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