Former city manager Tommy Turney passes away

Bill Hancock
Runnels County Register

Former Ballinger city manager Tommy Turney passed away unexpectedly on March 24. Turney was 50 years old.

Tommy Turney on 13th street. He was surveying the "13th street dip" and planning the work to remove it. The dip was significant with many citizens complaining about it damaging their cars when they drove over it.

Turney, originally from San Angelo, graduated from Angelo State University with a bachelor's degree. After graduation, Turney worked overseas for oil companies in Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Iraq for approximately 20 years before coming to Ballinger. After he was fired as city manager, Turney worked as a corrections officer at the Runnels County jail. He was still employed at the jail at the time of his death. Jail captain Kimberly Dunn released a statement on social media regarding Turney's passing:

"It's with a saddened heart, that the Runnels County Jail says goodbye to Officer Tommy Turney. For both, staff and inmates alike, the emotions associated with spending time in the jail are often negative due to the nature of the environment. Tommy’s fun sense of humor, calm demeanor, and encouraging words brought light into our world. It’s a true blessing when God sends someone, like Tommy, into our lives who can lift our spirits on a daily basis. Tommy will be truly missed. Please join the Runnels County Jail family in extending our deepest condolences to the Tommy Turney family."

Ballinger City Manager Tommy Turney And Councilman Rick Morrish Hold flags at the funeral procession for Hale McKissack. The remains of McKissak had been identified by the Department of Defense. He was killed on December 7, 1941 when the Japanese launched a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. McKissack was on the Oklahoma, which was sunk in 12 minutes. McKissack was given a burial with full military honors.

Turney was hired as Ballinger city manager in August of 2018. While his first few months were relatively quiet, he did make repairs around the city, particularly to the groan and shudder evoking "13th street dip," as locals referred to it. He also had workers clear out the creek bed along the street to help with flood control.

Turney also hired a collections agency to collect outstanding utility bills and municipal court fines. He also applied for grants to improve the city streets. The grant was eventually awarded to Ballinger, bringing in $275,000 for street repairs.

Turney hired a painter to 'beautify Ballinger," by painting murals around the city. He spoke with local business owners to get their permission to paint murals on the sides of their buildings. He also conducted the first city-wide cleanup in 3 years. He conducted the first capital assets inventory since 2006. He worked with TXDoT to help make repairs at the export. The agreement would have TXDoT paying 50% of the cost, "even down to the cost of a light bulb," Turney said at the time. Turney also worked with the probation office to provide probationers to help clean up the city while they work off their community service hours.

In addition to the changes he made throughout the city, Turney also weathered several storms. The biggest issue he inherited was looking for money from 3 CDs cashed out by the city in 2016. He tackled that by bringing in an accountant to track down how the money was spent and to get the city’s books in order. The 3 CDs totaled $360,000. There was also the matter of a $225,000 grant reimbursement the city received, bringing the total to $585,000. No accusations of wrong-doing were made, but Turney got help from the Texas Ranger Shea, who investigated the case, ultimately not filing any charges. Eventually, Turney would determine that the money had gone into the general fund and was spent without accurate tracking. An auditor was brought in and said that the money was used to keep the city "in the black." Once that money was spent, the city had no reserves and their credit rating dropped. The money was spent prior to Turney being hired. He helped coordinate the work to find answers for the citizens of Ballinger.

Trouble would pop up when several local business owners accused Turney of "making the city go broke." According to the books, and the auditor, the city was broke before Turney arrived. He nevertheless shouldered responsibility for not fine-tuning the budget and, ultimately, kept his job.

The next salvo of criticism came from several city employees who accused Turney of HR violations. The employees contacted the mayor and a council member to have meetings with them to discuss Turney's use of foul language. The employees then wrote letters to the council. The council meetings, originally attended by only a handful of citizens, were now standing room only as over 100 people would come to the meetings. People spoke on Turney's behalf while a few of the employees openly addressed the council with their grievances. One employee even went so far as to say that he had secretly tape recorded private conversations with Turney. The meeting resulted in the council stating that they would find HR classes for Turney to attend. A vote on Turney's employment was taken with all 5 council members voting in favor of him keeping his job.

On May 18, 2019, a devastating tornado half a mile wide, stayed on the ground for over 19 miles, creating a path of destruction through the outskirts of Ballinger. Several homes across from Ballinger High School were destroyed. Turney organized the rapid city response and went out on site to help with clean up efforts and to talk to the people who had lost their homes to the twister.

In November of 2019, Dawni Seymore was elected mayor, defeating former mayor Sam Mallory by 3 votes. Kristi Goetz also won a council seat, defeating Eloyed Fuentes. Concerns soon arose when city councilman Rick Morrish said that Ballinger had not paid Abilene per an agreement. The city was allegedly $90,000 behind in their payments with Abilene threatening to cancel the deal. Morrish and the council felt that it could jeopardize the long-term deal for Ballinger. Turney was dismissed in a 3-2 vote (Yea: Goetz, Seymore, Morrish. Nay: Jason Gore and Bob McDaniel). The vote to dismiss Turney caused Gore and McDaniel to walk out of the meeting and resign from their positions in protest.

Turney didn't miss a step after leaving the city. He soon went to work for the Runnels County Sheriff's office as a jailer. Turney's wife, Carrie Turney, had attended a regional police academy and been hired as a police officer in Winters. The family was in the process of moving from Ballinger to Winters when Turney died.

While city did not release a statement regarding Turney's service to the community and his death, former councilman Bob McDaniel commented about it, "It doesn't bother me one bit to say that I loved Tommy Turney.  He was a gentle soul who truly loved people, his family, and he had a special place in his heart for Ballinger and he was a dreamer.  During my years serving on the Ballinger City Council, I served under five city managers and not one had the love of community and it's residents that Tommy had.  From day one he launched himself into a campaign of showcasing Ballinger. The downtown fountain, the scout hut, the city park, the mural, and on and on, he had some degree of ownership in them all.  He and I would get in the suburban and he'd talk about his wish list, an acre of bluebonnets behind city hall, a walking trail along Elm creek.  I even went out and bought a canoe because he wanted to map out a plan for a trail along the creek from the park to the Colorado River.  The night Tommy was terminated as manager, he said his goodbye to Jason and walked over to me, coffee cup in hand, and said "I love you Bob, thanks for supporting me."  Those words I will forever cherish.  Farewell old friend.  There will come a day when we meet again."