Martindale: Small town with big problems
By Kyle Mooty
Former Martindale Police Chief Harry Juergens, whose position ended abruptly to his surprise in September 2021, won a state mediation recently in Austin and the Caldwell County town must now pay into Juergens’ retirement for the next 19 months.
On April 2, Martindale named a new Chief of Police, Tommy Ward, Jr., who had worked as an officer under Juergens before his dismissal last fall. Juergens, who had begun his Martindale career in 2009 as an officer, became police chief there when then-chief Jeff Caldwell left his position in 2011. Juergens previously had police experience in Temple and Bartlett.
Juergens, who said he is paid with no job description from the city following the mediation, points to a couple of issues that obviously angered some with the City of Martindale while he was police chief. One was the investigation of the city’s bookkeeper, Lynette Ruiz, who was eventually convicted in 2017 of embezzling nearly $20,000 during her employment there. Juergens contacted the Texas Rangers regarding the investigation. District Attorney Fred Weber said Juergens did “everything he was supposed to do.” Weber added that had it not been for Juergens’ investigation, the embezzlement “could have gone on indefinitely.”
Ruiz was sentenced to 10 years of probation and forced to pay restitution, which comes to about $240 annually according to former Martindale Mayor Rob Deviney.
An estimated 125 people turned out for the Martindale City Council meeting on Sept. 7, 2021, more than three times the room’s capacity, with Juergens’ contract on the agenda. They spilled outside and onto the sidewalk and even the street. Some attended in support of Juergens, while others were there to voice their non-support of Juergens.
The council voted 4-0 to remove Juergens, with Sonja Gonzales Villalobos abstaining because, according to Juergens, she said there had been a rumor circulating that Juergens was going to bring a bunch of gang members to the meeting. She said she had received a text regarding the rumor.
“That’s why there was a very large increase of law enforcement at that meeting,” Juergens said. “It was insulting to me.”
Ironically, Gonzales Villalobos was the only member of the council voting against Ward as the new chief.
Some wondered if Martindale had done its due diligence before hiring Ruiz. If so, it is argued, the city would have found negatives on a background check, but it is not believed one was ever performed. Ruiz was also found to have embezzled about $14,500 from the United Way.
There was also a matter of a missing firearm the state had sent Martindale as part of a training program. An outside investigator was called in and polygraphs were set up for the people that had access to the firearm. Juergens was among those that did take the polygraph test.
Juergens said he had stopped by a volunteer fire department in December 2020 to wish everyone a merry Christmas and happy holidays when Bill Glaze, husband of Katherine Glaze, told him his job would be ending.
“He said that his wife would be the next mayor and when she’s elected mayor (May 2021) I would be gone,” Juergens said. “I have no idea why. I never had issues with her, but she changed the locks to the building before I was terminated. My officer couldn’t even get into the building.”
Juergens informed the city manager and then-Mayor Deviney of his conversation with Bill Glaze.
Juergens said that 21 days prior to his dismissal, City Manager Jared Anable came into his office with a buyout agreement.
“So, I sought counsel and on Sept. 7 I had legal representation with me,” Juergens said. “All of a sudden, that buyout agreement wasn’t an agreement. It was a draft. That’s when they did this very publicly. I understand Texas is a Right to Work State. I can be replaced. But it could have been handled extremely differently.”
Also missing is a copy of the contract Martindale City Council approved for Juergens on Jan. 9, 2018. It’s in the minutes that the pact was approved, but the contract cannot be found.
Asked if there had been a performance review on his job, Juergens said, “The last performance review I had took place at 10:30 at night in June with the entire city council. As soon as that was over, I drove 110 miles to Temple to see my mom, who had cancer.”
Juergens said the city has since switched the term from “firing” to “not fired.”
“I am no longer terminated,” Juergens said. “I am currently a City of Martindale employee with no job title and no job duties. For the next 19 months I receive a paycheck from the City of Martindale; with my contract that they cannot find, that I know I signed and I know it was signed by the mayor (Kim Smith). They got a significant discount because with that contract, they would have owed me a year’s salary within 30 days.”
Glaze said all is well with the city and Juergens.
“We did not have to settle with (Juergens), but we wanted to,” she said. “The City of Martindale had offered him a severance package. Harry Juergens turned it down. Then the city council had to go through all of the trauma of letting him go, so we did that. We went to mediation so we could cover all of his concerns. We are now paying into his retirement as per his desire.
“There were no hard feelings between the city and Officer Juergens. We wanted to just tidy things up so now everybody can move on; Officer Juergens, the city, and we can start with a new officer. “
Juergens was recently notified there would be a retirement party thrown for him.
“I miss this community,” Juergens said. “What bothers me more is I feel like the community is probably not getting the service that it deserves. You always hear community oriented. I’m community based. It doesn’t matter if you’re Austin or you’re Martindale. Your department is only as strong as the community that supports it. Jeff Caldwell worked really hard to build the community relationship out here and I just built on it. I was very proud of the relation that the community and I had.”
Juergens admits that the way things ended in Martindale left a “bad taste in my mouth, but I’m not gonna let that impact my decision in the future.”
Deviney said the city could have handled the situation with Juergens differently.
“They didn’t treat (Juergens) right,” Deviney said. “They had the right to make a change, they just didn’t do it correctly. He got third parties involved and they said, ‘Yeah, y’all didn’t do this right.’
“When I left office, Harry was in good standing. I think it’s obvious that they wanted him out and someone else in there. Some people wanted the small-town chief to be in their pocket. Harry didn’t work that way. He did his job. From my standpoint, Harry was great for the city. Six months later I think people are realizing that. Things just don’t get done.”
The speed trap town law, also known as the Selma Law, cost Martindale years ago when it was discovered that more than 30 percent of its revenue came from tickets issues and the state requires anything more than 30 percent to be paid to it. Martindale is paying off an original fine of about $600,000 through its sales taxes, 20 percent each month. About half of that fine has been paid.
Glaze noted that the addition of two traffic lights on SH 80 have cut down on speeding tickets, but that some people still feel the need to speed through town. Just recently, Ward stopped someone traveling at 107 miles-per-hour.
“The town is actually OK from a financial standpoint even with these disasters,” Deviney said. “It’d be much better if we didn’t have these disasters. Our roads are third-world category. We’ve got some grants, but the problem is we don’t have any people to go fix these things. Everybody we’ve got is part-time except the police chief.”