Scales tipped? Montague appointment not welcomed by all

By Anita Miller

When County Judge Ruben Becerra cast his vote last week against Don Montague, Republican candidate for Precinct 3 Constable, to fill the unexpired term of disgraced former constable Ray Helm, he said he did so without intending to “reflect negativity.”

Instead, Becerra had hoped to fill the unexpired term of disgraced former constable Ray Helm, who resigned and surrendered his certification July 31 to avoid prosecution, with someone who would not appear on the ballot in order to not “tip the scales.”

Several residents from the Wimberley Valley and beyond felt the same way. In comments given in person and in those read aloud in court during the Aug. 7 special meeting of the commissioners court, people from both ends of the political spectrum spoke against someone who would be on the ballot filling the post in an interim position.

“Put someone in who is a caretaker and will not be seeking office in November,” said perennial court watcher Sam Brannon. “Anything else would be suspect.” 

Brannon called out what he called “bipartisan cronyism.” Precinct 1 Commissioner Debbie Gonzales Ingalsbe, a Democrat, voted with Republicans Lon Shell in Precinct 3 and Walt Smith in Precinct 4 in favor of Montague’s appointment. Cronyism has been a frequent target of Becerra, who called an initial special meeting to accept Helm’s resignation on Aug. 3 that failed to draw a quorum. The court was not scheduled to hold their regular Tuesday morning meeting that week. 

Brannon charged that commissioners had known for months about alleged wrongdoing by Helm but did nothing. “Someone is guiding you,” Brannon said, “a hidden hand that’s no longer on this court.”

Numerous comments read aloud echoed the same sentiment. Ari Alexrod, who initiated the probe that led to Helm’s undoing and was one of 24 people to submit written comments, said that the “best way forward is to choose a current officer until someone duly elected can take over.”

Wimberley Valley resident Deborah Morris suggested a member of the court be appointed to oversee the constable’s office until Dec. 31, when Helm’s term expires. Donna Haschke, recently elected Hays County Democratic Party Chair, urged commissioners to hold off on an appointment. “Please allow the electorate to decide,” she wrote.

Shell maintained that someone had to be appointed. He pointed to Texas law regarding “holdovers,” which basically says Helm would have been able to continue to direct the operations of his former office, despite his confession and formal resignation, until a successor was named.

Montague has a long history in law enforcement and Hays County. A former Texas Highway Patrol Trooper, he was elected Sheriff in 1996, running as a Democrat, and continued to hold that office until 2005, when he retired to become director of the Advanced Law Enforcement Rapid Response Training (ALERRT). He is a resident of Wimberley and switched to the Republican party at the time of his retirement,

Ingalsbe floated the possibility of naming Cody Cheatham, a current deputy in Helm’s old office and one of the people who had spoken with investigators from the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement (TCOLE).

Shell shot that down, saying Cheatham hadn’t resided in the precinct long enough to qualify. Cheatham had challenged Precinct 1 Constable David Peterson in the March Democratic primary.

Helm had easily defeated a challenger in the GOP March primary and had no Democratic opponent in November. Because of his resignation, both parties may select a candidate. Hays County Democrats have not named theirs. 

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