RICHMOND (Covering Katy News) - Sheriff Troy Nehls has not officially announced that he's running for Congress but he has a campaign treasurer, an exploratory committee and has announced that he's raised more than $100 thousand dollars for a congressional bid.
Under the law, if Nehls announces that he's a candidate for office now he'll have to step down as sheriff and give up his county paycheck. If he waits until he's one-year and 30-days away from the election he can announce his candidacy without vacating his current position. He can run for congress, and remain as sheriff.
It's been no secret in Fort Bend County politics that Nehls plans to announce his campaign for Congress in December.
"He hasn't broken the election law but he's walked right up to the line," said a prominent Fort Bend County Republican.
Walking up to the line has caused some Democratic activists to claim he's broken the law. Complaints have come to the the media, to county commissioners and to County Judge K.P. George.
George says he wanted to settle the matter and get an official legal ruling from the county attorney. He says he wanted all the commissioners to be in on the discussion. So, he put the matter on the agenda for Monday's Commissioner's Court meeting. Like most personnel matters it was scheduled for the closed door executive session. George wanted the county attorney to brief the entire Commissioner's Court on whether Nehls had violated any laws.
"Due to the Open Meetings Act, this was the appropriate platform for such discussion," George said.
Under the law, the entire Commissioner's Court cannot gather together to talk about county business unless its made public three days in advance. About 90 minutes before the meeting was scheduled to start, Sheriff Nehls Tweeted that "The Fort Bend County Commissioners Court intends to discuss removing me from office today at their 1 p.m. meeting." He called it a "witch hunt."
It's not clear if the sheriff was familiar with the power of the Commissioner's Court when he sent that Tweet. The court can't remove Nehls from office for an election violation, even if he was guilty of breaking the rules, according to Republican Precinct 3 Commissioner Andy Meyers.
Judge George said Nehls never complained to him about the agenda item.
"Our office never received any communication from him regarding this issue. Jumping to Twitter and claiming witch-hunts was the only communication I saw," George said.
George says he had a job to do and he did it appropriately, regardless of Nehls claims of a "witch hunt."
"My first responsibility is to uphold the laws of the United States and the Texas Constitution and to be responsive to the needs of all Fort Bend County residents. My intention was simply to get legal counsel when needed," George said. "Going to Twitter and accusing the Commissioners’ Court of a witch-hunt couldn’t be further from the truth."