West U City Council discusses reimbursement of legal fees

April 11, 2016

The West University City Council had a lengthy discussion regarding reimbursement of legal fees incurred by council members who were investigated by the Harris County District Attorney’s investigation into possible Open Meetings Act violations.

Council Member Bob Kelly, who kicked off the discussion, mentioned that it was discovered that there is a gap in the city’s insurance coverage between the levels of investigation as it regards to criminal actions and investigations of city council members.

West University’s insurance coverage relates to matters of an indictment being made on a city council member. The city’s insurance pays up to $10,000 in reimbursement fees, but only when there is an end result to the investigation.

Currently, the city’s insurance coverage begins when criminal charges are brought on against a city council member. Kelly’s suggestion is to close the gap and begin coverage during the investigation stage.

“I have no intent of asking the City of West University Place to reimburse me for consulting an attorney during the investigation stage,” said Kelly, who added that the investigation is over.

Mayor Susan Sample said she doesn’t have any information from the D.A. saying the investigation is close. She added that in speaking with the Assistant D.A. she was told that the investigation, “is not being pursued at this time.”

The mayor said that she’s done grand jury work and these type of investigations can open back up at anytime, “unless you have something in writing saying, ‘we will never prosecute this again’.”

West University City Attorney Alan Petrov, citing an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said that a council member under criminal investigation cannot vote on reimbursement payments of his own criminal defense fees or fees of other council members who are subject to the same investigation.

In the end, no action was taken on the discussion. Council member Brennan Reilly requested that city staff research if there is a type of insurance coverage to cover the gap between the levels of investigation.

If no insurance is available, Reilly suggested enacting a policy where, “if a city manager gets a request for reimbursement that they will hold that [request] and bring it to the next city council that is qualified to hear the request.”