Ethics Committee Overruled, Fired

14
Posted August 19, 2010 by Jeff Prince in Blotch

For once, Mayor Mike Moncrief went through an entire meeting without muttering his favorite phrase — “it’s the Fort Worth Way.” Strange, since the Fort Worth Way was so evident in today’s special meeting of the Fort Worth City Council.

JIM ASHFORD TELLS THE CITY COUNCIL WHY HE FILED AN ETHICS COMPLAINT.

JIM ASHFORD TELLS THE CITY COUNCIL WHY HE FILED AN ETHICS COMPLAINT.

Back in July, the city’s Ethics Review Committee upheld an ethics complaint filed against the three gas drilling executives who served on a city air quality committee.

Local residents and environmentalists hailed the decision, saying that their longstanding complaints about the city stacking its gas drilling task forces with industry insiders had finally been heeded.

However, the three gas drilling executives hired a lawyer, appealed the decision, and pleaded their case before the council.

ATTORNEY ALBON HEAD, REPRESENTING THE GAS DRILLERS, TELLS THE CITY COUNCIL WHY THE ETHICS COMPLAINT ISN'T JUSTIFIED.

ATTORNEY ALBON HEAD, REPRESENTING THE GAS DRILLERS, TELLS THE CITY COUNCIL WHY THE ETHICS COMPLAINT ISN'T JUSTIFIED.

City Attorney David Yett began today’s meeting by saying that just because the Ethics Review Committee cited an ethics violation doesn’t mean a violation actually occurred.

An hour and much discussion later, the city council decided that:

1. The gas employees shouldn’t be punished and labeled as unethical for serving on a commission when it was the city council that appointed them — if anything unethical was done, the responsibility should fall on the council;

2. The city council itself didn’t see how they’d done anything wrong — after all they clearly stated that the three air quality committee members were linked to the gas industry;

3. The city attorney saw no ethical violation;

4. Oh yeah, and many other city task forces and commissions are stacked with insiders — it’s the way business has always been done around here.

MAYOR MIKE MONCRIEF OVERSEES THE APPEAL PROCESS.

MAYOR MIKE MONCRIEF OVERSEES THE APPEAL PROCESS.

With all that in mind, the council overruled the ethics review committee’s decision and exonerated the gas executives. City Councilman Sal Espino said the alleged ethics violation was actually just a “policy question.”

Moncrief said citing the gas drillers with an ethics charge would “have a chilling effect on our ability to attract the best and brightest” to city commissions. Detractors say “best and brightest” is code for “powerful and connected.”

But the circus of doublespeak didn’t stop there.

Moncrief thanked ethics review committee members for their long service and their  “interpretation” of the ethics code — and then fired them all.

The current ethics commission members will hear two other cases currently on file, but after that they will be told to step aside and will be replaced by new appointees.

“Any future complaints will be heard by the new commission members,” Moncrief said.

After the meeting ended, I called Rebecca Lucas, one of the ethics committee members who had been dumped. She was surprised to hear about today’s appeal hearing — she didn’t know anything about it. This seemed odd to her because Moncrief had called her just this morning to tell her that she and the other ethics committee members were being canned but hadn’t mentioned the appeal hearing.

Lucas stood by the Ethics Review Committee’s original decision. When asked why she thought Moncrief fired her, she said, “The mayor didn’t give a reason, but the timing speaks for itself.”

Last month, Lucas had even predicted her fate. After the ethics committee ruled against the gas executives — or, in other words, questioned the city council’s method of doing business — Lucas told Fort Worth Weekly that her “days might be numbered.”

She was right — 21 days later she was given the ol’ heave ho.

One final thought from Lucas: While the city council is reviewing the ethics code, they might consider revising the loophole that allows city council members to have the final say on ethics violations even when they are the ones being charged with unethical behavior.

To Lucas, it seems unethical for city officials to be defendant, judge, and jury all at the same time.

That kind of radical thinking can get you excommunicated.

That’s the Fort Worth Way.


14 Comments


  1.  
    Anonymous

    How interesting about what is going on in Big Gas City. It reminds me of what I read about in the FRANKLIN NEWS WEEKLY newspaper today. Lot of shenanagins in all these “city” governments and other county and local governments. A lot of wasted tax money!




  2.  
    ardvaark

    The ethics committee finally supports an ethics complaint and then gets fired for their trouble? Moncrief and the city council aren’t even pretending to be ethical anymore.




  3.  

    This is so typical of the Wild, Wild West that is Texas where elected officials have no shame and trample rough-shod over the citizens.

    But, I must admit that the phrasing on this post had me laughing out loud.




  4.  
    fistofsouth

    “This is so typical of the Wild, Wild West that is Texas where elected officials have no shame and trample rough-shod over the citizens. ”

    Um so is Detroit (Kwame Kilpatrick) now in the WIld, WIld West? What about Chicago (Daley Clan) or perhaps Baltimore (Sheila Dixon)? Corrupt Politicians occur on both sides of the Mississippi and in fact a case can be made that western cities are lees corrupt than their eastern counterparts based simply on the fact that they are younger and thus have had less time to become comfortable with corrupt practices.




  5.  
    Jerry Lobdill

    I was there. Jeff has got it right. Here’s my take on the meeting:

    The appeal of the Ethics Review Commission (ERC) case No. 2010-02, Jim Ashford’s ethics case against the City of Fort Worth for stuffing the Air Quality Study Committee with three officers of Chesapeake, XTO, and Devon, took place today in the Pre Council Meeting Room starting at 11:15 AM. It was an especially disgusting performance by the Mayor and his gaggle of bobbleheads.

    The complaint had been heard by the Fort Worth Ethics Review Commission and had been a unanimous vote in favor of Jim. The industry hired a lawyer, Mr. Alban Head, to argue the case for reversal of the ERC decision. Jim Ashford presented his own case. David Yett, city attorney, assured Mr. Jordan and Mr. Scarth that they needn’t recuse themselves on this vote.

    This was a most embarrassing situation for Moncrief and his minions. The code of ethics is quite clear in stating that no one may be appointed to any committee established by the Council who has a conflict of interest in the matters that the Committee is established to consider. It explains exactly what a conflict of interest is, and these industry officers clearly had a conflict of interest. Jim made the case succinctly quoting all the relevant provisions of the code. This was a case in which the City Council violated its own code of ethics by placing these people on this committee.

    What unfolded after Jim had made his unassailable case was like watching piss ants on a hot stove lid, as my grandmother used to say. The first thing we heard from Mr. Head was what a serious and mean thing it was for Jim to accuse these fine, upstanding, civic minded gas drilling executives of a breach of ethics. This could be a blot on their reputations for the rest of their lives, he said. Why, it could damage their careers! (subtext: How despicable and mean spirited! This could result in a libel suit.) Never mind that the code language specifically laid the blame on the Council, not those whom it appointed.

    This was repeated by David Yett, who added another concern– Jeez! If we can’t appoint the people who have the most experience in the matters under consideration, we’ll have to repopulate every one of the committees, boards, and commissions the city has. This is a HUGE ramification! Next, we heard that all municipalities do likewise, so this Council has done nothing wrong.

    Soon we began to hear the comments and questions of the Council members. Kathleen wanted to know who appointed this commission and its history–since she had never come in contact with them before. This was a grandstand play since she had known about this case for months and all her questions are answered at http://www.fortworthgov.org/citysecretary/info/default.aspx?id=4942. It was revealed that there are supposed to be 5 members serving two year staggered terms, but the commission has been neglected by Moncrief’s Council and that before him. Clyde Picht, former councilman, as a parting recommendation when Moncrief was first elected, said that the commission should be revitalized and made active again. Moncrief responded that an Ethics Commission was not needed. The present Commission has two empty seats and hasn’t met in years. The three members have served for about 20 years according to Moncrief. But I’m getting head of my story.

    Kathleen mentioned that whatever bias the industry executives might have had, they were only a minority on the Committee and could not have forced their will on the whole group. (So little damage could have been done in this case anyway.)

    Sal Espino questioned Mr. Head about the code and whether Jim had made any specific accusations of violations by any of the three industry people. Mr. Head said that Jim had “admitted” that he was not accusing them of violations and had “admitted” that his entire complaint rested upon the issue of whether the Council erred in appointing them. (Duhhh! Who ever said otherwise?) So his entire case, Mr. Head said, was based on a technicality, not on heinous nefarious activities perpetrated by the industry appointees. According to one of the bobbleheads the ERC was at fault and had erred by gross misinterpretation of the code.

    Yett said he had advised to Council that they could appoint these people in response to an odd question from Mr. Moss, who wanted to know who was responsible for determining if a potential appointee had a conflict– was that the responsibility of the candidate or the Council?

    Next Carter launched into one of his typical nauseating lectures instructing listeners about how hard it is to be a Councilman and have to make hard decisions, how he understands what the people want, but life is tough, and people in hell want ice water too. (paraphrasing). He pointed out that right after the line in the code that said people with a substantial interest in the issues could not serve on a commission, there was a line that said that if the Council appointed them the preceding line was not operative. He also suggested that Jim might be sued for libel. Then he moved to reverse the decision of the Commission and dismiss the case. Sal seconded.

    Then Zim wanted to put his oar in the water. His concern seemed to be what the council would have to do if they didn’t dismiss this, and how bad it was to suggest that these appointees had violated ethics.

    So by distorting the claim that Jim had made by asserting that he said it was unethical behavior by the appointees, rather than a violation of the code by the Council, they made Jim the bad guy. Then they viewed with alarm their prospects if this gross misinterpretation of the code should happen again.

    At this point Moncrief started his usual pompous monologue beginning as usual with sticky sweet plaudits, kudos, and accolades for the long serving members of the Ethics Commission, praising them for all their untiring service…20 years…think of the dedication and long suffering! Then he lamented that the current Ethics code had led to this grievous insult to these fine public servants from industry and charged David Yett with rewriting the code so that this doesn’t happen again (horrors!). He lectured the gallery about how it is necessary to have the input of “diverse interests” in all issues coming before the Council, and they must continue to have it.

    Then he said that the current committee will be asked to serve through two more ethics violation cases that Jim has filed against Scarth and Jordan, and then they will be replaced. (Fire ‘em! They screwed up.)

    Then the meeting was adjourned for lunch.




  6.  
    Greg

    How sad… there are some decent people on that council (I’m pretty sure) and they are being associated with and run by a highly corrupt mayor. After a good cleaning maybe we can get the stench of corruption out of City Hall. But we may need to relocate to the old post office instead. Some smells are just too persistent. Like cat urine.

    On the other hand, the comic aspect is difficult to ignore. So that’s my focus… until next year. Then, let the housecleaning begin!




  7.  

    I agree with Greg, but also think that we need to begin the process of replacing the city council NOW! I have never witnessed a more ignorant group of people assembled on one city council in my life! This specific ethics violation (substantial interest of the gas drilling members) is also a violation of state ethics code and therefore cannot be weakened by city ordinance without legal action from affected citizens.

    I’m glad we will have a new Ethics Review Committee that will be meeting in compliance with our ethics code, but get ready. The NEW and IMPROVED committee will be as lop-sided as the Air Quality Study committee.

    I hope the new ethics committee has a lot of free time, and they might look for a full time attorney because as long as we have this useless city council there will be loads of additional ethics complaints, AND if these three industry types attend any other meetings of the AQSC there will be additional complaints filed. Also, no matter what David Yett advised, there needs to be complaints filed against Danny Scarth, Jungus Jordan and the mayor for participating in this fiasco.




  8.  
    Lower_My_Taxes

    Greg says: “How sad… there are some decent people on that council (I’m pretty sure) and they are being associated with and run by a highly corrupt mayor.”

    Greg, the vote was unanimous. You’ve just insulted the city council members, implying that they don’t have the intelligence and backbone to think for themselves and be their own persons, but rather some sort of Moncrief Mofia lapdogs who protect their political future by kowtowing to powers at be, making them certified card carrying members of the good ‘ole boy backslapping clique of wealthy elitists.

    Not trying to put words in your mouth, but surely that is not the case. Is it? They’re intelligent, have backbone, and can think for themselves, can’t they?

    It sounds like the council is saying, “We appointed them, if there’s any violation of ethics, it’s with us.”

    Agreed.

    It sounds like they’re also saying, “Tthat’s the way we’ve always done it, throughout all the committees, and that’s how other governments do it, so it must be a good thing.”

    Haha, WRONG. They made their own great argument for getting rid of all of them.

    And when they broke for lunch, I wonder if the lunch was paid for by the taxpayers…..appreciation for a job well done.




  9.  
    jeff.prince

    Here are a couple of other interesting things that (soon to be former) Ethics Review Committee member Rebecca Lucas had to say yesterday:

    On Moncrief saying that industry insiders are needed on the city’s many task forces and committees: “I don’t disagree with that but the argument is that they didn’t need to be voting members,” Lucas said. “They could have been advisers to the air quality committee and you would have the same amount of knowledge and expertise.”

    On the city officials’ statements that industry insiders have always served on city committees: “”When you always do something a certain way you get the feeling that it’s the right way to do it — and you’re not as circumspect as you should be.”

    On being thanked by Moncrief and then dumped from the committee: “Now I know how Archibald Cox feels,” she said, referring to the independent prosecutor who was dismissed by President Richard Nixon during Watergate.




  10.  
    Lower_My_Taxes

    It’s too bad that what ultimately happened to Nixon won’t happen to every member of the city council.

    But then some good ‘ole boy would probably come right behind and pardon them, then govern in the exact same way.




  11.  
    jimsplace

    I would like to add a little more information about what Carter Burdett said during the deliberation and discussion.

    Carter Burdett was reading from the Code of Ethics Ordinance. The section Burdett read was ” (2) A person does not have a substantial interest in a business entity if: b. The person has been designated by the city council to serve on such board.”

    So, according to Burdett they don’t have a conflict of interest.

    That would mean a substantial interest did not apply. Now, much of this case was based on the fact the employees had a substantial interest, which would be a conflict of interest.

    What Carter Burdett should have read from the Code of Ethics rules and he did not:

    “(2) A person does not have a substantial interest in a business entity if:
    b. The person has been designated by the city council to serve on such board; and
    c. The person receives no remuneration, either directly or indirectly, for his service on such board; and
    d. The primary nature of the business entity is either charitable, nonprofit or governmental.

    Mr Burdett testified and presented false information when he failed to read the entire section that included “AND” in each line, as all lines must be included in the interpretation.

    The important line he left out was D. The primary nature of the business entity is either charitable, nonprofit or governmental.

    The gas drilling Industry does not fall into any of those categories, as they are definitely a for-profit industry.

    Truth and ethics are highly overated in Fort Worth City Hall.




  12.  
    Lower_My_Taxes

    As far as I’m concerned, you are receiving at the very least, indirect renumeration if you work for a company that benefits from the decisions you are making. That’s revenue for your company, and greater job security for you via your livelihood. I don’t care if you’re the company custodian…you benefit. Same is true for a non-employee shareholder. Clearly, these voting members are in a position to help the companies they work for, and therefore benefit themselves.

    The decisions these council members are making will come back to haunt them when they run for higher office like Kay Granger and Wendy Davis did, especially if the anti-government, anti-corruption, anti-status quo mood of the country continues.

    We have good memories. They will be exposed for what they are doing. This isn’t the last they’ll hear of this.




  13.  
    Jaime Chimner

    When I read the first part of it I thought yeah, finally, local government stepping up but once again, wrong, Our local government in Lewiston, Michigan said since ‘we’ went to the media, tv stations, editorials and being pretty vocal about safe wells they said we weren’t allowed to talk at their meetings again. They even brought in the local sheriff.
    How sad. To the People of Fort Worth Bless you and know you are not alone.
    Northern Michigan-in the middle of 4 shales




  14.  
    Jeremiah

    What’s sad is that the air quality will not get any better because the comittee that is supposed to be keeping the standards of it are bias. Who knows, maybe Fort worth will get so rich from this drilling that they can commission everone a gas mask to keep from getting sick.





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