Despite ethics violations, appointees keep positions on P&Z Commission

After a lengthy discussion Monday, the City Council took no action to remove four members of the Planning & Zoning Commission, who some believe have violated the Code of Ethics and Conduct.

Monday’s discussion was the second time the item has appeared on a Council agenda in recent months, and Mayor Michele “Mike” Murphy says that even though the Council took no action Monday, the discussion is not over.

“I asked them to take time to review the ethics code and look at it in relation to what they know about these members,” she told The Independent Tuesday.

Councilman Charles Canady, who brought the item to the Council’s attention Monday, said Planning & Zoning Commissioners Clyde Davis, Wes Griffin, Sammy Pruett and Patrick Harlow — all of whom were appointed by a unanimous vote of the Council in the fall — should be removed for violations of the Code of Conduct and Ethics.

Much of the discussion centered on whether the appointees should be free to express their views on issues that might run contrary to the views of the City Council and the policies of the City.

However, Canady suggested the  more serious violation of the code occurred when appointees took part in discussions and votes that could benefit them financially.

Canady noted that none of the four appointees have filed the required affidavits disclosing potential conflicts of interest. Yet, they continue to participate in discussions and votes that directly impact their businesses or financial interests. During those discussions, they have each revealed potential conflicts and those comments have been reported in the newspaper.

Councilman Jack Harkrider said that because the committee is advisory in nature and has no rule-making authority, declaring that information in writing is not important.

“They really have no voice except through recommendations. So I guess what I am saying is, I don’t see evidence of a cause for removal at this time,” Harkrider said.

Harkrider defended the idea that appointees are free to express their opinions, regardless of whether they contradict the will of the Council.

Since their appointments, all four members have publicly criticized members of the Council, the City Manager, and have been critical of city policies and ordinances.

“If we’re going to have a Code of Ethics, let’s have ‘em. If we’re not, then let’s everybody take a pen and let’s write in the papers every week, and let’s say at the council meetings every week what we want to about each other, about everything, about everybody. Why not? That’s what we’re saying here. It’s okay,” said Canady.

“The problem is that they’re asking for anarchy,” added Mayor Murphy. “They’re not asking for rules. They’re asking for no rules.”

Previously, Mayor Pro Tem Mike Crane offered to discuss the problems with each of the appointees in an attempt to encourage them to comply with the code. Mayor Murphy, who along with the City Manager, met with Griffin and Crane, asked Crane to report on his progress.

“I think we all agreed that he’ll (Griffin) probably disagree with some of the things that the city does, which I guess he is a community member, and that’s going to happen,” Crane said.

“That was my meeting, and what I got out of that meeting was that I would recommend him (Griffin) for immediate removal,” the Mayor said.

Crane said he had met with Davis, but did not discuss with him his revelation in December that he had an off-premise sign that is not in compliance with current city ordinances.

Davis is Chair of the Planning & Zoning Commission, which is currently working to re-write portions of the sign ordinance. Davis has recommended that off-premise signs be allowed.

Additionally, an email communication from Davis to certain members of the City Council was referenced during the meeting Monday.

Canady said delaying action on the removal of the commissioners would not change anything.

“Especially when you have Clyde Davis sending emails to council members, you know, threatening them,” he said.

The Mayor and each Council member acknowledged they had seen a copy of the email, but Crane and Councilman Byron Tippie quickly interjected “that one’s been addressed.”

“I don’t care what’s been addressed,” Canady said.

“The problem was that it worked,” said the Mayor.

“It did. It was very effective,” Canady added.

In Davis’ defense, Tippie said, “I don’t think it was him (Davis) that worked.”

After the meeting, the Mayor described the email from Davis as an attempt to intimidate members of the Council. “He told them to vote a certain way and they did what he said,” she said.

De La Rosa said the email was sent by Davis to Crane, Tippie and former Council member Lisa Kirk as well as a fourth person who he would not name.

Ten days after the date of the email, Mrs. Kirk resigned from the Council explaining she no longer had the time to serve.

De La Rosa said he was provided with a printed copy of the communication, but at the time it was requested by The Independent, he no longer had it in his possession. He said the email did not go through city email servers, thereby making it unavailable to the newspaper under the Texas Open Records Act.

“The email violates the Code of Ethics, without a doubt,” Mayor Murphy said, adding that she would place the issue on the next regular meeting agenda. “Mike Crane said the issue had been resolved, but I don’t agree that it has.”

“We have to have to tread very carefully when we remove somebody for what they say,” Harkrider said Monday. “Since they’re appointed and have no vote, basically, that would be us condemning private citizens in public.”

City Attorney Art Rodriguez corrected Harkrider’s suggestion that the Council could not remove appointees.

“I drafted the ordinance that established them (boards and commissions) specifically to provide the ability to remove without cause, and I’d have to go back and check the P&Z one, but I am pretty sure that’s there,” said Rodriguez. “You have the ability as a council, to remove an individual, or individuals for, or without a reason or cause.”

Rodriguez clarified that Canady’s motion to remove Davis, Griffin, Pruett and Harlow did not include an explanation of cause.

Davis, Griffin, Pruett and Harlow did not attend the meeting Monday.

In other business, the Council:

* Voted unanimously to approve the creation of a bank account for the Liberty Hill Water System Parity Bonds Construction Fund.

* Tabled an item to amend the fire code allowing outdoor burning of brush piles. De la Rosa indicated that due to the complexity of the code, he would like more time to thoroughly review the existing code.

* Took no action on the employment contract of De La Rosa after an almost hour-long executive session. The City Manager’s contract expires April 17.

* Voted unanimously to approve the engagement of Arbitrage Compliance Specialists to prepare certain IRS-required documents.

* Set the holiday schedule for 2012 allowing 13 holidays for city employees.

During the public comments portion of the meeting, the Council heard from Richard Marshall, president of the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association, regarding $1,800 the City says the association owes for water use at City Park. He called the City’s position on the waer situation “unreasonable” and asked that they consider the amount of volunteer work that has gone into the park.

Jim Dillon also spoke on the side of the association, adding that it was “typical of a government agency to want to take over” adding that they never anticipated these issues when the land was donated to the City.

The Council also heard from Della Hodgson, who asked that the City reconsider allowing a Canadian company to control the wastewater treatment plant.