EDITORIAL: Why the story of the Pogues is still important…two years later

In this edition you will find coverage that centers around issues that continue to shock and concern our community.

After two years of enduring accusations of criminal wrongdoing, former Liberty Hill Fire Chief James Pogue and former Emergency Services Director Leslye Pogue, his wife, have received news that all charges were dropped against them at the recommendation of the Williamson County Attorney’s Office.

This is a complex and sometimes complicated story that over time has grown more controversial. And in the absence of answers and resolve, it has served to destory careers, cause untold personal damage and divide our community.

Why does it matter?

Because if government can accuse two us of crimes, delay our ability to answer to the point that lives are ruined while waiting for justice, it can happen to any of us.
Because our community made public safety policy decisions as a direct result of these circumstances.

And because it’s our duty to find and report the truth about things that impact your family’s safety — especially if those programs are paid for by your tax dollars.
In small communities, controversies are felt closer to home, closer to the heart because those involved are neighbors. Our nation’s success has come directly from our forebearers’ insistence on justice and tolerance. Those two items have been the great equalizers when we fall out of favor with those around us.

This newspaper has gone to great lengths to be fair in all of our coverage of all of these issues. Our professional pride, training and more than 25 years of journalistic experience would allow us no other path. In fact, in the past both the commissioners and fire employees have congratulated us on our fair and balanced approach to this hot button issue that has passionate supporters on either side.

The truth is that the Pogue family has at times expressed their disappointment in the local newspapers for not doing more to highlight their situation and keep their cause alive.

We know that our newspaper’s coverage of this issue will garner the wrath of those who now find themselves in a situation they surely had not anticipated. For almost two years, they have appeared to hold all of the power on their side.

Indeed, we find it curious that our numerous attempts to contact members of the ESD leadership and employees have been met with resistance when a short time ago they had much to say on the topic.

James and Leslye deserve congratulations for fighting the good fight to attmept to clear their names although so much damage has been done by so many that their lives and reputations have no doubt been irrepairably damaged.

And going forward the fire department employees, lawyers and ESD Commissioners should be painfully aware that their service to this community does not include defamation of character or making false claims of criminal miscoduct. They are in the business of providing life-saving services, which should be given equally to all citizens without respect to their personal opinions and rendered quickly, professionally and without mental reservation.

The Independent has already been warned — by friends and foes alike — not to cover this story because certain politically well-connected people don’t want this issue to be hashed out in the public. In fact, one business owner said he would not advertise with us because we have refused to take a certain side on an issue of which they have a familial financial interest.

To that we say this newspaper and the integrity and character of its employees will never be for sale.

We were here and we remember

Two years ago, we were all shocked to learn that the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department’s contract for providing emergency service had been discontinued by the Williamson County Emergency Services District #4. ESD Commissioners stated that the public’s safety had been “placed at risk.” Those words were scarcely out of the mouths of the attorneys and public officials before James and Leslye Pogue were publicly accused of criminal wrongdoing and jailed in the Williamson County Jail in Georgetown. In a thinly disguised paperwork maneuver, the ESD then hired every single employee of the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department except James and Leslye Pogue.

Members of the public were confused and outraged. The fire station was packed at public meetings with angry citizens asking questions while a mute ESD Board refused to answer.

That refusal to answer the questions was seen by the citizens as entrenched arrogance and the flaunting of power.

Next, the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department Board of Directors began to hold public meetings and reorganized into what they termed as the “resistance fighters.” They hired Round Rock Attorney John Henry and filed lawsuits against WCESD #4 and attorney Kenton Campbell, one of which is still pending.

Liberty Hill resident Kathy Canady filed a grievance with the State Bar of Texas against Campbell, and the Bar concurred that he was wrong. A public reprimand was issued against Campbell in December 2010.

Two years is a long time. When the Pogues refused to budge, refused to admit to committing crimes they said they did not commit, the community moved on. So did the fire department. And many, including some employees, say the change was for the better. Many believe things are more efficient now and employees say the atmosphere around the fire station has improved.

During the past two years when questioned about whether the Pogues had actually committed any real criminal wrongdoing, two Commissioners told Radio Free Liberty Hill that there was a lot more to the story than anyone knew, implying mysteriously that serious criminal acts had occurred. We were advised to be patient, to stay tuned, that the real story would one day be told.

Presumably, the “real story” was to be told in a court of law. But it never was. The Pogues never had the opportunity to confront their accusers, to answer the allegations against them. Instead, they were forced to stand by and watch helplessly as their lives were taken from them.

Now that the criminal charges have been dropped, it’s time for us to ask the questions publicly that we have been asking for two years, knowing that it’s unlikely that any of us will ever know the truth:

* Was there a conspiracy between lawyers, public officials and fire department employees against the Pogues?
* Was it simple, old-fashioned political oppression, or was it just an attempted palace coup gone wild?
* Who wanted the Liberty Hill Volunteer Fire Department out of the way?
* Did the informers against the Pogues stand to gain stature professionally, or monetarily after their bosses were jailed and fired?
* Were the criminal complaints against the Pogues designed to scare them into a quick nolo contendre plea so they wouldn’t face the embarrassment and humiliation of a trial or possible prison time?
* Did Kenton Campbell and the ESD overreach politically and legally?
* Who is legally liable for this miscarriage of justice and huge political boon-doggle?

Of course all of these questions won’t be answered today. We old-timers remember that once upon a time members of Congress were writing thousands of dollars in personal hot checks and not getting caught. The President of the United States helped cover up a burglary in the Watergate Hotel in Washington D.C., and there were weapons of mass destruction all over Iraq. One of our favorite quotes comes from John Adams, “Facts are stubborn things.” But, ask any police officer, eventually all things are known.

Our view is that the members of the ESD Board of Commissioners and fire department employees who were so quick to turn away from James and Leslye Pogue should now turn their attention to seeking justice for them. They should engage in helping them regain and rebuild their lives with the same robust energy in which they were so quick to play a part in destroying them. That is how Liberty Hill heals and becomes whole again.