It seemed insignificant on the surface, just 11 little words on a piece of paper. But the sheesh hit the fan after Fort Worth city secretary Marty Hendrix posted the agenda for the Ethics Review Committee’s June 9 meeting. Listed among the agenda items: “Discussion and Review of Proposed Amendments to the City’s Ethics Code.”
It’s a public meeting, so people are welcome to attend and voice their opinion. But that’s not enough to soothe everyone in this era of Fort Worth politics, where the opinions of average citizens are often pooh-poohed, public information is sometimes hidden, and city leaders prefer behind-the scenes deal-making. Mayor Mike Moncrief resisted an Ethics Review Committee immediately after being sworn in as mayor eight years ago. Why? Well, Static’s guess is that elected officials who resist independent ethics committees generally have ethical problems they don’t want pointed out to the Great Unwashed (meaning you).
The June 9 agenda has some folks upset because they’ve seen how Moncrief has manipulated the committee, even going so far as to fire its members after they ruled against the natural gas industry in an ethics complaint last year. Then he replaced the members with his favorites, including friends such as Jim Lane (now in a runoff election to succeed Moncrief). The new ethics members reversed the decision by the old bunch, the gas industry came out on top, and Moncrief smiled like a Cheshire cat that had just eaten a bunch of mice (meaning you).
Now the ethics committee is planning to review possible amendments to the city’s ethics code — proposed by city staff — without previously including residents in the early discussions. Jim Ashford filed the ethics complaint last year against gas industry officials serving on a city air quality board, then watched as the panel’s decision was reversed and his complaint thrown out. He hadn’t heard about the proposed amendments slated for discussion this week.
“Despite ethics committee member Jim Lane’s request for interested individuals to be informed on these matters, it seems the city of Fort Worth leadership chooses to keep people in the dark as usual,” Ashford said. Lane has indeed promised repeatedly that if he is elected, city hall government will be more open.
Activist Louis McBee was even more vocal. “This is an outrage,” he said. “Now they are going to review changes in the ethics ordinance without any public hearings — and before a new mayor is installed?”
City spokesman Jason Lamers said the public is obviously being included — they have been invited to the meeting and will be given the chance to share their opinions.
“There is nothing that’s been set in stone with any changes,” he said. “There is going to be plenty of time for citizens to comment and discuss this.” The ethics committee won’t vote on the proposed amendments this week and will discuss them further — with more public input — in the future, Lamers said. The city council will eventually vote on them after even more public hearings.
City staff’s recommended changes to the ethics code involve the appellate process and the city council’s ability to appoint people to task forces. The changes appear to be intended to avoid future ethics complaints when special-interest representatives are appointed as voting members on task forces. Sound familiar?
It might convince city hall types to be more inclusive if the ethics panel meeting were attended by lots of passionate, bold, and articulate residents (meaning you?).