Countersuit filed over Hearne petition; city, city attorney named

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HEARNE, Texas - Earlier this month, the City of Hearne filed legal action trying to prevent a city-wide vote on the hiring of a forensic auditor. As expected, a counter-suit has been filed by the attorney for the person who filed that petition, former Hearne Mayor Milton Johnson.

Johnson claims City Attorney Bryan Russ conspired to keep his petition with more than 500 signatures from councilmembers, which prevented them from voting to put it on an upcoming ballot.

In Thursday's filing, Russ is accused of holding the signatures which were submitted March 21 at his private office until April 7, which prevented them from being certified for the May municipal elections. The filing also accuses Russ of only submitting some of the 93 pages of signatures to the county elections administrator, which resulted in only 308 of the 517 signatures to be reviewed. That number would not be enough to get the petition on the ballot.

If voters approved it, the citizen initiative says the city would have to hire an auditor selected by Robertson County's district attorney. Questions have been raised about the use of city funds over the past few years, including with allegations against City Manager Pee Wee Drake, who was recently cleared of criminal charges.

In addition to Russ, the City of Hearne and Russ' private law firm are named in the counter-petition.

In his original court filing, Russ said the ballot initiative asks for things not allowed by the city's charter, specifically the DA handling business affairs of the city. Robertson County DA Coty Siegert has said he does not believe he can fill the role the petition asks of him. Russ also notes the city charter requires an annual audit.

Russ declined to comment on Thursday's filing.

Johnson is asking for a jury trial.