Elections

Tossing campaign signs was just one layer of the drama in this local election

Campaign signs for incumbent Jacquelyn Wright and one of her three challengers, Chris Gregory, placed adjacent to the Tarrant County Northwest Subcourthouse.
Campaign signs for incumbent Jacquelyn Wright and one of her three challengers, Chris Gregory, placed adjacent to the Tarrant County Northwest Subcourthouse. Fort Worth Star-Telegram

The recent sign-tossing was just the outward-facing political shenanigans that caught people's attention. But peel back the layers of the battle that the race for Tarrant County justice of the peace Precinct 4 has become, and there's more to tell.

The 27-year incumbent is Jacquelyn Wright, whose husband was caught on video Saturday uprooting an opponent's campaign signs and chucking them like Frisbees. Wright has issued a statement and an apology, both of which used words that distanced Wright from her husband Ross Ladart's actions.

But she's also lobbing counterclaims in the episode.

The opponent whose signs were tossed is 43-year-old Chris Gregory, a sergeant with the Lake Worth Police Department. He's one of three challengers running against Wright in the upcoming Republican primary. No Democrat filed to run, so the Republican primary winner is most likely the November winner too.

Wright notes that Precinct 4 Constable Joe "Jody" Johnson has endorsed Gregory in the race, and she says Johnson's office previously wouldn't provide her subcourthouse surveillance video when she suspected some of her campaign signs were nabbed from a location near where her husband flung Gregory's.

"I feel like I've endorsed the best candidate in Chris Gregory," said Johnson, who works in the same building as Wright. "In general, things would work a lot smoother around here if we had someone in that office who just did their job and tried more to play well with others."

In Wright's initial statement, before she issued the apology to Gregory, she mentioned in a side note:

"Strangely enough, two weeks ago, my re-election signs disappeared. Knowing that at that time that there is a security camera on the back entrance, I asked our constable's office, specifically Chief Deputy Fred Rogers, if I could view the tape to see what happened to my signs. He told me 'no.'"

So what gives, you might ask. Was Johnson's endorsement of Gregory getting in the way of allowing the incumbent Wright possibly to find out who made off with her signs?

Not exactly, according to the same camera that caught Ladart with Gregory's signs.

"No, we absolutely never told her no. She's always welcome to come down and we'll show her what we've got on those cameras," Johnson said Friday. "We've done that on numerous occasions for her and others."

In fact, after a call to facilities director David Phillips on Friday morning, the Star-Telegram obtained a snippet of the video. It took less than three hours.

But the video doesn't show what Wright wanted it to show. The weekend Wright claims some of her signs were stolen, the camera aimed in that general direction was angled too far downward to capture the right spot. Johnson said that after Wright asked to look at the video, his office notified her that the video didn't show anything and facilities workers adjusted the angle of the camera so that in the future it could see into the field with the signs.

"It was her call that alerted us to the fact that those cameras needed to be adjusted, and that has to happen manually," Johnson said. "The only controls we have over those cameras and that footage is that we're able to roll it back, to rewatch it, and to zoom in and out. We had to figure out a way to get up there and point them over there more effectively.

"We told her that. We never told her we wouldn't let her see the footage."

So on Jan. 30, someone got up on the ladder nudged the camera into better position to catch someone messing with campaign signs on Telephone Road. Little did she know, it was Wright's own call asking for security footage that made it so her husband could be caught.

But that's not all that's going on here.

Turns out that Johnson beat out Wright's ex-husband Michael Hardy and another candidate in the 2016 Republican primary for his constable position, adding to the mesh of entanglements and hurt feelings. He ran unopposed in the 2016 general election.

"I can sense that there's no love lost between the two of us since the race against her ex-husband," Johnson said. "But all these claims are just someone tying herself in knots trying to get herself out of the trouble she finds herself in. She's kind of like Hillary Clinton in that way — caught with her hand in the cookie jar, and trying to blame someone else for all of it."

There are two other candidates in the Republican primary for justice of the peace in Precinct 4. Neither Charity Deville nor Toni Rhodes Glover has waded into the muddy water of Campaign-Sign-Gate — yet.

The Republican candidate will be decided in the March 6 primary. The current base salary for a Tarrant County justice of the peace is $125,911.76.

Matthew Martinez: 817-390-7667; @MCTinez817

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