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Recall Election For Plano City Council Member Canceled After Charter Snafu

Tom Harrison's opponents protested outside the theater where the mayor gave his state of the city address.EXPAND
Tom Harrison's opponents protested outside the theater where the mayor gave his state of the city address.
Brian Maschino

Plano City Council member Tom Harrison, facing a recall effort for sharing anti-Muslim messages on the internet, appears set to serve out his term after all.

Late Tuesday, state District Judge Mark Rusch ruled that the petition filed to recall Harrison earlier this year was insufficient. The organizers behind the petition drive to get rid of Harrison, a group called Our Plano One Plano, didn't collect enough signatures, Rusch ruled, thanks to confusion over the Plano City Charter.

Plano Mayor Harry LaRosiliere and Our Plano One Plano both called for Harrison's resignation in February. Harrison refused, saying that while he is sorry to those who may have been offended by posts on his Facebook page suggesting Islam should be banned from public schools and tying Muslims to modern-day slavery, he is neither a racist nor a bigot.

A screencap of one of the now-deleted videos posted on Harrison's Facebook page.
A screencap of one of the now-deleted videos posted on Harrison's Facebook page.
Tom Harrison via Facebook

After the Plano City Council scheduled Harrison's recall election in April, the council member began fighting for his political life in court, claiming that the Plano City secretary set the bar too low for the number of petition signatures.

As Harrison's case made its way through the courts, Plano officials found copies of two versions of its 1961 charter. One said petitioners needed signatures from a number of Plano residents equal to 30 percent of those who voted in the election in which the official who would be recalled was elected. The other explicitly said the number required was 30 percent of those who voted in the last city election.

Turnout was higher in 2017, the most recent Plano election, than 2015, when Harrison was elected, leading Harrison to argue that the petitioners hadn't gathered enough signatures.

Plano asked Rusch to rule on which version of the charter it should've used when considering Harrison's recall. Tuesday, the judge said he was convinced the city should've used the charter that referred the secretary to the city's most recent election.

According to the city, the Plano City Council will vote to cancel the election on Saturday.

Ann Bacchus, one of the leaders of One Plano Our Plano, said in a statement Wednesday that she was still proud of the recall effort.

"As a group we succeeded, and the ruling does not change our message that there is no place for bigotry in Plano," Bacchus said. "Today’s ruling does not impact our position that Mr. Harrison [should] be held accountable to Plano voters whose trust he misplaced."

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After the ruling, Harrison issued his own statement to The Dallas Morning News. In it, he committed to finishing his council term, which expires in May 2019.

"I want to apologize to the city of Plano for the turmoil they've been put through. I'd further like to thank the hundreds of people who have emailed me with support," Harrison said. "I'd like it if we can take away any further controversy as I complete my term."

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