Texas

The mayor of the West and the new police chief dispelled malicious rumors and misinformation on social networks

WEST, TexasKWTX)- As Westerners prepare to commemorate the anniversary of the April 2013 bombing that destroyed the city and celebrate the construction of a new police headquarters, rumors spawned by social media have swept the first two months of the new police chief’s tenure.

While the explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killing 15 people and injuring hundreds, he also galvanized an already tight-knit community by uniting its citizens to pick up the pieces and rebuild their city.

However, the hiring of West Police Chief Chris White in November seems to have sparked a flood of negative social media posts, many of which are untrue and sparked a split in the city.

For example, there are rumors that White is not a certified peace officer and is under investigation by Texas Rangers and Texas Law Enforcement Commission investigators. There were also reports that experienced officers quit because of White, and that a member of the Western City Council resigned because of White’s actions since taking office.

Some reports – not unlike many on social media – have proven false, but White, 52, says he’s not intimidated by the comments and invites any Westerner with questions to speak to him.

“I grew up in a small community, Leander, when it was small, so I love small communities,” White said. “The people here were wonderful. I think the reason we’re talking about this is because we’re turning to social media/internet. Truly, every city in America has it all. It happens. And really, it’s best to just ignore it, because if it’s true, then we want to deal with it. If it’s not, we just want to ignore it. I would like anyone who is worried about something they might see on the Internet to come talk to me. My door is always open and it will always be open in PD or call me on the phone. “

Western Mayor Tommy Musk relates the brimming rumor mill to the fact that Westerners are sometimes reluctant to accept someone who didn’t grow up in the small northern town of McLennan County.

“If you are not from the West, you will never be from the West,” Musk said.

Western Mayor Tommy Muska(Tommy Witherspoon for KWTX)

Responding to negative comments on social media, including posts on the “Free Speech for Citizens of the West, Texas” Facebook page, Musk said it was “not information, it’s disinformation.”

“Of course, anyone can write whatever they want. The rumors are not true, and I would like them to just come to my office or to the boss’s office and find out the true facts, ”Muska said. “We hear about this disinformation around the world. This is also in the West. To be honest, I’m surprised they spent so much energy spreading misinformation. But this is not true.”

One report says that the Texas Ranger and TCOLE investigators were in the West this week to meet with Muska and White. After that, the report said, Muska and White met at Muska’s office for three hours.

Musk and White said the Texas Ranger was out of town. However, two TCOLE investigators arrived to file a complaint against White, making the November arrest, before documents were processed in Austin showing that his law enforcement certification is now administered by the City of West.

“With the interim boss gone, there was no one to do the paperwork,” White said. “So I was processing paperwork and handling calls when we had an incident where someone needed to go to jail. The officer decided he didn’t want to do it, so I did it. He transported, I did the paperwork, but someone wrote a complaint that I was not authorized to make an arrest. Well, I was because I was sworn in and TCOLE says things were up and up. There will just be a problem with the documents. It was done, it just wasn’t approved yet when it happened.”

According to White, the officer who disobeyed his orders had already submitted his resignation to take a job at Whitney prior to this incident, and the other officer who left had announced his intention to resign before White was hired. However, the departure of these officers and the retirement of two long-time part-time officers sparked speculation that White’s hiring caused a mass exodus of Western officers.

According to Muska, the city’s budget provides for places for eight full-time officers plus a chief. There are currently three vacancies for officers, but one has already been hired and another is completing the application process, White said.

“We didn’t have a mass exodus,” Musk said. “We have four officers left. We had one retirement and the other went elsewhere for another job with better pay, but that’s the way it is. Every time you have new leadership, you will have people who disagree with the board’s choice.”

White was hired by city council unanimous vote in November after Musk appointed a search panel, which included members of the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office, to screen 16 applicants. He replaced Darryl Barton, who resigned in May for health reasons after 37 years in law enforcement.

White began his law enforcement career at the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office in 1994. He worked for a year with the Herne Police Department before moving to Cameron where he worked for 18 years in the Milam County Sheriff’s Office. He was appointed Milam County Sheriff in 2018 following the death of the sheriff and was elected the following year and in 2021.

He resigned shortly after being elected to a second term, citing “personal reasons”. His resignation from the post of sheriff also became an occasion for rumors in the West.

“I left to focus on my family because I neglected my family,” White said. “You can be married, or you can be a sheriff. I have decided to get married.”

Ashley Boyd, who lives in Mexia, was acting chief and was looking for a position as Police Chief of the West. Many in the West supported him and were unhappy when White was named Barton’s successor.

Muska said the council felt white was the best choice.

“He is a Christian. And I’m not saying this lightly,” Musk said. “But he wants to move here and he wants to be part of the community and that’s what we really wanted the chief to be here. Mr. Boyd, our interim boss, he was great. He did a great job. But he didn’t want to move here, and Mejia is about an hour away, and that’s one of the things the council is stuck on.

The Western Police Department is moving into a new 2,000-square-foot building adjacent to City Hall.
The Western Police Department is moving into a new 2,000-square-foot building adjacent to City Hall.(Tommy Witherspoon for KWTX)

Both Muska and White said they are excited that the police department will be moving to a new 2,000-square-foot building adjacent to City Hall next month. The $600,000 structure will provide the department, which now operates in three rooms at City Hall, better terms long overdue, White said.

Cody Harris, 32, a lifelong resident of the West, was sworn in as the new city council member in November. He voted to hire White and also voted in December to raise police starting wages from $20 to $25 an hour, which the city says will help attract and retain police officers.

Harris was hesitant to respond to the erroneous Facebook posts, saying, “If you know anything about West, it doesn’t take too much to start a rumor.” According to him, the rumors about his departure from the City Council are not true.

“I’m just trying to give everyone a good shake,” Harris said. “All these things happen, a new chief of police comes in, you can have disgruntled employees. But I think when you have new leadership, you will have people who disagree. These people left for their own reasons, and I don’t hold it against anyone. You must make the best decisions for yourself and your family.”

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