Politics of Marshall, Texas
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The Politics of Marshall, Texas is centered on the city commission chaired by Larry Hurta; 7 district commissioners, and City Manager Lisa Agnor. The current district commissioners are:
- District 1: Gloria Moon
- District 2: Gail Beil
- District 3: Terri Brown
- District 4: William "Doc" Halliday
- District 5: Vernia Calhoun
- District 6: Larry Hurta (Current Mayor)
- District 7: Doug Lewis
Notable former commissioners include:
- Carolyn Abney, the first woman elected to the commission;
- Sam Birmingham, the first African-American commissioner and mayor;
- Jean Birmingham, the first African-American woman elected to the commission; and
- Audrey Kariel the first woman to be mayor and the first Jewish woman elected to the commission.
Organizational leaders such as Connie Ware, President of the Marshall Chamber of Commerce and Mrs. Charles Wilson, President of the Harrison County NAACP and school board member, also play a major role in the city's politics and are as well known as the commissioners.
The city has historically had a greater influence on Texas history than cities of a comparable size, in part because much of the city's growth came early, so that in the past it was relatively more important. Marshall was one of the leading centers advocating Texas' secession before the American Civil War, a major Confederate stronghold during the Civil War as the seat of the Trans-Mississippi Postal Department and Confederate capital of Missouri, and was the seat of the first county to fall to a Jim Crow regime after Reconstruction.
In the twentieth century the United States Supreme Court struck down the city's censorship law which banned showing interracial couples, and the city became the site of the first sit ins in Texas. At some point in their respective educations, James L. Farmer, Jr., Jesse Jackson, and Martin Luther King, Jr. attended school in Marshall. Political conflicts which have gained national attention include former police chief Charles W. ("Chuck") Williams denying that the use of racial slurs was offensive, and a brief spar between Marshall News Messenger editor Phil Latham and Rush Limbaugh, over Limbaugh's on-the-air reading of a gag newspaper article falsely attributed to the News Messenger.
The City of Marshall has a Council-manager form of municipal government, with all governmental powers resting in a legislative body called a Commission. The Commission passes all city laws and ordinances, adopts budgets, determines city policy, and appoints city officials, including the City Manager. The city manager, rather than a mayor, serves as the executive of the city government, and thus is in charge of enforcing city laws and administering the city's various departments.
The City Commission
The City Commission has seven members, each elected to serve a single-member district for a two-year term. Districts 1–4 divide the city into four districts, and districts 5–7 also divide the city into three districts. Hence, every location in the city falls in two districts, one from each set. Districts 1–4 hold elections in odd-numbered years and districts 5–7 in even years; elections are held in the spring. After each election, the City Commission selects a commissioner to serve as Chairman of the Commission, (commonly referred to as Mayor), until after the next year's election. If no one files to run against a commissioner, (as happened with District 1 in 2005), the commissioner is reinstated and an election for that district is not held that year.
The City Commission meets twice a month on the second and fourth Thursday, in addition to any special sessions that are called or regular meetings that are canceled. The Commission provides a public forum before each regular session, providing citizens the opportunity to address the commission for two minutes without forward notice; with notice, additional time may be scheduled. The Commission meetings are broadcast on radio and on the local public-access television station.
|District||1999 Commission||2002 Commission||2006 Commission||2007 Commission||2008 Commission||2009 Commission|
|1||Jean Birmingham||Katie Jones||Katie Jones||Gloria Moon||Gloria Moon|
|2||Alonza Williams||Alonza Williams||Alonza Williams||Zephaniah Timmins||Zephaniah Timmins|
|3||Chris Horsely||Ed Carlile||Ed Carlile||Chris Paddie||?|
|4||Audrey Kariel (Mayor)||Jack Hester||Jack Hester||Jack Hester||?|
|5||John Wilborn||John Wilborn||John Wilborn||John Wilborn|
|6||Michael Smith||Bryan Partee||Mike McMurry||Ed Hoffman|
|7||Martha Robb||Ed Smith (Mayor)||Ed Smith (Mayor)||William "Buddy" Power (Mayor)|
|District||2010 Commission||2011 Commission||2012 Commission||2013 Commission||2014 Commission|
|1||Gloria Moon||Gloria Moon|
|2||Zephaniah Timmins||Zephaniah Timmins|
|7||William "Buddy" Power (Mayor)||Ed Smith (Mayor)|
|City Manager||Asst. City Manager|
|2004||Frank Johnson||Janet Cook|
|1999||Tony Williams||Frank Johnson|
At the 2000 Census, Harrison County had a population of 44,225 eligible voters, with 19,166 of those voters living in Marshall. In the 2004 presidential election, George W. Bush won Harrison County with 16,456, to John Kerry's 9,637. The 2000 election had been closer, with Bush winning the county with 13,834 to Al Gore's 8,878 and Ralph Nader's 164 votes.
Marshall's police chief Chuck Williams testified that he didn't consider the phrase "porch monkey" a racial slur and that fifty years ago African-Americans didn't mind being called "niggers". The testimony came from an October 1998 sworn deposition for a discrimination suit filed by former Marshall police officer Ricky Mitchell against the department. In 1997 Governor, later President, George W. Bush appointed Williams to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement Officer Standards and Education, and elevated him to head the commission in 1999. The issue came to light during the 2000 presidential election, and Williams's opinions were quickly condemned by both the Bush and Al Gore campaigns. Williams did not retract his statements and said he had been around African Americans since he was a child in Oklahoma and said "I'm the farthest thing from a racist." The story quickly caught national headlines. A local movement to lobby the city commission to remove Williams from office began in earnest, led by Harrison County NAACP President and school board member Mrs. Charles Wilson and supported by many members of the community. The commission ultimately rejected removing Williams, in part because he was terminally ill with skin and liver cancer and the time. The national news buzz passed but the controversy continued locally even after Williams's death, when Mrs. Wilson attended Williams's funeral and was insulted by racial slurs.
Fake ACLU lawsuit
In November 2004 the parody news website underneathpolitics.com published a news story claiming the ACLU opposed MISD bus routes because they passed too many churches. Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh read the article on the air. NewsMessenger editor Phil Latham took exception to the story being attributed to Marshall, publishing an editorial in the paper criticizing the reading. Limbaugh and Latham then carried on a war of words. The parody made several mistakes: the city has a commission—not a council—form of government; there is no "Jeff Todd" on the city commission, though it has been suggested that the Internet savvy character may be a parody of then commissioner Bryan Partee, who maintains his own website; and the commission is not Republican-controlled as claimed in the article— commissioners don't run using party labels so which party—if any—controls the commission is not apparent.