Killeen Town staff has the direction to move forward and create a draft ethics ordinance after a special Killeen Town Council workshop meeting on Saturday morning.
Holli Clements, one of the town’s deputy attorneys, had a few questions for council members to discuss and provide direction. The questions were:
- Who will the prescription cover?
- What should be included in the standards of conduct?
- Who is investigating?
- Will an ethics committee hear complaints?
- What sanctions to include?
- Exceptions ?
While not all leadership votes were unanimous, the board, with five voting members, directed Clements to begin drafting the ordinance.
Mayor Jose Segarra, who said he would be out of town, was not present at the meeting, leaving Mayor Pro Tem Debbie Nash-King to chair the meeting. It took away the right to vote from Nash-King unless a tie happened.
Newly elected city councilor Michael Boyd was not in attendance, leaving council members who were present at the rare Saturday morning council meeting – Mellisa Brown, Rick Williams, Nina Cobb, Ken Wilkerson and Jessica Gonzalzes – to vote on the new questions of ordinance on ethics. Cobb virtually attended the meeting.
All of the slides and questions in the presentation contained examples of what the order might include.
Clements built the lists based on similar ordinances in other Texas cities, to include Corinth and Lakeway.
After nearly 15 minutes of discussion, council finally gave direction for the ethics ordinance to include council, all boards and commissions, and all positions hired or appointed by city council – especially the city manager. , the municipal auditor and the municipal judge.
âThe city manager cannot investigate himself,â said Brown, who amended the original motion. “And the other two answer directly to the council and not to the city manager.”
The original motion was only to include city council and boards and commissions.
Nash-King called for a vote on the amendment itself.
The board voted 3-2 to keep the amendment, with board members Brown, Williams and Gonzalez voting in favor, while board members Cobb and Wilkerson voting against.
The vote for the amended motion ended with 4-1 in favor. Cobb provided the only dissenting vote.
“I’m trying to figure out what’s happened on both the right and the left that we need to pass another ordinance for ethics policy,” Cobb said at the start of the discussion.
What should be included in the standards of conduct?
A brief discussion of about 10 minutes determined what to include in the standards of conduct.
The standards of conduct suggested by Clements were as follows:
- financial informations
- External jobs
- Representation of others
- Disclosure of confidential information
- Misuse of city resources
- Abuse of position – interference
All council members agreed that the ordinance should include all examples of standards of conduct.
Brown, however, proposed to include the specification for outside employment that people who sit on the board or boards should not accept a job that directly conflicts with their duties.
City Manager Kent Cagle, who also attended Saturday morning’s meeting, told Brown the recommendations Clements presented were intended to give the city a place to start and that while the standards were broad, they could be specified at future board meetings.
The motion ultimately survived a vote with the stipulation.
The motion was carried unanimously, 5-0.
âI think that would allow us to put remedies – for one – but also to specifically identify some of the things that might be lessons learned from the past or anything that we might see in the future,â Wilkerson said during of the discussion. .
The board had a lengthy discussion – about 30 minutes – about who would investigate an ethics violation.
Based on research from other cities, Clements provided four examples. They were:
- municipal Council
- City lawyer
- Special advice
- ethics committee
The council directive could have included any combination of the above.
The council almost immediately eliminated itself and the city attorney from the management review, leaving the discussion mostly between a special advocate and an ethics committee.
Brown was the first board member to propose an ethics committee, while Wilkerson was the first to propose a special advocate. Wilkerson said it was a bit of a “Catch-22” for the board to appoint the members of a board that would essentially “rule” them.
Throughout the discussion, Wilkerson ended up leaning towards the board.
Cobb and Williams were not in favor of an ethics committee.
“People trust us to rule, and now we have to find someone to rule us?” Come on, âCobb said, adding that board members should already be acting ethically and holding themselves accountable.
Williams added, “To have a permanent boardâ¦ we’re having a hard time finding people for the boards we have now, and now we’re going to create one that has specifics?”
A motion has been brought by Brown that the order specify that an ethics committee will investigate violations by stating that if a violation is “serious enough,” it could ask a special advocate to investigate the violation.
âThe reason we’re here is to put some specs in place as to what happens when,â Gonzalez said, responding to Cobb’s question. “To me that makes senseâ¦ having some sort of trigger for a special advocate makes sense to me.”
After discussion, the motion was carried 3-2, with Williams and Cobb voting against.
How will the ethics committee hear complaints?
The quickest discussion revolved around how the ethics committee would hear complaints.
The options presented by Clements were:
- Paper review
- Formal inquiry
- Audition (s)
The board voted unanimously to have the board hear complaints in a step-by-step process following the order of the options presented.
With the motion, the board would first conduct a paper review of the violation, then, if necessary, conduct a formal investigation, and then, if necessary, hold one or more hearings.
What sanctions to include?
In the next section, the board discussed the type of oversight to be given to the ethics committee and the types of sanctions it had the power to impose.
Clements gave the following examples of sanctions:
- Reference for ethics training?
- Notification letter (unintentional)
- Warning letter (minor violation)
- Letter of reprimand (intentional)
- Recommendation for suspension or dismissal (employees, members of the board of directors)
- Letter of censure (elected officials)
- Refer to the police for criminal prosecution
âI love them all,â Wilkerson said. “I think they should have that available to them – any of them, really – unless they remove the elect.”
After back-and-forth discussions, a motion was finally put forward to include all of the recommendations listed.
The motion was carried unanimously.
Towards the end of the discussion, Brown made a motion to add a provision in the ordinance that allows city council to act as an appeal board with the power to reduce or increase penalties imposed by the committee. of ethics.
She clarified that it would only be if someone made a formal appeal to the council.
The motion was carried 3-2, with Williams and Wilkerson voting against.
Brown, who led the effort to secure a new ethics ordinance, later said she was happy with the way the meeting went and the civility of the conversations.
The meeting almost did not take place, however.
At 9 a.m., when the meeting was due to begin, Nash-King called the meeting to order without a quorum. Brown and Williams were in the conference room and Cobb was at the meeting via Zoom. Gonzalez arrived about two minutes later.
The municipal by-law stipulates that at least four members of the council, in addition to the mayor, must be present. As Segarra was not present, Nash-King chaired the meeting as acting mayor. That left Brown, Williams, and Gonzalez. Because the city did not post the meeting as a virtual meeting, Cobb did not count as a quorum.
At 9:05 a.m., Nash-King adjourned the meeting due to the lack of a quorum – an action that sparked an explosion of profanity from Brown.
“It’s bull —-” said Brown, seconds after Nash-King adjourned the meeting.
Nash-King is out. All the other council members have dispersed.
A few minutes later, Wilkerson arrived and Nash-King agreed to come back and hold the meeting, which began shortly after 9:20 a.m.
During the nearly two-hour meeting, there were no further explosions.