The city's Office of Inspector General is conducting an "initial inquiry" into allegations that Councilwoman Sue Lovell misused city property.
Filed earlier this month by a woman who asked us not to release her name, the complaint accuses Lovell of using her city computer to send a personal e-mail campaigning for council candidate Bolivar Fraga. Lovell stated in the August 3 e-mail to the GLBT Caucus that "I am asking you to help me in electing Bolivar Fraga to the...seat that I currently hold." The IP address traced back to a domain registered to the City of Houston, the woman alleges.
The OIG's August 22 response to the complaint states that "the case will be assigned and you will be contacted at a later date to provide additional information."
We tried asking Lovell about this e-mail over a week ago, but she never got back to us. Her chief of staff said he knew nothing about the e-mail. (Her chief of staff told us Lovell was at a funeral and could not reply immediately.) We don't know why, in the time since, it's been so difficult for Lovell or one of her staff to say whether or not the e-mail was sent on a city computer.
Although the complaint claims that Lovell's actions violated local, state and federal law, that's difficult to tell at this point. An attorney at the Texas Ethics Commission told us that this would strictly be a local matter.
The state election code addresses "unlawful use of public funds for political advertising," but the Commission lawyer told us this would not be considered political advertising. (Meanwhile, the state penal code addresses "abuse of official capacity," which includes the misuse of "government property, services, personnel, or any other thing of value belonging to the government that has come into the public servant's custody or possession by virtue of the public servant's office or employment." It's a Class A misdemeanor.)
Additionally, the city's code of ordinances prohibits city officials from using "the official's position or the city's facilities, equipment or supplies for the private gain or advantage of the official or others...."
Councilwoman Jolanda Jones was recently found by the OIG to have misused city property (among other violations) by using a city fax machine to send a document relating to her private law practice.
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We have no idea if this will go anywhere, and an "initial inquiry" doesn't mean a full-blown investigation.
Moreover, it seems like a tremendous waste of time and resources to investigate whether an elected official sent a single personal e-mail from a city-owned computer; sorta like it seems like a tremendous waste of time and resources to see if an elected official used a city fax for personal reasons.