Dear Judge Ware: Please explain this firing

Texas is an “at will” state, meaning that employers can fire employees for any reason, or for no reason. They concoct reasons for terminating employees.

That appears to be the case involving a long-standing Potter County administrative assistant and her boss, the county judge.

The judge is Arthur Ware. The administrative assistant is Nancy Tanner. Ware suffered a serious stroke in 2010. He’s been unable to communicate effectively ever since. Technically, he’s been on the job but much of the work that entails actually talking to constituents – such as probate hearings – has been farmed out to other county officials.

Nancy Tanner has indicated a desire to succeed Ware as county judge in 2014. She has announced her intention to consider running for the office. Tanner sent a letter to friends and supporters throughout the community recently expressing that desire. In the letter, she said that because of his physical condition, Ware “probably” won’t seek re-election next year. Tanner’s letter, though, mostly extolled her own qualifications, of which there are plenty. She knows the probate process inside and out; she’s been handling court administration for more than two decades. What’s more, she’s been a loyal aide to Judge Ware and professes to this day that she maintains great respect and affection for him.

The letter went out. And then, quite suddenly about two weeks ago, Ware informed Tanner that he is firing her. Hit the road, he said in effect.

OK, so what’s going on here? Tanner believes politics played a part in her dismissal. Ware isn’t saying anything about it. Some of his Commissioners Court colleagues are asking for a clarification – which they are correct to do.

State law doesn’t require Arthur Ware to give a single reason for making a personnel-related decision. So it appears he’s going to rest on that law, go about his business and perhaps hope the tempest subsides.

I don’t think it should until Ware explains why he dismissed his trusted administrative assistant who has declared her desire to succeed him.

The county has been roiled by controversy before. This won’t be the last time. But the man at the center of this story needs to tell his constituents of his plans. Will he seek re-election or not? Was Tanner’s summary firing related to the letter she sent out? Did it have anything to do with the presumption she made about whether he would run again? A full and detailed accounting of what happened is in order.

Nancy Tanner deserved better than what she got. What is done is done. Just because the law protects an elected official from having to explain himself doesn’t make it right for him to stonewall the public.

Talk to your bosses, Judge Ware – the people you serve as county judge.