by Johnnie Belle Reagan
Palestine Herald Press won’t write this Story, but I will.
It has been repeatedly reported about the grievous Civil Rights violation that City of Palestine has perpetrated on a tax paying businessman, Jerry Laza with an unauthorized Law Suit. That has stirred up some grumbles, definitely not as much as animal abuse, alcoholic veteran or potholes, no disrespect intended but just pointing out the human nature.
In a recent article from the local paper in Palestine reported the City may spend over $350,000.00 on the City of Palestine vs. Laza law suit. I’m here to tell you THEY ALREADY HAVE.
“Lawnmower man Jerry Laza will head to court Thursday, where he faces jail time and fines up to $80,000. But the city didn’t get off scot-free, either. Sources told the Herald-Press Tuesday that Palestine, over 30 months, racked up nearly $350,000 in legal costs to prosecute Laza for failing to clean up his property in the 200 block of West Oak Street”. – Palestine Herald Press
As reporters we request public information from government entities regularly. The City of Palestine is one of the most difficult offices that I have ever had interaction. Even having a fellow colleague call and ask me if I would go pay his copy fee because the City wouldn’t take a check, only cash. If you send in a request it is almost a guarantee you will have to wait out your 10 days allowed them by law, just to find that they sent off a request to the Texas Attorney General’s office adding another 45 days. As a reporter of current affairs in 55 days the story has moved way on down the road.
So, what do you do? You find another way to get close?
What can you access? The public can access copies of the budget and check registries on the City of Palestine website. Information also exists on other outlets such as the newspaper and social media sites.
It is rumored that the total spend on the case has been over $300,000. I don’t even think the City of Palestine knows for sure.
Here are indisputable facts and you can decide for yourself. Invoices from the law firm Potter Minton shows that the billing for the Lawnmower Man’s, Jerry Laza, case started in January of 2016. In the year of 2016/2017 Palestine City budget for legal fees was $97,000.00. The actual total on the City of Palestine’s budget shows a spend of $213,882.00. That amount was $116,882.00 over budget.
Then moving onto the 2017/2018 City Budget, the allotted amount for legal fees was $92,300, which seem ridiculous considering the over spend the previous year. Again, the actual spend on the City Budget shows an amount of $197,296.00. Total amount over budget was $104,896.00.
Here is another way to look at it. From the financial reporting it does not appear that the City of Palestine over spent on legal fees until the year the law suit was filed. Even easier to understand is the City of Palestine had budgeted an average monthly spend of $7,620.00 and instead for the years of 2016, 2017 and into 2018 have paid monthly bills for legal fees in the average amount of $17,129.00 a month. You can’t tell me that not one soul in the entire paid City staff didn’t hesitate for a minute when the billing from a vendor was $9,500.00 over the normal amount? I can not find any other legal entity that has been paid by the City of Palestine other than Potter Minton, Ron Stutes law firm.
The City will only admit that they have spent $182,000.00 on the Laza law suit. If you only add up the overages it comes to $221,718.00 as of September 2017. Would it be complete unfounded to guess that an additional $100,000.00 might have been spent from September 2017 through September 2018? The overall total on legal spend in the City Budget from 2016-2017 is $411,078.00 and that does not include 2018.
If I was a tax paying resident of the City of Palestine, Texas I would personally want some clear answers as to why this can and did happen. Why are your current City Council members being A okay with an Attorney who is on contract billing almost $10,000 more a month than has been authorized by the official budget.
And we haven’t even addressed the $100,000.00 they paid off the previous City Manager Mike Alexander to blow town the day he was due to testify.
In Regard to Mental Health and Counseling
City Councilwoman District 6 Ann Connor said, “The city is getting a bad image, saying we are spending this money, but the defendant has continued to appeal, If the city has a law, we have to enforce it, or there is no reason to have it.”
According to Ann people are evidently not supposed to try and escape the City of Palestine’s Steam Roller. If they want your property, stand still so the machine can roll right over and squash you thoroughly. If the city sues you they much prefer you do not hire an attorney. Just come to court on the appointed day and they will take care of the rest.
I smell a rat, but the stench is not coming from Jerry Laza’s Lawn Mower Shop.