New Ethics Committee, Same Problems
A revamped Ethics Review Committee met today to pick up the pieces after a Mayor Mike Moncrief-led tsunami decimated the old committee (“Has Fort Worth Lost Its Moral Compass?” Sept. 22, 2010).
Moncrief wasn’t at today’s meeting but still cast a long shadow.
Three new ethics members — Norma Roby, Francisco Hernandez, and Robert Aldrich — were supposed to gather with two old members — Hortencia Laguna and Rebecca Lucas — and hear two ethics complaints.
Laguna and Lucas didn’t show. Both quit the committee after Moncrief called them on Aug. 19 and told them they were being replaced once these two existing complaints were heard.
Moncrief is “not sincere,” Laguna told the Weekly.
“They have no shame,” she said about the manner in which Moncrief and the city council dumped the old ethics members after they upheld a previous complaint that the city council didn’t agree with.
“I’d like to object to this meeting,” said Louis McBee, who had filed a complaint along with Jim Ashford, accusing two council members of voting on oil and gas issues involving companies in which they receive mineral royalties.
McBee said Laguna and Lucas had quit the committee weeks before, and both had informed the city of their actions. The city’s ethics code requires five members to serve on the committee and three votes to uphold a complaint. McBee and Ashford said their complaints would now unfairly require a unanimous agreement of the three members because the other two — who had upheld a previous complaint by Ashford — had been dismissed.
“I would like to object too,” Ashford said. “The proper procedure would be to have five members present.”
The method of replacing the old members, as prescribed by the city’s ethics code, was not followed, McBee said.
Ashford and McBee asked the panel to postpone the hearing, ask the city to follow the ethics code when appointing new members, and “let’s redo this mess,” he said.
“We need to go back to the drawing board,” Ashford said.
City attorney David Yett countered by saying the panel could hear the complaints because Laguna and Lucas were still considered members. Even though they were absent, a quorum was still present.
The city was well aware that the two old members had quit — both had submitted letters saying they would not continue. Nameplates for Laguna and Lucas weren’t even put on the conference table alongside the other members’ nameplates.
And here’s where Moncrief’s long shadow stretched through the door. The ethics panel decided that the two old members had neither resigned nor been dismissed. Seems Moncrief was out of line in personally calling and dismissing the old members.
“The mayor doesn’t really have the authority to do that,” Aldrich said.
So even though Laguna and Lucas weren’t there, and even if they quit as a direct result of Moncrief’s phone call to them, they were still considered active members.
“If the two other members don’t want to be here we can’t make them be here,” Hernandez said.
The three remaining members on the ethics panel denied the objections by McBee and Ashford and chose to continue with the meeting.
Next the two complaints were heard.
McBee had complained about city councilman Danny Scarth voting on gas drilling issues despite having a substantial interest in a mineral lease.
After much debate, the ethics committee decided to postpone a decision and hire an independent appraiser to determine the value of Scarth’s mineral holdings to see if they represent a substantial interest.
Ashford had filed complaint against Scarth and Jordan, saying they shouldn’t have voted on industry regulations.
The committee didn’t uphold Ashford’s complaint, saying the councilmen’s gas contracts with individual companies didn’t prevent them from voting on general, industry-wide decisions because the private companies weren’t directly involved.