By Chris Lane
By Jeff Balke
By Aaron Reiss
By Angelica Leicht
By Dianna Wray
By Aaron Reiss
By Camilo Smith
By Craig Malisow
Ice Cream ... and More
When John Peavy Jr. announced his resignation from City Council last week, he said he was quitting because he had been unable to sell his share of a city-franchised ice cream stand at Hobby Airport. Peavy, however, may have a lot more on his mind than that rather paltry conflict of interest. The at-large councilman -- whose resigna-tion won't take effect until a January special election to pick his replacement -- already has acknowledged taking a check for $500 from the undercover FBI agents posing as would-be investors in the city-subsidized downtown hotel project. Peavy had reported the contribution on a campaign finance disclosure, and after the FBI sting went public, said he would return the money. But The Insider has learned that the feds will try to prove that the councilman accepted another $2,000 or more in cash from the undercover agents -- after the February deadline for elected city officials to take contributions. Peavy did not respond to our specific request for comment on the FBI probe.
Meanwhile, City Attorney Gene Locke has given the councilmembers targeted in the FBI sting the go-ahead to take contributions for their legal defense -- but only if they have someone else handle the money. One of the targets, Councilman John Castillo, had asked the Texas Ethics Commission for an opinion on whether an elected city official "may accept contributions to a legal defense fund to pay expenses in connection with a federal investigation of and possible indictment for alleged official misconduct." Castillo wanted the commission to determine if the city law that bars councilmembers from accepting campaign contributions prior to 270 days before the next scheduled municipal election also applied to donations for a defense fund. (If so, that would mean councilmembers who might find themselves indicted couldn't take contributions to pay their lawyers until February of next year, by which time -- and we're speaking hypothetically here -- they might be guests of the federal penal system.)
In June, the Ethics Commission ruled there is no distinction between campaign and defense fund contributions. That seemed to settle the question, but Locke has since come up with an option that will allow Castillo and other councilmembers under investigation to register a legal defense committee with the Ethics Commission, so long as it is run by a third party and not by the official who would use the money. Locke also added a proviso requiring the councilmembers to report defense fund contributions on the annual personal financial disclosures they must file. But that means the public will have to wait until October to learn which interests are trying to curry favor with councilmembers by helping them pay for their lawyers (hypothetically speaking, of course).
Burge Purge Urged
Businessman and affirmative action critic Dave Wilson hung one big scalp on his belt last week, and now he's sharpening his knife with an eye toward bagging an even bigger one. It was Wilson whose complaint led the city's independent Ethics Committee to rule that the aforementioned John Peavy Jr. had a conflict of interest by continuing to operate as a city subcontractor at Hobby Airport. In the wake of Peavy's slow-motion resignation, Wilson is giving notice to Metro Chairman Billy Burge, who's overstayed his legally circumscribed tenure on the transit authority board by more than a year. Unless Burge tenders his "full, complete and unconditional resignation" by the end of this week, Wilson vows he'll go to court to force Commissioners Court to follow the law and appoint a replacement for the little big mayoral crony.
Criminal District Court Judge Joe Kegans is seriously ill with cancer and resting at home, but Harris County Republican Chairman Gary Polland isn't waiting for her seat to become vacant. To the dismay of some courthouse regulars, Polland is already mentioning assistant district attorney Julian Ramirez as a possible successor for Kegans. "Rather ghoulish," observes one well-connected GOP lawyer. "Highly inappropriate," adds a member of Kegans' court staff.
Polland, however, says his intentions have been misconstrued in the courthouse gossip mill. The criminal defense lawyer says he's not "promoting" Ramirez as a gubernatorially appointed successor for Kegans, but rather is preparing for the possibility that the county GOP executive committee might have to pick a nominee for a special election to fill Kegans' bench should it come open later this year. "I like Judge Kegans and hope she has a full recovery," says Polland, who, meanwhile, acknowledges that he considers Ramirez to be prime judicial material.