by Johnnie Belle Reagan
You can ask some hard-hitting questions, but the truth will remain allusive because the Palestine City Council doesn’t think you deserve an answer.
The one issue that has received my undivided attention and led me down all these other paths was the Civil Suit filed against Jerry Laza. Since I have written several stories over the past 3 year relating to the unlawful inhumane lawsuit, more and more information has come to light. Most recently I was sent a copy of the video recording of the May 25th, 2016 meeting Jerry Laza requested to have with Palestine City Officials. It made me cringe watching Laza try to make a deal with, “Chief” City Manager Mike Alexander, a tyrant.
Let us just run through a few of the latest unfixed unaddressed issues for the City of Palestine. The water and waste water are a mockery. Each and every resident within the City limits should be overly concerned not just about what they pay each month for water that they can’t drink and can barely bath in, but how that money is being spent. Maybe you missed the fact that the City of Palestine has spent millions of dollars on water meters to make sure that they can bill you, but nothing on making sure the water is safe to drink. Residents you haven’t paid of the first round of meters with round two underway… Let that sink in.
That is all happening while your Mayor Steve Presley, Public Works Director Tim Perry, and late City Manager Michael Hornes protected an Economic Development deal that allowed Baze Chemical Inc. to dump untreated chemical waste water into your water system. Municipalities are self-governing and higher governmental entities do not interfere unless requested. So, unless requested the EPA is not coming. Does it matter that Presley had his hand in that real estate deal? It literally stinks. Laza was accused of pollution in the lawsuit. The accusation is what Attorney Ron Stutes and City Manager Mike Alexander used to file and make an “injury” Civil Case; testing proved there was nothing on his property. See, unless you have Health and Safety issues to other than the property owner Ordinance and Zoning violations are handled in Municipal Court.
The City of Palestine’s Public Works department is a complete mess. Their new digs which had been boasted to save the City 100’s of thousands of dollars went grossly over budget by an estimated $300,000. It would be hard to convince me that the City gained anything by moving. Two City of Palestine employees reportedly became sick from a virus spread by rodents. Also, reported is the fact that the Public Works Director, Tim Perry, became ill. The rat infestation has been battled several times. The previous Public Works yard has become a dumping ground for everything from toxic waste barrels to defunct City equipment and old tires, essential a junkyard. Laza was accused of harboring rats. After 8 hrs. of inspections no evidence was found, but Laza was fined $27,000 for a rat “might” live there.
While your Public Works department can’t manage a budget, they complain that they have no money to repair roads. Resent rains left the Palestine City streets riddled with pot hole after pot hole. Once again just like in 2016 the City had wide spread flooding that could be contributed to the fact that the drainage systems go unkept and cleared of debris. Also, with an honorable mention, is the sewer line break that spilled raw waste directly into the local creek and water system. I’m hear to tell you that is just the beginning of the sewer issues. Just like in 2016 this month Laza’s shop flooded because of the City’s lack of maintain the drainage ditch.
All you hear coming out of your City leaders is the restoration of downtown. If you don’t have streets, water and sewer clearly what is the point in dumping money into rotting downtown private property? There are ordinances that are not being enforced. I’ve been told that Lawyers don’t go after Lawyers. Well, Palestine City Council don’t go after their “friends”. The City took over the Old Memorial Hospital resulting in its demolition at the expense of taxpayers. Those grants come from your pockets. The City has since abandoned the job incomplete and now rumored they may be taking over the Ivanhoe building. Texas Area Fund Foundation who obtained the building last year, may be trying to donated it to the City of Palestine. Fact: They are in the process of executing a new State Grant for infrastructure improvements around the Ivanhoe building. You don’t have to scratch your head about that one.
Over and over the Texas Area Fund Foundation has popped its head out. You can find their influence in almost every aspect of the City. It is the few that rule and run the City of Palestine behind the scenes. They benefit the most from grants given out by the City and Economic Development Corporation. This is an incestuous relationship that has existed since TAFF was established in 1999. Almost as if TAFF was created to solely benefit from City of Palestine Grants and tax revenue. Many of the members own a stake in downtown property, most hold prominent positions and businesses within the town.
I wasn’t surprised to be informed that Mayor Steve Presley was bragging about if Jerry Laza’s property goes up for auction, through the Bankruptcy he was forced to file due to the City of Palestine’s unlawful lawsuit, Texas Area Fund Foundation would bid and buy 1101 W. Oak. It could just be written off as more crazy talk except for the fact it adds to the existence of a “master plan” with the Farmer’s Market, Visitor’s Center and Railroad Sculpture Park ($250,000 Dirt Mound Park as a local activists refer to it) which exist within walking distance of Laza’s 4 acres that would make a very nice distillery and restaurant. I can also say this is not the first time I have heard this over the last 3 years.
So here is what we know for sure. Presley had and has an active role as a member and a leader in Texas Area Fund Foundation and so have other members on the City Council. Presley also had contact with Jerry Laza a month or so before the lawsuit was filed suggesting that “something” like a restaurant could be a possibility. At the time the City Manager/Police Chief Alexander was pursuing the unauthorized lawsuit against Jerry Laza with the help of City Attorney Ron Stutes, Alexander was living at the Redland’s Hotel owned by Jean Mollard, Director of Palestine Tomorrow a subsidiary of Texas Area Fund Foundation. If you read the story about the Lawnmower Man, Jerry Laza, and how he was forced out of his downtown location you will find the Mollard theme closely playing the same tune in the battle over his current property.
Texas Area Fund Foundation leaders made a statement to the local paper the last time they were accused of being involved as “laughable”. I don’t think anybody is laughing now. They need to tell their Mayor to stop flapping his gums at the local drinkery. Put a leash on him, he is out of control.
Watching the videos of that meeting Laza had with City of Palestine Officials really disturbed my sensitivity to Rule of Law and Constitutional Rights. First and foremost, Laza was not informed that he was being taped. Second, both Patsy Smith and Mike Alexander were active law enforcement. As you watch the meeting you can clearly see an interrogation. He wasn’t read any rights because you can’t secretly tape someone if… The tape was never turned over in discovery during the trial. It was withheld from evidence and the Jury never saw the tape. Even after City Employees Patsy Smith and Jeffery Lyons testified of the video’s existence, City Manager Michael Hornes denied it existed when it was sought through public information requests.
On this video you will find Mike Alexander taking full responsibility for what was about to happen to Mr. Laza. He even bragged about how he had done “this” in other places. Mike Alexander would never take the stand in Laza’s trial. He would never be forced to finish his deposition in which he suddenly had amnesia in numerous responses of “I don’t recall”. The City of Palestine City Council paid Alexander $100,000 after he requested to be let go. Name one person you know that has quit a job and walked out with a pocket full of cash. Mike Alexander left town while the case was delayed and Judge Phifer would not let him be subpoenaed back to Palestine. Did I forget to mention the $400,000 Attorney Ron Stutes pocketed on the case? You would be hard pressed to convince me that nothing but a Civil Suit was ever going to happen because the earliest billing submitted by Ron Stutes in January 2016, 6 months before the case is filed on June 9th, 2016, calls out the “Laza Law Suit”.
As irony as it, City of Palestine received a judgment against Jerry Laza for $164,000 for pollution he didn’t have, rats that choose to take up house in the City’s buildings rather than Laza’s shop, and running a “junkyard” that the City’s own Municipal Court found not to be in the 2006 case. Did Laza have some ordinance violations? Yes, but on the video, he seems more than willing to address the issues. Laza offers repeatedly to build a privacy fence. All the while the City is trying its best to destroy a local small business and its owner, it not only dumps pollution into the water system, it allows a local EDC deal with Baze Chemical Inc. to pollute and the City Officials cover it up. Three of the City employees become ill with a 3rd world virus from rat filth in its “brand new” renovated facility. I’m not the smartest person in the world but with all that construction going on no-one noticed RATS? And also adding all this while maintaining their very own junkyard at the previous Public Works yard.
Pure and blatant hypocrisy, but sadly on May 6th 2019 “the people”, all 1,200 in a population of 18,000, gave Steve Presley two more years of having him and his cronies’ hands in the cookie jar. Is this proof that people just don’t care farther than a Facebook post rant?