GOP panel votes to probe chairman
by PHILLIP WILLIAMS
Oct 20, 2011 | 984 views | 0 0 comments | 72 72 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A group of precinct chairmen serving on the Upshur County Republican Party’s Executive Committee voted Saturday night to appoint a special committee “to investigate allegations of impropriety and misconduct in the office” of County GOP Chairman Ken Ambrose—a move which one precinct chairwoman termed an attempt to impeach him.

The resolution—approved by all 11 of the approximately 15 precinct chairmen present—said that if the allegations are true, they “cast doubt on his ability to continue in office.” Ambrose declined comment to The Mirror Saturday night on the committee’s action, but said Monday night he is issuing an “open letter.”

Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd announced Oct. 3 he was dropping felony charges against Ambrose of theft and misuse of county GOP election funds to pay Ambrose’s attorney. Byrd said Ambrose did not “personally” benefit from using the funds, and that the chairman had agreed to repay $6,000, which was to be divided among individuals and groups involved in conducting the 2010 Upshur County Republican elections.

But Ambrose came under fire at Saturday’s gathering from a county commissioner, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, and a precinct chairman who led several other precinct chairmen’s calls earlier this year for his resignation. Some 43 persons, including 11 members of the committee, attended what was termed the committee’s quarterly meeting at the Walking ‘S’ Steakhouse near Gilmer, according to precinct chairwoman Madaline Barber’s count.

The precinct chairman who has led the calls for Ambrose’s resignation, Glenn Leach, said Ambrose had used $6,000 in GOP funds to pay his private attorney without consulting the county GOP Executive Committee, which led to Ambrose’s indictments on the since-dropped charges. Leach also cited a memorandum from the Texas Secretary of State’s Office saying Ambrose’s request that primary election funds be used to pay his attorney for certain fees was “outrageous.”

Leach accused Ambrose of “disgraceful” conduct, charging the chairman had “no regard for decency” and blames others for his problems.

The memorandum and other documentation showed the SOS office denied Ambrose’s request to reimburse the county GOP’s primary fund for $25,000 in legal fees he paid his Austin attorney, Russell Soloway. Ambrose blamed the legal expenses on what he termed an “illegitimate recount” of votes from the April 2010 GOP runoff election in which he defeated incumbent Brenda Patterson by 25 votes.

Ambrose had written the Secretary of State’s Office that Soloway gave him needed help “so I was able to make every effort to protect myself from being the victim of a fraudulent recount” supervised by Leach. (Ironically, the recount requested by Mrs. Patterson showed Ambrose won by 25 votes, seven more than in the original count.)

The memorandum said that in an April 1 letter to the Secretary of State’s office, Ambrose had contended the criminal charges against him “are related to the 2010 primary funds expenditure he made for” Soloway’s attorney fees.

But in the internal memorandum from the Texas Secretary of State’s office, the office’s Director of Elections, Ann McGeehan, told General Counsel John Sepehri that “the argument that primary funds should be used to pay criminal defense costs incurred by Mr. Ambrose is so outrageous as to not merit any discussion.” Sepehri appeared to have signed his initials to her recommendation to deny Ambrose’s request.

Leach told Saturday’s gathering, “Ken Ambrose’s actions are outrageous as quoted by the Secretary of State (counsel).” He also said Ambrose had falsely accused certain GOP members of being in “collusion” with Byrd’s office in bringing the now-dropped criminal charges.

The May 5 memorandum from Secretary of State Hope Andrade’s office also shows the office received two letter requests from Ambrose seeking primary election funds reimbursement for attorney’s fees.

One, dated Feb. 18, sought $10,000 “for the services of an attorney rendered in connection with a recount,” and the other, dated April 1, sought $15,000 “for fees owed to the attorney representing Mr. Ambrose in criminal proceedings that have been brought against him,” the memorandum stated. (Ambrose was indicted in mid-March.)

In the April 1 letter, the memorandum said, Ambrose wrote, “It appears to me that all of the legal expense that I continue to incur cycles back to the illegitimate recount that was carried out by Glenn Leach as recount coordinator . . .”

Ambrose also wrote that Steve Findley, a member of the State Republican Executive Committee, was involved in the recount and “but for their (Leach’s and Findley’s) actions in calling a recount in this Primary Election, long after the date for filing (for one) had elapsed . . . none of this would be an issue; there would have been no need for legal counsel.”

However, Ms. McGeehan found that the State Election Code provides that primary funds furnished by the state “may be spent to pay expenses incurred by a political party in connection with a primary election. The legal expenses incurred by Mr. Ambrose individually during the recount were not incurred by a political party nor were they incurred ‘in connection with a primary election.’

“The legal expenses were incurred by an individual candidate in connection with a recount,” added Ms. McGeehan. She added that the Texas Administrative Code provided that the SOS office would only pay from primary funds “legal expenses related to litigation concerning the conduct of the primary election,” and the expenses Ambrose incurred “during the recount were not related to litigation nor, again, did they relate to the conduct of the primary election. . .We recommend that payment requested be denied.”

Findley, the member of the State Republican Executive Committee mentioned by Ambrose, told the committee Saturday the chairman had held an improperly-called Sept. 29 meeting of the county GOP Executive Committee. He said the action of those present in electing Denice McDonald as the committee’s secretary was “null and void,” since the meeting lacked the quorum necessary to transact such business.

Two factions of the Upshur GOP—one headed by Ambrose and one which recognizes Cynthia Ridgeway as party vice-chairman—have held separate quarterly meetings of the Executive Committee, with each group refusing to recognize the other’s meetings as legitimate. Ambrose appointed several vice-chairmen to the committee, but the group which met Saturday does not recognize them as legitimate committee members.

He does not recognize Mrs. Ridgeway as a vice-chairman nor Mrs. Barber as the committee’s legitimately elected secretary.

“I personally have seen Chairman Ambrose make mistake after mistake after mistake because he does not do his homework,” Findley alleged. “He tried to fire some precinct chairs because they did not do a ceremonial swearing-in.”

He also said Ambrose had to replace money used from the county GOP’s primary fund, and that the chairman had been “wrong” on that usage.

Pct. 1 Comm. James Crittenden denounced Ambrose as being a “rogue” and criticized part of the contents of the chairman’s Facebook page.

When one woman in the audience asked “can we impeach him?,” Mrs. Barber replied, “That’s what we’re trying to do.”

A professional parliamentarian from Austin, Kirk Overbey, told the executive committee it could vote under Robert’s Rules of Order with “due process” to remove a county chairman by a two-thirds vote. Overbey said a committee must be formed first to conduct an investigation and recommend what to do.

The precinct chairmen named a 5-member investigative committee consisting of Leach, Bill Stenger, Joe Dodd, Blanton Dawson and Ken Yates.

The precinct chairs also voted 9-0 with one abstention Saturday to reaffirm Mrs. Barber, who is not recognized by Ambrose as the county executive committee’e secretary, as duly elected to that post. One precinct chairman who voted to form the 5-member committee, Ken Patterson (husband of Brenda Patterson) arrived after the vote on reaffirming Mrs. Barber.

Wayne Oney abstained from the vote on Mrs. Barber. She calls meetings of the group which met Saturday, while Ambrose insists that he is supposed to call Executive Committee meetings.

In addition, the committee heard Saturday from several GOP candidates for Upshur County office in the forthcoming primary—Crittenden, who is seeking reelection, and Oney, who plans to also seek Crittenden’s post; Greg Mandreger, a candidate for sheriff; Frank Berka, candidate for Pct. 3 commissioner; and Gene Dolle, running for Pct. 1 constable.

All GOP candidates for county office were invited to speak at the meeting, but some were absent due to other commitments, said Mrs. Ridgeway, who chaired the gathering.

Mrs. McDonald, elected as committee secretary by Ambrose’s supporters, issued a statement after the charges were dismissed against Ambrose defending that action.

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