Precinct 1 Commissioner Harley Belew is facing serious allegations related a felony conviction when he was 17 years old and living in Tarrant County, which could cost him his job.
According to documents from the Tarrant County District Clerk’s office Belew, who lived in Haltom City, a suburb of Fort Worth, was involved in a burglaries of two local department stores along with two other teenagers during the winter of 1973.
At the time burglary of a business was a second-degree felony under Texas law. The Fort Worth Star-Telegram story on the two burglaries states that Texas Rangers investigated the burglaries along with other law enforcement agencies and approximately $7,000 worth of merchandise tied to the burglaries was recovered from Belew’s home.
Belew later pled guilty to the charges and was placed on a 10-year probated sentence by the court in Tarrant County and completed the probation without incident. Today, the burglary charges would be only misdemeanor charges under current Texas laws.
When Belew filed for commissioner to succeed the retiring commissioner Buster Baldwin in December 2015 he was required to fill out an “application for a place on the general primary ballot” with the Kerr County Republican Party. One of the entries on the application that requires a candidate to respond states “I have not been finally convicted of a felony” or “I have been finally convicted of a felony, but I have been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities of that felony conviction and I have provided proof of this fact with the submission of this application.”
He narrowly defeated his opponent, Dr. William Rector, in the March 2016 Republican primary and went on to be elected without opposition on the November 2016 general election ballot.
“I was very surprised and disappointed to find out that someone we placed our trust in may not really have been eligible to occupy the commissioner’s position. The county has invested $360,000 as taxpayers in salary and benefits to pay someone who may not have been eligible to run for office,” said Bill Rector on Saturday.
Rector said he hopes that in the future that all political parties would do a better job of vetting their candidates in all races.
In 2019 an opinion was issued by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton (KP-0251) that states:
Subsection 141.001(a)(4) of the Election Code provides that to be eligible as a candidate for public office a person must “have not been finally convicted of a felony from which the person has not been pardoned or otherwise released from the resulting disabilities.”
Paxton goes on to opine that the “restoration of a convicted felon’s qualification to vote under Election Code subsection 1 1.002(a)(4)(A) after fully discharging a sentence does not restore his or her eligibility to hold public office under Election Code subsection 141.001(a)(4).”
Based on AG Paxton’s ruling in 2019 Belew may not have been eligible to run in 2016 and therefore not qualified to serve as a county commissioner for the past six years.
In informal comments to the Hill Country Community Journal early last week at the candidate forum at Schreiner University, Belew said he believed that once he completed the probation period that the case was closed and his rights were restored. He commented that his attorney in Fort Worth did not advise him that he needed to have the charges expunged from public records and the attorney is now deceased. His criminal record is still in the searchable database with the Texas Department of Public Safety and is available through other background check sources.
The process of expunging charges involves officially filing paperwork and paying a fee with the court and appearing before a judge to have the charge removed from all records. Belew admitted he did not know to go through that additional step in the process.
In a statement issued last Thursday, Kerr County Judge Rob Kelly explained the county’s position on the issue with Belew.
“The charges against Commissioner Belew are serious and could result in his removal from office. To date we have received copies of some of his criminal records from 50 years ago, however, they are not complete. Law enforcement authorities are continuing to try and obtain a more complete set of the records in question. Belew claims that his successful completion of probation restored any the rights forfeited by convicted felons. The documents obtained to date do not confirm that claim but the search continues. I feel confident all of this will be clarified soon. This is a very serious matter and it is being given the careful and thorough attention it deserves.”
Belew, in his comments at the beginning of Monday’s Kerr County Commissioners’ Court meeting, advised his fellow commissioners and County Judge Rob Kelly that he has retained an attorney to address the issues that have recently come up over his 1973 felony arrest and subsequent conviction for burglary of a business in Tarrant County.
"Since I've taken office, I've been the subject of politically motivated attacks from Day 1. The latest attack goes back to 50-plus years to when I was 16 years old. Because of this latest attack, I have retained legal counsel and I'm not going to make further comment on this matter for now."
While Belew’s comments indicate he was 16 years old at the time of the incident, public records report his age to be 17.
The county is in the process of investigating allegations that Belew, because of the felony conviction, was ineligible to run for office in 2016 and again in 2020. The next step in the process, if the county determines there is sufficient evidence, is for the county to file a formal complaint in the district court, a “motion to remove” Belew from office.
I have yet to see/hear anyone ask Mr. Belew for a comment or explanation. This "story" broke two weeks ago and has been repeated, essentially verbatim, by local "news" organizations. If he had an answer to all this, my guess is that you don't want to hear it...so you don't ask. (Journalism has died in this town!)
He has been asked and commented as reported in our local journalistic outlets. He commented for this article here that he does not intend to comment. He has commented previously that he did not know he needed to have his record expunged. Another time he commented that he believed all his rights had been restored. Commissioner Belew is never short some comment, just the facts seem to escape his grasp generally—
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