Mayor asks for ethics opinion about City Currents
By Ken Fountain
In the most contentious business at the Monday meeting of the West University Place City Council , Mayor Susan Sample brought up complaints received from some residents about the content of recent issues of “City Currents,” the city’s official newsletter. Specifically, Sample said, the complaints referred to articles written by the mayor or council members that could be construed as violating Texas Ethics Commission rules regarding self-promotion or political advertising.
Mayor Pro Tem Bob Kelly, who has served on council at different times since the early 1990s, strongly voiced his objections and asked if it could be ascertained who had made the complaints and whether those people had any legal experience to back up what he called “accusations” against council members and the city itself.
Kelly, who wrote a piece in the fall 2016 issue of “City Currents,” pointed to previous examples of articles by council members that seemed to have the same issues, including ones written by himself and former Councilmember George Boehme (owner/publisher of West U Essentials and InstantNewsWestU.com).
Boehme, who was in the audience, objected to Kelly’s remarks, but added that in the cited article written by him, he did in fact unknowingly violate the Ethics Commission rules.
Sample said she wasn’t interested in a “witch hunt” for those who made the complaints, but instead wanted to make sure the city was not in violation of the rules.
In the end, the council voted 3-0 to seek an advisory ruling from the state ethics commission on the propriety of the articles in question. At the suggestion of City Manager Chris Pfeifer, whose staff approves the content of the newsletter, Petrov said he would write a document outlining the rules for such content.
In other business, the council took no action Monday on the suggestion of residents who live near the AT&T facility on Bellaire Boulevard that the city hire outside counsel in a dispute over an administrative order issued by the city last fall over certain uses of the facility.
Instead, the council members said they were satisfied that City Attorney Alan Petrov and his firm would satisfactorily represent the city’s interests in an upcoming hearing before the Zoning Board of Adjustment in which AT&T plans to challenge the order, which limits some of the activities at the facility, primarily in the large parking lot behind the building that faces residential areas.
Resident Robert Grossman, who first made the suggestion for private counsel during a meeting in December, spoke again to council to clarify that he hadn’t meant that the city hire an outside attorney to represent individual residents. Rather, he said, he wanted the city to hire an attorney to defend the city’s administrative order who could make sure that a ZBA ruling upholding the administrative order could withstand a challenge in state district court.
But the council members uniformly said there seemed to be little need for the city to hire an outside attorney, saying it was well-within the scope of the city attorney’s purview.
Petrov also said it would be “permissible” but unusual for the city to hire outside counsel for such a matter. The last time West University did so, he noted, was during the recent property swap matter involving the West University Baptist Church, in which the city itself was a party.