When the application deadline for Fort Worth City Council candidates closed Feb. 17, five candidates were listed on the city of Fort Worth’s election website.
But seven actually applied to run, according to the city secretary, who oversees elections and City Council meeting agendas. The applications of two candidates were held back pending legal review over their eligibility to run, as both disclosed prior felony convictions. Texas state law prohibits residents with felony convictions from running unless they’ve been pardoned or have “otherwise been released from the resulting disabilities” of their felony conviction.
Jesse Taylor, a former Tarrant County Republican precinct chair, filed to run in District 11 on Feb. 17. In a Facebook post on Feb. 19, he acknowledged his prior felony conviction for selling marijuana in Texas and Colorado, and said he’d need a pardon from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott to be eligible to run.
“Wish me luck and I need God’s grace once again!” Taylor wrote in his Facebook post. “Still On The Road Of Redemption.”
The other holdback was the application of Antonio “Twin” Harris, who ran for the District 5 council seat in 2021. When he responded to a Dallas Morning News survey in 2021 that asked whether he’d previously been convicted of a crime, Harris said that he’d been “Accused, charged, and convicted of a crime I did not commit.” The Report could not confirm the nature of Harris’ conviction.
Harris filed to run again in 2023, this time in the newly created District 11.
When the Report asked City Secretary Jannette Goodall how Harris was allowed to be on the 2021 ballot, she said Harris signed a sworn statement that said, in part, that he had not been convicted of a felony. Harris did not immediately respond to a phone call requesting comment.
“The Local Filing Authority is not authorized to investigate candidates; rather we take the sworn application on face value,” Goodall wrote in an email. “At that time, no one brought forth any public record calling into question the accuracy of Mr. Harris’ application. Therefore, based on the sworn statement, he would have been declared eligible based on the information provided on the application.”
Before the 2023 election cycle, candidate application forms reviewed by the Report mentioned felony convictions only in the sworn statement. In Sept. 2021, the Secretary of State revised the application forms to have a check-box for candidates to select whether they’ve been convicted of a felony.
Candidates gathered in Fort Worth’s council chambers Feb. 23 to draw a place on the ballot in the election. The city secretary drew places for both Taylor and Harris, who had five business days to prove they were pardoned or had their rights restored. The deadline ends at 5 p.m. Friday.
If they are deemed ineligible, the remaining candidates will be moved up one position in the ballot order, Goodall said.
The other five candidates — Christopher Johnson, Jeanette Martinez, Ricardo Avitia, Rick Herring and Tara Maldonado Wilson — are guaranteed spots on the ballot.
Last municipal election cycle, District 9 City Council candidate Erik Richerson was disqualified from running because of a past felony conviction — and then reinstated after the city’s legal team received proof that his rights had been restored.
Richerson’s eligibility for the position came under doubt after another candidate gave the city secretary’s office documents relating to Richerson’s conviction in a 1999 crime. While the city secretary is not permitted to start investigations of candidates on their own, they are required to review documents given to them by others regarding a candidate’s eligibility.
Then, Richerson attributed his improper disqualification to his being Black and conservative. The city secretary at the time, Mary Kayser, said she made her decision based on the information she was given at the time, and reversed that decision when Richerson provided proof of his restoration claim.
At least one person convicted of a felony who did not have their rights restored was erroneously elected to local office in Texas. Cibolo Mayor Stanley “Stosh” Boyle pleaded guilty to charges of aggravated perjury and tampering with a government document with intent to defraud in April 2022, after another council member discovered Boyle had not disclosed a previous felony conviction from 1998 on this application.
That conviction was for conspiracy to manufacture M.D.A, or ecstasy. Members of the Texas Attorney General’s Office arrested Boyle on July 26, 2019, for tampering with government records. As part of his plea deal in 2022, Boyle acknowledged that his conviction made him ineligible to run for office, but remained in place as Cibolo’s mayor.
At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.