The City of Hico’s woes over a local electrical licensing program it claims to have never sanctioned may have just begun.
“Johnny Clepper, George Bales, and Michael Dunton V. City of Hico,” filed in the 220th Judicial District Court, Hamilton County, was a topic of discussion behind closed doors at Monday night’s city council meeting.
The men are suing for damages, which may exceed $200,000, and charging the city with fraud, negligence, negligent supervision, and breach of contract. The court document accuses city workers of trying to “cover up this negligence and fraud.”
City Administrator Lambert Little said he would not talk about the matter.
“I informed the council of a pending lawsuit,” was Little’s only comment.
The plaintiffs’ attorney is Nancy Anglin Yates of Hamilton.
“The bottom line is they (city) failed to supervise Raul Chavez or they failed to set up an ordinance or both,” Yates said. “We expect a jury of the citizens of Hamilton to get to the bottom of this.”
In January, Raul Chavez, former code enforcement officer for the city, was arrested after a warrant was issued by the Texas Attorney General’s Office on three charges of tampering with a government record. In April, he pleaded guilty to tampering with a government record in a scandal involving 17 Hico electricians. Chavez reportedly received a two-year deferred adjudication and a fine of $1,000 and was ordered to pay $200 in court costs.
The petition states all three men were enrolled in free courses for electrician certification offered by the city “at the personal invitation of Anita Mueller and by public invitations in the Hico News Review.”
Mueller is the city secretary.
A September 11, 2003, article by the Hico News Review, cited in the petition, states in part:
“Interested parties are invited to enroll at Hico City Hall in a free electrician course to be conducted over a 10-week period by Raul Chavez. After completing the course, recipients of the free certifications will be considered qualified to perform electrical work within the city, regardless of state license status.”
The petition exhibits include checks deposited by the city along with receipts written by city employees as well as certificates and local licenses endorsed with the city’s seal.
As previously reported, those that participated in the courses taught by Chavez pursued licenses either as journeymen or master electricians with the State.
According to the petition,
“There were no difficulties with the licenses or Plaintiffs’ activities until the City complained to the State about its own program. In a letter dated August 7, 2006, Lambert Little, the City’s new administrator, raised several issues with the Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation (TDLR). In this letter, Little states the “City of Hico has no local certification requirements.” In response to this inquiry the state filed 17 complaints against individuals who participated in this program and the city’s employee, Raul Chavez. Texas Department of Licensing and Regulation issued a press release confirming that its investigation was in response to an inquiry from “a Hico City official” - Lambert Little.”
The document states that Little has publicly denied his involvement with the TDLR when he knew his letter to the TDLR opened up their investigation.
Another statement in the petition says, “The city’s failure to pass an ordinance; initiation of the investigation; and lies to cover up its mistake are all part of the fraud committed against plaintiffs.”
There is no word when the suit will be heard.