.
“I don’t know what the county can do about it at this point in time,” Felton said. “Obviously, Commissioner Gibson or his family could give the city of Mart and all the cities in that precinct some comfort about how they’ll operate going forward.”
Felton said he hopes Gibson will reassure fellow commissioners about his mental acuity after reading the letter, and said he feels badly that Gibson is apparently struggling.
“If he does not, then at that point I guess the commissioners court can discuss it — I’m sure in executive session — and see what the options are,” Felton said.
The Tribune-Herald emailed a copy of the letter to Gibson early Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening, Gibson said he had not read the letter but asked for a summary.
Gibson said he doesn’t communicate often with Witt and thinks the mayor pro tem is motivated by plans to run for his seat.
“I know him. He lives out in my precinct,” Gibson said. “I don’t converse with Henry Witt.”
No memory issues
Gibson said he does not have any issues with his memory and doesn’t know why Witt would say so.
“I don’t know because I don’t associate with him,” Gibson said. “I don’t associate with him.”
Gibson then handed the phone to his wife, Coque Gibson. She said this is the first she’s heard of anyone thinking her husband has memory problems. She said she and her husband are public figures and it’s normal not to remember every single person who recognizes them and speaks to them.
Lester Gibson said the whole matter is a political game.
“I don’t even talk to this gentleman,” he said. “I don’t know what his credibility is.”
Writing the letter did not come easily, Witt said.
“It was really hard. It was really hard,” Witt said by phone Wednesday. “That’s why I haven’t come forward to this point. He’s a friend of mine and a mentor to me in a lot of ways. Watching somebody’s mental state deteriorate like that is very hard.”
Witt acknowledged in the letter that his motives may come into question. He said he has no hidden agenda, no political ax to grind and no political aspirations that would benefit him by sharing the information.
“It’s something I considered, discussed with my family, and it’s just not in the cards for me,” Witt said about ever running for the Precinct 2 commissioner seat. “I had been previously considering running, but I had a completely different job at the time.”
Witt said he just hopes commissioners investigate the situation.
“My family and I will continue to pray for Commissioner Gibson in hopes he will seek the help he needs, if he has not already,” the letter continues. “I have great respect for him and his accomplishments as a public servant. However, my respect and obligation to ensure my citizens are adequately represented at all levels of government far outweighs my respect for any one individual.”
Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said he detected frustration in Witt’s letter. Perry is concerned there is a city in the county that needs assistance from the county and is not receiving it, he said.
“This is a huge project for Mart,” Perry said. “We need to do everything we can to make sure it goes smoothly.”
Perry characterized the letter as “disturbing.”
“For him to truly not know who the mayor pro tem of Mart is is a little disturbing,” Perry said. “I’m not exactly sure what’s going on with Commissioner Gibson, but it’s becoming obvious there is an issue.”
After a commissioners court meeting last week, Gibson said he wasn’t aware of a settlement agreement the county has discussed at almost every meeting for the past year and a half. Gibson said he knew nothing of the settlement between the Department of Justice and McLennan County regarding 350-plus Americans With Disabilities Act violations.
Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones, who overheard the conversation, said later that it was concerning — specifically, that an issue of the magnitude of the ADA projects couldn’t be recalled by his fellow commissioner.
County Attorney Mike Dixon said there wasn’t much he could say about the matter.
“It’s a complaint, but the commissioners court does not have jurisdiction over these types of complaints against an elected official,” Dixon said. “It’s an issue that is handled . . . by statute.”
Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell said he hadn’t seen the email and couldn’t check his email outside of the office so he had no comment. Jones did not return multiple calls seeking comment.