McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna expressed his familiar contempt for the Tribune-Herald in Thursday’s tooth-and-nail candidate forum with challenger Barry Johnson before the McLennan County Republican Club. In branding the Trib a purveyor of “fake news” and a “ridiculous rag,” he inspired applause from supporters in one part of Knox Hall, stunned silence from Republicans elsewhere. By the time the hour was done, the 45-year-old DA had succeeded only in confirming his sustained lack of accountability to taxpaying voters and reality-based press regarding sworn allegations of corruption.
Supreme irony of the day: In dismissing allegations of prosecutorial incompetence and political cronyism, Reyna cavalierly insisted he could talk all day of such concerns, even noting how his cellphone number was known to many if they wanted to question him. Yet it’s this very failure to be accountable and transparent when allegations are leveled that have further complicated matters for Reyna, his staff, county officials paying all the bills, skeptical law enforcement officers, astounded taxpayers and justice for all in McLennan County.
Yes, the Trib has dutifully chronicled the DA’s problems, including affidavits from sources as credible as veteran prosecutor Greg Davis and retired Waco police detective Sherry Kingrey, covering everything from Reyna’s alleged drug use to a pattern of doing political favors for friends and campaign donors, including dropping prosecution cases. Yet Reyna’s remarks at the candidate forum suggest he believes the Trib should have ignored such charges, even though these figure in legal efforts to disqualify him in Twin Peaks shootout trials.
At one point, Reyna championed local television news outlets, noting that they will not condescend to cover allegations against him. That’s certainly one way of putting it. Regardless, our priority as a daily newspaper is to report to our readers developments as they happen. We’re not the ones who swore out affidavits regarding Reyna’s integrity or lack of it. And it’s not veteran Trib courthouse reporter Tommy Witherspoon’s job to decide if such allegations should be buried from public view for fear they might offend the DA if published.
In each instance, Witherspoon has tried doggedly to get Reyna’s side of the story to ensure fairness. He routinely calls the DA’s cellphone, home number and office number; he leaves messages. Reyna almost never responds to these opportunities to set the record straight (at least as he might see it), then plays the wounded one, crying of his being unfairly maligned. This strategy has quite likely succeeded in consigning to the shadows worthwhile programs in the DA’s office.
As Reyna’s Republican opponent noted during Thursday’s forum, Reyna won’t even participate in the Trib’s series of candidate Q&As, published as a public service to voters and offering candidates a unique chance to answer sometimes bracing questions in their own words. Reyna’s failure in this regard as well as his refusal over five years to comment on allegations of wrongdoing and impropriety can leave reasonable voters with only one conclusion — absolutely no trust in this DA as an officer of the court or straightforward public servant.