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Wed July 1, 2009
John Doe 7 vs. City of Commerce, Part 3:<i><BR>Are citizens aware of tax payer money spent?</i>
By Scott Harvey
Commerce – The case of John Doe 7 vs. City of Commerce has cost the city more than $57,000 in attorney's fees as of June 9. Should a settlement be reached, thousands more would go to John Doe 7's attorney.
But proponents of a November trial contend money is being spent to fight a lawsuit brought before the city. Councilman Richard Hill feels the ordinance is necessary in protecting its citizens by preventing a large number of sex offenders from flocking to the city.
"My belief is that we did not want to make Commerce the haven for registered sex offenders, and so that's why I voted on the original ordinance."
Siding with Hill is Mayor Pro Tem Billie Biggerstaff, who claims not to make life miserable for sex offenders, but to provide a safeguard for citizens. Of the nearly 50 people to have approached her on the issue, the decision seems to be unanimous.
"In this particular case, everybody who does know anything about it that's talked to me about it, I haven't found one person in town that wants us to settle," says Biggerstaff. "The fact that a lawsuit was brought before us will cost the city either way because we have to pay an attorney. I'm just following suit with what people of this town; the ones who have spoke out, asked me to do, because I do represent them."
The same goes for Hill.
"I have not had one person say write him a check'", says Hill. He said about 50 citizens had also approached him on the subject.
Mayor Quay Throgmorton says it's the responsibility of himself and council to take into consideration the viewpoints of citizens.
"We're supposed to be a representative of the community," says Throgmorton. "If I have 500 people calling me and telling me I need to settle, that's how I need to vote."
City Councilman Tony Henry declined comment, only stating that the city is doing what's in the best interest of the citizens.
City Attorney Jim McLeroy has reportedly stated there's only a 50/50 chance of winning the case.
While Councilman Hill was unaware of such a statement, he argues that both sides going to trial would always have a 50/50 chance of winning anyway.
Councilman Bob Monday says with those odds, packaged with the amount of money spent to date, its baffling that the city would not settle.
"That is the question that I have lost sleep over, I have absolutely no idea [why the city won't settle]," says Monday. Unless it's pride in authorship or pride in adopting, and neither of those hold water in my opinion."
Monday went on to say that the money could instead be used for improving parks, streets and sidewalks.
If the case does go to trial, and possibly an appeal thereafter, it could cost as much as $150,000 or even as high as $200,000 of tax payer money.
"If we do end up spending up to $200,000 on this, that's 20 percent of our reserves,' says Throgmorton.
Mayor Pro Tem Biggerstaff says those that have spoken with her are aware that losing this lawsuit would be a waste of money.
"People understand that if we lose they're paying for it," says Biggerstaff. They understand it and they are adamant about it."
But in an effort to protect citizens, Councilman Hill feels money shouldn't be an issue.
"Do you or any of the other citizens want to place a dollar value on the safety and welfare of our children in Commerce, Texas? Because Richard Hill doesn't."
In part four of our series Thursday, KETR will examine both the original sex offender ordinance and the proposed revision. The current ordinance, passed in November, 2007, is not being enforced at this time.