By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
"The problem I see in this bill is that the county clerk is damned if he or she does support the bill and damned if he or she doesn't," Wilson says. "If we choose not to do either one of those, everybody's mad."
Off the record, other clerks say they are peeved that they again have to fend off Oates, who has gained an unflattering reputation for wining and dining "blue hairs" in county offices across the state to gain a leg up on his few competitors. By last count, Oates' company controlled the document-preservation business accounts in more than 100 Texas counties, including several that rank in the state's 15 most populated.
Neither Oates nor any of his subordinates have ever been found guilty of any wrongdoing in the course of their business, though the same can't be said about officials they deal with.
The most recent example is former Bowie County Clerk Marylene Megason, who in January was convicted on two charges of abuse of her official capacity, a state jail felony, and was sentenced to two years' probation and ordered to give up her office. (Bowie County is in Northeast Texas.) Megason's troubles began last year, when money paid by Government Records Services wound up in her personal bank account, according to special prosecutor Tom Wells. In that case, Wells says, GRS hired Megason's son Daniel to move county books, files, and filing cabinets out of the clerk's office, but county employees and jail inmates did the work. At the time, Megason's daughter was a GRS employee and, according to Wells, the moving arrangements were made through her rather than Megason.
"What the indictment was about was using government employees and jail inmates for private purposes," Wells says. Although no GRS employees have been accused of any wrongdoing in the case, Wells says the company's conduct was far from clean.
"A very good case could be made that it was a sham transaction. I know they [GRS employees] had given her [Marylene Megason] real expensive bags. They had given her trips to baseball games. I know Megason went and testified on their behalf before the Legislature a couple of times," Wells says.
Though he confirms that the daughter made all of the moving arrangements on behalf of GRS, Megason's attorney Don Cooksey denies that there was any payoff and claims the case was politically motivated. "I still don't know how they reached a verdict. I just don't think the state proved its case," says Cooksey, whose client is planning to appeal.
Cooksey says he doesn't believe any conflicts of interest were created by the fact that Megason's son performed county work on behalf of a company that also employed her daughter. "Government records can hire anybody they want to come in and do contract work for them. It's not nepotism," Cooksey says. "It's customary for Government Records to hire kids of county officials because they have access to the county courthouse.