Tarrant County judge, commissioners clash at meeting over resignation of elections administrator
Tarrant County Elections Administrator Heider Garcia announced his resignation this week, citing a meeting with County Judge Tim O’Hare as the reason.
In a heated meeting, Tarrant County leaders cast blame and expressed concern over the sudden resignation of the county’s elections chief.
Heider Garcia, the Tarrant County elections administrator since 2018, submitted his resignation in a letter dated April 16. He decided to quit after a meeting with Republican County Judge Tim O’Hare revealed a difference in their values when it comes to running elections.
O’Hare has taken an interest in the elections system since he took office in January, most notably announcing the creation of an Election Integrity Task Force. Garcia was never consulted in that effort.
At Tuesday’s regular Commissioners Court meeting, Democratic County Commissioner Roy Charles Brooks blamed O’Hare for Garcia’s departure in a pointed exchange on the dais.
“The system was not broken. It was made to be broken. It was broken by the hand of you, Judge O’Hare,” Brooks said.
O’Hare cut in and interrupted Brooks.
“Go ahead and explain. Go ahead and explain how I broke it,” O'Hare said. “Explain to the public how I broke the system.”
“Having not been present in the meeting between you and the elections administrator, the only evidence I have is what he stated in his letter: That y’all came to loggerheads over how to administer fair and nonpolitical elections,” Brooks said.
In his resignation letter, Garcia told O’Hare he quit because he refused to betray his beliefs.
“Judge O’Hare, my formula to ‘administer a quality transparent election’ stands on respect and zero politics; compromising on these values is not an option for me,” Garcia wrote. “You made it clear in our last meeting that your formula is different, thus, my decision to leave. I wish you the best; Tarrant County deserves that you find success.”
Brooks also pointed out the state's praise for Garcia’s office. An audit of the 2020 election process found that Tarrant County runs a “quality, transparent election.”
Conspiracy theories swirled around Garcia after that election, and he endured death threats and racist attacks. His openness to answering questions from election skeptics has earned him national attention.
“It just seems to me that Mr. Garcia had an excellent record running elections,” Brooks said. “He was verified by every audit that was ever done of our election system. He had the respect of both political parties. He was transparent in the operation of the elections office.”
Whoever replaces Garcia will have to live up to his excellent performance, Brooks said – and that Garcia’s replacement would likely be O’Hare’s “hand-picked successor.”
O’Hare denied having any hand-picked successor.
The Tarrant County Election Commission oversees the selection of the new elections administrator. O’Hare is the chair of that commission and has a vote alongside the tax-assessor collector, the county clerk, and the chairs of the Tarrant County Republican and Democratic Parties, he said at the Tuesday meeting.
“I did not ask Heider to resign. I did not put pressure on Heider to resign. I did not threaten to fire Heider. I did not threaten to bring him before the Election Commission for a review to determine if he would keep his employment,” O’Hare said.
O’Hare told his colleagues he’d be happy to tell them what happened between him and Garcia, as long as those conversations wouldn’t violate the Open Meetings Act, which requires meetings of governmental bodies to happen in public.
Republican County Commissioner Manny Ramirez thanked Garcia for his service.
Ramirez did not blame anyone for Garcia’s departure, but he said that county elections workers need to be able to rely on commissioners’ support.
"Elections by nature are political, and they are polarizing, but I don't think the administration of those elections should be either,” Ramirez said.
Ramirez also said that communication between members of the court is lacking.
“I heard about his resignation from the media yesterday, and that was surprising,” he said.
Garcia isn’t leaving right away. His final day on the job is June 23, leaving plenty of time to deal with the upcoming May 6 election and any possible runoffs, he wrote in his resignation letter.
Garcia was not present at the meeting Tuesday. When an agenda item came up about the elections administration office, Assistant Elections Administrator Troy Havard responded.
Democratic County Commissioner Alisa Simmons also thanked Garcia for his service before she expressed concern for the future.
“These are critical times. Many people are concerned about our election process, and to lose a tenured, well-thought-of expert like Garcia is terrifying,” Simmons said.
She then reminded the room that early voting in the May 6 elections begins next week.
Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.
KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gift today. Thank you.