LA MARQUE — La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking said he did the right thing by waiting until this week to disclose racially charged remarks made by a council member in 2012.
Those remarks surfaced after the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas turned over sworn affidavits and audio recordings from former council candidate Deanna Bethea and her husband, James Bethea, to the U.S. attorney.
In her affidavit, Deanna Bethea said she heard City Councilwoman Connie Trube say in regard to the library that “no one uses it but the damn (N-word)” and that the city was wasting money on the library, among other things.
Trube has denied the accusations.
On Monday Hocking and City Manager Carol Buttler said they heard Trube say, during budget discussions in 2012, that she wanted to cut funding to the library because only African-Americans use it.
Trube, who won’t be up for re-election until May 2015, denies the accusations from the mayor and the city manager. She also denied ever talking to Deanna Bethea about closing the library.
‘I just decided to move forward’
Hocking said he and his wife heard Trube say she wanted to “close the library because only blacks use it.”
Hocking said he went to the city manager and the city attorney to express his concern. The council did fully fund the library within the budget constraints, so in the end Hocking said he decided not take any other action.
The city had just gone through a divisive period with the recall of the city’s first African-American mayor, Geraldine Sam, and a subsequent election, he said.
Hocking said he hoped the city would have time to heal.
“I made the decision not to rip this city apart as is being done now,” he said.
Buttler said she also knew that Trube had only one vote and that the city would find a way to fund the library.
Looking back, Hocking said he believed he made the right decision.
“I was appalled but I just decided to move forward,” he said.
If the library had not been funded and there had been an effort to close it he would have taken a different action, he said.
But now Hocking and the rest of the council have called for an investigation into the allegations.
The City Council hired a law firm, Olson & Olson, to investigate. The council agreed to pay up to $10,000, although Hocking said he expected to the final cost to be about half that. The investigation should be complete by the end of the month and the findings presented at the June 30 council meeting.
Getting to the bottom
The council censured Trube for comments she can be heard making on audio recordings made by James Bethea. In one recording, a woman who is clearly Trube, is heard talking about La Marque school board member Annie Burton, saying: “I hate to say this, but she really turned black.” She also says Burton helped “gang up” with others on the school board.
“That is why the school district went to hell,” Trube is recorded as saying.
The recordings were made in the City Hall parking lot during early voting and on election day in May, according to the affidavits.
Trube was campaigning for Councilman James Osteen, who was in a three-way race against Deanna Bethea and Chris Lane. Osteen is now in a runoff with Lane.
On Monday Osteen made a point of asking Burton and Sam, who had also been mentioned in the audio recordings, if he had ever offended them. Both women said he had not. Osteen also said he had offered to help Deanna Bethea if she won the election just as he has offered to support and help Lane if he were to win.
As far as Trube’s comments about the library, Osteen said it was necessary to get an outside group to investigate.
“We have this affidavit, and it’s he said, she said,” Osteen said. “The only way we are going to get to the bottom of it is to let a neutral party look at it.”
An accumulation of allegations
At Monday’s meeting, Councilman Keith Bell told Trube that he loved her but that the accumulation of allegations and recorded comments caused the council to pause and hand the issue over to a neutral party.
Bell also said the recent revelations would cause him to think about how she viewed him.
“I have to work with knowing that in my heart you may not feel as though I am (as) adequate in my position as other persons,” said Bell, who is African-American.
But after the meeting Bell said he believed council members would be able to work together going forward.
He said any discussion of Trube stepping down from her position was one she needed to have with her constituents.
The council cannot force Trube from her seat. She can serve the remainder of her term unless she is recalled by voters.
Trube said she has no plans to step down.
Instead, Trube said the allegations were completely false and were being orchestrated by the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas and the La Marque police association.
“It is the police union that is trying to tear this city apart, and it looks like they are succeeding,” Trube said.
Trube said she believed the mayor and the city manager also wanted her gone because she doesn’t always vote along with the mayor and has had her differences with the city manager.
Hocking said he was not out for a witch-hunt and was not trying to remove Trube. He called her allegations “absolutely preposterous.”
Trube said she knew things about others on the council she would be revealing soon.
“Not everybody on that council is on the up and up,” she said. She would not elaborate.
Doing what was right
Tom Barbee, the local field representative for the Combined Law Enforcement Associations of Texas, said the union and Trube have had their differences over contract negotiations. But the allegations went beyond a police matter and were civil rights issues, he said.
“The problem with it is that whenever that type of speech starts actually influencing city policy,” Barbee said.
The associations are asking for Trube to resign and are calling for a federal investigation.
Deanna Bethea, meanwhile, said she was not trying to influence the runoff election and was not trying to be spiteful. She said she did the right thing by giving the information to the police.
“I’m not proud of having people represent me that have these thoughts and that blatantly speak the way they speak,” Deanna Bethea said.
She said she did what she what she believed was right.
Contact reporter Christopher Smith Gonzalez at 409-683-5314 or firstname.lastname@example.org.