EASTON — A shouting match broke out inside Easton City Hall late Tuesday, resulting in one man being escorted out by law enforcement and the City Council adjourning without completing its monthly agenda.
Dewayne Ward was given a criminal trespass warning by a Gregg County sheriff’s deputy after a heated exchange with an accountant, the city secretary and the mayor, who is his brother.
“I can work with anybody no matter who it is,” Mayor Walter Ward said. “We can come up with a solution, but don’t come here yelling and screaming, because you can be heard without yelling and screaming.”
Councilwoman Latoyya Wright-Young said residents shouldn’t be given criminal trespass warnings for speaking up in City Council meetings.
“Maybe he asked too aggressively. Maybe he could have asked a little nicer. I don’t know.” Wright-Young said. “But he asked a question that should have a rightly answer to it, so I don’t feel like he should have gotten a criminal trespass.”
The argument began after the accountant read the city’s year-to-date financial statements, when Wright-Young asked for details on specific revenue and spending item she said she’s requested for about six months to no avail.
“We’ve been waiting on that report for months, and we’ve already seen this,” Wright-Young told accountant Ayanna Merchant, “so we have asked for details on this stuff. … I wanted receipts from the Christmas party. I want receipts for it all.”
Merchant responded, “I can give you a detailed —”
But Wright-Young interrupted saying, “I’m on the council. I’m asking you for it. You’re not giving me what I’m asking for.”
The exchange between the two women continued for more than two minutes, with Merchant saying she didn’t have the information through the first four months of this fiscal year until June but that she would have the information in the next two weeks.
“Every month, it’s an excuse why we don’t have it. I want to see it,” Wright-Young told the mayor, who said that wouldn’t be a problem.
That’s when Dewayne Ward tried to interject with questions. Merchant agreed to hear his questions, but Ward’s brother, Mayor Ward, banged his gavel saying, “Hold on, hold on, hold on. Right now, we’ll go to the citizen’s comments.”
“This is not a comment,” Dewayne Ward said. “This is about the financial report that, when she stated —”
City Secretary Precious Wafer interrupted, “It’s not appropriate for you to ask questions.”
“Yes, it is,” Dewayne Ward fired back, “because (Merchant) said that.”
The mayor then banged his gavel even louder. Meanwhile, Wright-Young told Wafer that she shouldn’t talk.
“I am supposed to be talking,” Wafer said.
“You are not supposed to be talking,” Wright-Young again said.
Dewayne Ward continued to Merchant and the mayor, “Listen, you said you would give us information and we could ask questions. OK, you’re telling us about the financial standing of our gas system and our city, and if I can’t ask a question as a gas customer and as a citizen, then you’re not running the city. You’re running a dictatorship.”
The mayor banged the gavel again. Dewayne Ward reiterated that he had questions, but the mayor answered that Merchant was giving the report to the council.
“It’s for the City Council. It’s not for you. She addresses us,” the mayor told his brother, who shouted back, “Yes, it is, because she works for the citizens and the citizens are in control of the City Council!”
The exchange continued for another two minutes. At one point, Dewayne Ward asked for breakdowns of $19,000 in legal expenses saying, “What are we supposed to believe — Joe Blow got $7,000 and the accountant got $12,000?... This is public information. What was your accounting salary, and what was the legal salary that the city of Easton spent this past 12 months?”
Georgina Ybarra, an independent consultant attending Tuesday’s meeting, later handed Dewayne Ward a one-page copy of the financial statements.
Then, a sheriff’s deputy walked into the council chambers, tapped Dewayne Ward on the shoulders and asked him to step outside. Dewayne Ward never returned, but he sent by text message a photo of his criminal trespass warning to the News-Journal.
Mayor Pro Tem Ebbie Johnson Lover later motioned to accept the financial statements.
“Is there a second?” the mayor asked. After a five-second silent pause, he again asked, “Can I get a second?”
Other council members didn’t respond until Wright-Young said, “I’m not accepting this (financial statement) like this because this is not what I’ve been asking for.”
So, the mayor tabled the financial report until another meeting.
After the meeting, the mayor said that his brother shouting at City Council meetings wasn’t new and that he had talked with Gregg County authorities about two months ago about the matter.
“He comes down and starts intimidating people,” Walter Ward said.
“He starts yelling and screaming. That is not necessary. Using profanity, that is not necessary. (If) you come down and act like a decent person, I don’t mind listening to you, but, he never calls me — and I’m his brother — and asks me, ‘Hey, what do you think about this?’ But you come down here and raise a lot of noise for no reason,” he said, “because I can reason with anything.”
Wright-Young disagreed with the mayor.
“I don’t feel like it was appropriate,” she said. “He’s a citizen of Easton, a gas member, and he’s allowed to ask questions, and I’m sorry if the questions get too heated to where they can’t be answered and you get mad and you can’t answer the questions, but I do feel like the citizen is allowed to ask the question.”
Wright-Young said she’s still waiting for answers to her months-long request.
“I want to say it was in February … we asked for receipts then, and every month, it’s the same thing,” she said. “It’s (that) the computers are broke down or she didn’t get it here in time, and now all of a sudden we come here with the same report. No, it’s not going to be accepted.”