Coun­cil will re­im­burse 2 mem­bers in fight over col­league’s ethics claim

Austin American-Statesman - - METRO & STATE - By Andy Sevilla asevilla@ac­n­news­pa­ bas­tropad­ver­ Ethics

The Bas­trop City Coun­cil on Tues­day night ap­proved re­im­burs­ing al­most $7,000 to Coun­cil Mem­bers Deb­o­rah Jones and Gary Schiff for le­gal ex­penses they in­curred while de­fend­ing them­selves from ethics com­plaints filed against them by Coun­cil Mem­ber Kay McA­nally.

Last week, the Bas­trop Ethics Com­mis­sion cleared Jones and Schiff of any wrong­do­ing.

“It is my hope that your vot­ing to re­im­burse ( Jones’ and Schiff ’s) le­gal fees will send an im­por­tant mes­sage: If you are wrong­fully ac­cused in per­form­ing your du­ties for our cit­i­zens, the City Coun­cil will stand by you,” Bas­trop Mayor Ken Kes­selus told coun­cil mem­bers be­fore their 3-0 vote to re­im­burse Jones $3,576.42 and Schiff $3,362.50.

McA­nally filed ethics com­plaints in Oc­to­ber al­leg­ing Jones and Schiff dis­closed priv­i­leged and con­fi­den­tial in­for­ma­tion re­ceived dur­ing an ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion to a cou­ple be­ing sued by the city over a build­ing dis­pute, Rhonda and Scot­tie Van­diver.

In its find­ings March 23, the Bas­trop Ethics Com­mis­sion said that, based on an at­tor­ney gen­eral opin­ion and the city’s ethics or­di­nance, con­fi­den­tial gov­ern­ment in­for­ma­tion does not in­clude in­for­ma­tion ob­tained dur­ing an ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion.

“This de­fies com­mon sense but this is the mat­ter of law,” McA­nally said in a state­ment Wed­nes­day. “Bas­trop cit­i­zens need to be aware that un­der the rul­ing, an in­di­vid­ual coun­cil mem­ber can­not be pun­ished if they tell peo­ple what has gone on be­hind closed doors — even if it is hurt­ing the city.”

Re­buff­ing force­ful at­tempts by Kes­selus and Jones on Tues­day night to dis­cuss the mat­ter, McA­nally tried dur­ing the coun­cil meet­ing to ex­plain why she filed the com­plaints against Jones and Schiff.

McA­nally said that since join­ing the coun­cil eight years ago, ad­vice from city of­fi­cials and train­ing has been to keep in­for­ma­tion from ex­ec­u­tive ses­sions con­fi­den­tial.

“I un­der­stood that the rea­son the Texas Open Meet­ings Act al­lowed the City Coun­cil to go into ex­ec­u­tive ses­sion was to pro­tect the city and that tax­pay­ers be­cause the mat­ters dis­cussed would be detri­men­tal to the city and its tax­pay­ers if dis­closed pub­licly be­fore a fi­nal de­ci­sion were reached,” she said.

How­ever, Kes­selus, Jones

Kay McA­nally

Gary Schiff

Deb­o­rah Jones

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