Monday, November 25, 2013

Merit of City Council Members' Ethical Concerns: Minor or Major?

A Standard Times editorial scolded Council members Charlotte Farmer and Winkie Wardlaw for raising issues with "minor merit."  Farmer raised a concern that Council's direction on the West Texas Water Partnership had been ignored by staff, while Wardlaw stated his expectation that his requested items actually be put on the agenda.  Had these been the first offenses by paid staff, then one could view their behavior as overreaction.

Recall the 2013 Mayoral race had three existing City Council members, Kendall Hirschfeld, Paul Alexander and Dwain Morrison, all with numerous years of experience.

I wrote after one Mayoral candidate session at the Chicken Farm Art Center:

Two other issues simmered during the meeting.  One dealt with the minimalist approach paid city staff seems to take with Council.  It's not clear if staff is intentionally keeping information away from council or if staff actually don't know what's going on.   Ignorance is only a tad more reassuring than mendacity.   Both are deeply disturbing. 

All three expressed concern about the performance of paid staff.  Dwain Morrison won the Mayor's race.  His challenge is to balance Council's wishes with staff capabilities/performance.  That's not an easy task.

Mayor Morrison did return ethics standards for City Council members on economic development funds to those that existed before January 3, 2012.  Council loosened standards so Mayor Alvin New, Board member and angel investor in MedHab LLC, could remain Mayor and MedHab receive a $3.6 million economic development package from the city without waiting six months.

City staff blatantly misrepresented the Mayor's position and stake in MedHab.  New had filed two affidavits on his MedHab investment.  Neither was shared with the public.

Councilman Wardlaw's concerns about fellow member Marty Self's fire protection company doing subcontract work for the city rang a different bell.  Not only did it echo Mayor New's MedHab, it resonated the work of another subcontractor, Water Chief Will Wilde's son Blake.  Blake Wilde got a handsome deal with Carollo Engineering after being fired by the City's Engineering Department and deemed not eligible for rehire.

San Angelo's Water Chief Will Wilde already stood on shaky ground having purchased and installed over $100,000 in Water Department furniture without required City Council approval.  Numerous citizens were angry over outrageous water bills, a number of which defied logic or explanation.  Wilde summarily dismissed these people.  In this dank milieu Blake's handsome subcontract with Carolla Engineering reeked, especially as Carolla's Hutch Mussallam reported directly to Blake's father, Will Wilde.

Marty Self's situation is not Blake Wilde's or Alvin New's, but there is a filed affidavit showing Self has "no interest in any profits or emoluments of any contract, job, work, or service for the City of San Angelo."  City legal staff believes this to be true, given Self's Automatic Fire Protection is a subcontractor on the airport project and not the contractor.  Like Councilman Wardlaw, I'm not sure that explanation puts Marty Self in the clear.  

What the Standard Times determined "minor issues" are in my opinion, reflective of lingering major concerns regarding the ethics and performance of city government.  I believe Mayor Morrison wants these issues behind us, so he and Council can focus on the good of San Angelo. 

Sometimes, it helps to look outside for advice, counsel and guidance on puzzling issues.  I expect the Attorney General to do that regarding Mr. Self's situation, per Mr. Wardlaw's request.  That will put the issue to bed, not a Standard Times editorial telling Council members with concerns they are embarrassing.

1 comment:

Jim Turner said...

I agree that the standard times editorial was too quick on dismissing some of the issues as "minor". At the same time basic homework and research was not done by those making the most noise. Simplest example first: You will have to wait a very long time for an attorney generals opinion on the ethics/conflict of interest issue for Mr. Self because there is no one in City Hall that can directly ask for an attorney generals opinion. "Sections 402.042 and 402.043 of the Government Code list the officials who are authorized to request formal attorney general opinions on questions of law. The attorney general is prohibited by statute from giving a written opinion to anyone other than an authorized requestor."

No matter the merits of the case, the Attorney General is not likely to get involved, especially when he is busy campaigning for Governor.