Two weeks. That’s how long we’ve been waiting for a response from Jody Johnson about emails that may show fellow government employees working on his campaign during business hours. The constable running to assume Precinct 4’s commissioner seat from father J.D. Johnson, according to several emails we obtained from a whistleblower, appears to have blended personal and government business.
At issue are campaign finance reports readily available on Tarrant County’s website. After taking office as Precinct 4 constable in 2016, Jody — who is in a heated battle against fellow Republican Manny Ramirez for one of five county commissioner seats — began using a county employee, administrator Nicole Benoit, to log, compile, notarize, and file his campaign finance reports. The constable followed state law by listing Sarah Hollenstein as his campaign treasurer, but he did not list her business address as required by Texas Ethics Commission rules. She also is not shown as the person who worked on any of Jody’s campaign finance reports — a majority of them have been signed by Benoit.
My extensive review of Jody’s publicly available reports revealed that Benoit notarized and signed 11 of 16 of them between early 2015 and early 2022. State law forbids public officials like constables from using government employees and resources for personal matters like campaigning.
Jody’s campaign staff did not respond to questions that I forwarded to Hollenstein, whom I was unable to reach directly because she did not disclose her contact information on any of Jody’s reports. Jody did not respond to my requests for comment, and neither did the staff at the Precinct 4 commissioner’s office.
Finally, last week, I received a call from Jody’s campaign.
After describing intimate details of the open records requests I had recently filed, the campaign member tried to intimidate me into not publishing my story. I’ve described the timbre of the off-the-record conversation because that privilege does not permit individuals to attempt to influence a reporter actively investigating allegations of public misconduct.
I requested digital copies of the whistleblower’s emails from the county through the Texas Public Information Act to corroborate the printouts of the same emails in my hands. My request for emails between Benoit and Jody between 2017 and 2022 returned 54 pages of communications that did not include any of the whistleblower’s emails. Indeed, several months at a time are missing from the communications compiled for me by the county. The absence of the whistleblower’s emails (originally obtained during an unrelated matter a few months ago) suggests they have either been deleted from county servers or intentionally withheld by the district attorney’s office.
It’s hard to know if Precinct 4’s servers were tampered with or whether Jody used government resources for his personal campaign because the commissioner candidate has so far refused to comment on this story and no one else is raising any concerns. Given the nature of the accusations, we are electing to delay publishing details of the emails until we hear back from Jody.
We welcome the opportunity to discuss the missing, potentially damning emails with his campaign as long as the conversation refrains from attempts to dissuade me from following a story wherever it leads.
Ramirez told me he is waiting to learn more before he judges his primary political opponent.
“Elected officials are held to high ethical standards,” he said. “We would hope that this isn’t true. Jody is innocent until proven guilty, like anyone else.”
Ramirez’ most recent campaign disclosures show that he has $160,323 on hand. Jody reported $224,064 in his campaign war chest on his most recent filings that were signed and notarized by Benoit. Last summer, J.D. donated $250,000 of $252,873 from his remaining war chest to his son. — Edward Brown
This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at Anthony@FWWeekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.