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Ousted Groves councilman not giving up fight

November 7, 2018

Groves voters on Tuesday swept out a young city councilman who was the target of a recall election after nude photos of him from a dating app were anonymously mailed to City Hall earlier this year.

Nearly two-thirds of Groves voters elected to oust Cross Coburn from his Ward 1 seat. His vacancy will be filled by City Council, per city ordinance.

“I am a part of this city and no one is taking my voice away,” Coburn said Tuesday night, adding that he would continue to attend City Council meetings and be involved in his community even as he challenges the process that led to the recall effort.

“It’s far from over,” he said. “The election just opened a new can of worms.”

Coburn’s attorney, Jill Pierce, has called the recall petition rife with “fraud and forgery.” At least three residents have signed affidavits saying that their petition signatures were forged, Pierce said.

Coburn and his legal team have maintained that efforts to oust him stemmed from the councilman’s standing as “a gay man in a conservative town.”

In another key race, the longtime Groves mayor appeared headed to a runoff after failing to garner more than 50 percent of the vote in a three-way race, the city’s first contested mayoral election in a decade.

Nine-term incumbent Mayor Brad P. Bailey led his closest challenger, community activist Suzanne Williamson, by just 101 votes in complete but unofficial returns. Kaelan Ramos, 21, claimed a crucial 6 percent of votes.

Two incumbent council members maintained their seats.

Williamson, a 51-year-old Groves native, would be the city’s first female mayor if she were to win the runoff.

She became a fixture at Groves City Council meetings this year after her home came close to flooding shortly after Tropical Storm Harvey, regularly speaking out and soon attending Drainage District 7 commissioner meetings to learn the intricacies of the drainage system.

Williamson later launched a “Keep Groves Beautiful” Facebook page that she regularly updates with photos of debris-clogged ditches and drains.

In a previous interview, she said that she believed her first foray into politics gained momentum in part because of her role as a resident, not a politician.

Bailey has been mayor since 2000.

When he first ran for mayor at 32, Bailey told the Enterprise that the city needed new ideas, and younger people needed to get involved.

In another council race, incumbent Karen Theis defeated Cory Perry with nearly two-thirds of the vote for the Ward 2 seat.

Incumbent councilman Kyle Hollier held off challenger Daniel J. Diaz for the Ward 4 position.

The unusually busy election cycle in the bedroom community of Groves comes more than a year after Harvey flooded the city, highlighting drainage issues candidates said they’d focus on, and allegations of homophobic bigotry in the case of the ousted councilman.

Coburn and his supporters attribute removal efforts to his sexuality, though Coburn also acknowledged that his progressive political agenda may not be popular in the conservative community of 15,769.

A Groves resident launched the recall petition against him in May, saying that Coburn had “demonstrated actions unbecoming a public official” and “fractur(ed) the trust of the citizens of Groves.”

The recall petition, which had 1,065 signatures — more than the city’s required 10 percent of registered voters — was validated by city officials on June 25. Of those signatures, 936 were deemed legitimate by Groves officials, according to court documents.

Coburn said he was “taking it all in stride” even as he plans on “challenging every bit of what has happened here.”

“I plan on challenging the petition,” he added. “I plan on challenging bigotry, intolerance and injustice.”

phoebe.suy@beaumontenterprise.com

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