Recall election is off in Plano; judge rules wrong city charter used to set signatures count

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A state district judge has ruled that Plano officials used the wrong city charter in handling recall petitions against a city council member who posted what some perceived as an anti-Islamic remark on social media in February.

Judge Mark Rusch on Tuesday ruled that the city’s action in certifying petitions signed by more than 4,000 voters, seeking to recall Plano city council member Tom Harrison, was based on a flawed copy of a 1961 city charter. That version of the charter, as interpreted by city officials, set a lower required number of signatures on the petition than the correct copy of the charter did, the judge found.

Rusch said in his ruling that the City of Plano “has demonstrated that it had a profound and deep commitment to ensuring that its decisions are correct…” and that the city “acted in good faith … .”

The flawed copy of the city charter reads that a recall petition has to be signed by at least 30 percent of the number of votes cast “at the regular municipal election of the city.” That vagueness was the basis of Harrison’s challenge to the recall election.

Harrison contended that the required number of signatures had to be based on the most recent municipal election, which would make the minimum about 8,300. The judge agreed with Harrison and, in addition to nullifying a planned recall measure in November, ordered the city to pay $3,000 of Harrison’s legal bill.

Harrison’s counsel, Art Martinez de Vara, said that the judge’s ruling confirmed his belief that the city had made a mistake in choosing which copy of the charter to consult.

“In fact, there were two copies, a typed copy and a professionally printed copy,” Martinez de Vara said. “There was a transcription error on the professionally printed copy.”

Harrison in February posted a message on Facebook  asking viewers to “share if you think Trump should ban Islam in American schools.”

A number of groups took offense at the post. Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere asked for Harrison’s resignation. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Ron Kelley said he could “not get over it.”

“This is not a Republican or Democrat situation,” Kelley said during a meeting. “This is right versus wrong. Our community is going to be polarized over this.”

Harrison apologized but said in a statement at the time, “My intent on inputting this on my personal Facebook page was to emphasize that Christianity is not the only religion being targeted for exclusion in our public schools. It was not meant as a personal attack against the Islamic faith.”

If the recall election scheduled for November were held, it would be the city’s first.

Steve Miller can be reached at [email protected]

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