Hewitt Mayor Ed Passalugo and City Council member James Vidrine — caught this year exchanging an emailed joke about women’s vaginas — led most of the council in firing the city attorney Tuesday, blaming him for obeying a legally grounded public information request and allowing the public — God forbid, the public — to see how some of Hewitt’s elected leaders spend their time. Anyone with even a pretense of Christian decency, let alone any regard for responsible governance, should be outraged at this worsening city spectacle.
In a special morning meeting — likely called to circumvent possible protests by concerned Hewitt residents — the council voted, at least partially based on advice from Passalugo’s private attorney, to end Charles Buenger’s service as Hewitt city attorney, which extends back to 1981. Only holdouts in the nine-minute meeting: Mayor Pro Tem Steve Fortenberry and council member Bill Fuller.
The council’s action was predicated on vague references, such as how the city attorney’s shaking hands with an angry constituent might signal disdain for his honor the mayor. As Fortenberry forcefully told Passalugo: “We need some evidence of what you’re talking about. These people, they’re our constituents, we represent them, we’ve got to answer questions and make notes based on what they want. Now, in order to go any further in this, you’ve got to give some specifics about Mr. Buenger and what allegedly he has done to ‘dress you down’ other than shake somebody’s hand.”
At another point, Fortenberry and Passalugo argued over the mayor’s emailing the vagina joke to Vidrine and whether it was public or private email. Public servants who regularly use personal email in conducting public business risk those emails being subject to open records requests under state law. After all the fallout involving Hillary Clinton’s email (for which this newspaper blasted Clinton), one might think Hewitt leadership would realize the folly of using private email in public business.
Obviously distressed by the mayor pro tem’s repeated demand for specific reasons for firing the city attorney, the mayor told Fortenberry that he would simply have to wait till later for reasons: “We want to change city attorneys. I want to change city attorneys. I don’t feel comfortable with the present city attorney representing us and there’s things that will come out in the future that will substantiate this claim.”
“Things that may or may not come out in the future is not a good reason to [terminate] someone’s employment,” Fortenberry replied. “If there’s something going on, we need to know about it now.”
One might reasonably debate the matter of public and private emails. Even state law isn’t entirely clear on the matter of mixing city business and ribald humor. But given that Mayor Passalugo is already the target of formal complaints alleging defamation of character, gender bias, harassment, workplace bullying and violating Texas open meetings law, the Hewitt City Council’s action Tuesday is not only precipitous but further justification for Hewitt voters’ cleaning house as best they can when opportunities arise, even as the mayor pursues what we can only assume will be far more obliging and subservient legal eagles.