CM Jones Review Panel: No Council Action Needed, but OIG Investigation Kinda Lame
The three-member review panel charged with deciding whether Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones violated the city's ethics code found that she showed "extremely poor judgment" by including her council office number on a card advising people of their rights under the U.S. Constitution, and stated that some other violations alleged by the Office of Inspector General didn't even apply to elected officials.
In a statement of "findings" that only seemed to find how feeble the OIG's investigation was, Mayor Annise Parker and council members Sue Lovell and C.O. Bradford stated that "it is not in the best interest of the City to refer this matter to the full Council for action."
The panel noted its "concern regarding the lack of thoroughness in the underlying OIG investigation. The Panel found a number of instances where further substantiation or verification was needed, but not obtained, at least in the initial investigation."
Parker moved the city's Office of Inspector General from the Houston Police Department to the Office of the City Attorney; the current city attorney, David Feldman, is one of the architects of the new ethics code review process.
Although the OIG wrote that Jones violated parts of an executive order by being untruthful and uncooperative during the investigation, the panel wrote that "they are violations that an elected official cannot commit" because they "apply only to employees and appointed officials."
Moreover, according to the panel, "there is no evidence that [Jones] was untruthful in her statements to the OIG. The initial investigators questions were vague [sic]. Once given specific questions about alleged violations, [Jones] answered those questions." (The panel found that Jones's staff were uncooperative and delayed proceedings because Jones told them not to answer any questions until she received a copy of the complaint.)
As for other OIG allegations, the panel was unable to determine if Jones instructed any staff member to fax-file a court pleading for her private practice, and remained vague on whether a staff member who drove her to the courthouse was doing so on city time. The panel simply insisted that "a commingling of a private and public purpose cannot be tolerated."
Ultimately, according to the findings, the panel "requested that [Jones] provide a written statement that might serve as a basis for bringing this matter to a resolution." Per the findings, Jones has "engaged in or agreed to" remove her council office number from the "Know Your Rights With the Police" card, conduct additional ethics training for her staff, physically separate her business and council activities, and create a written record stating that any staff member who drives her to the courthouse is not doing so on city time.
In a statement to media, Jones claimed that "the accusations made against me have been baseless and defamatory from the start. I do not practice civil law and have never represented anyone in a police brutality case. It is always good judgment to inform the public of their legal rights and for that, I take full responsibility. As was finally acknowledged by the Review Panel today, this process allowed for multiple allegations against me to remain in the media and with the public, for which the OIG never had the authority to make. I am disappointed in a process that allowed for this sort of negligence to occur. I share the Review Panel's concern regarding a lack of thoroughness in the OIG investigatory processes and it is my hope that changes will be made to prevent further situations that result in nothing more than waste and injustice."
Jones will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. at the City Hall Annex.
We wonder why a three-member panel had to meet multiple times, in private, for something that could have been handled by e-mailing Jones a notice to take her phone number off a card. More importantly, we wonder how OIG investigators found that Jones committed violations that, per a policy written by the city's own freaking attorney, don't apply to council members.
Seriously -- and we're not being sarcastic here -- if anyone can tell us what this whole exercise actually achieved, and how it benefited the public, please, for the love of all things holy, let us know.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss Houston Press' biggest stories.