Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Code of Ethics: Curiouser and Curiouser

It's been a long time since we had to talk about Laura (Maczka) Jordan. Remember, Richardson's former mayor was convicted of bribery. Then she got her conviction thrown out. Now she waits a possible retrial. She is content running out the clock until the prosecution or the public lose interest. Or both. It could easily be ten years after she left office before her case is settled and justice is served. Or not. That's the legal system in America.

How about the legislative system? The City of Richardson has a Code of Ethics that utterly failed at either preventing the behavior that led to the mayor being tried for bribery. Or even in discovering the alleged criminal behavior after the fact. The City had a reason for that, a reason that didn't sit well with me. But the City, too, seems to be playing a long game, perhaps also hoping that the public eventually loses interest.

The City's Code of Ethics contains within it a requirement that it be reviewed by the City Council every two years. The 2016 "review" took less than 7 minutes. The council members asked no questions. The 2018 "review" was even shorter, taking less than 5 minutes. Again, no questions. (The City offered "one small change, very inconsequential.")

Now it's the 2020 Council's time. Again I ask, "Will Our Code of Ethics Be Strengthened?" Last year, I offered a long list of suggested changes in an article in "Richardson Living" ("Building Trust") but either no one at city hall read that, or their memories are short, or they really just aren't that interested in strengthening our code of ethics. Also, during the last municipal election campaign in 2019, all candidates were asked their opinions on the subject. Steve Mitchell declined to answer. Bob Dubey and Mark Solomon were satisfied with the status quo. Mayor Voelker said each council is obligated to "review and revise" our Code of Ethics. Janet DePuy, Kyle Kepner, and Ken Hutchenrider all said that a review was called for. Hutchenrider added that the review "should be conducted in open meetings with full transparency."

Based on all that, I expected...something. Certainly more than I heard Monday night. The 2020 "review" again took less than five minutes. The only input was not recommendations for changes to strengthen the Code of Ethics, but questions about how members of the council, boards and commissions, and the public at large would be informed of any changes to the Code of Ethics.

If the council itself didn't offer any changes, who did? Before the meeting, the city staff did review it and brought some proposed changes to the council. Mainly, the language was brought up to date to include the current collection of boards and commissions.

There was one intriguing change: "The city attorney has the same power to subpoena witnesses and the production of documents, books, records and other evidence as are given the City Council under the City Charter when acting pursuant to this subsection." Why I find this intriguing is because after the Mayor Maczka fiasco, the City said, in its own defense:

The City exercised the full extent of its power following existing law to conduct the investigation, which was specific to potential City and state ethics violations, finding none. As a non-criminal investigation, the independent investigator did not have subpoena powers and focused solely on alleged violations of specific City and state ethics laws based on the then-available evidence.
Source: The Wheel.

All this leaves me with all sorts of questions about subpoena power. The 2018 statement implied that the City did not have subpoena power in its 2015 investigation, but maybe I read too much into it. All it says, really, is that the "independent investigator" didn't have subpoena power. The 2020 change to the Code of Ethics looks like it'll be extending the City Council's own subpoena power to the City Attorney and any outside legal counsel hired by the City. So, did the City Council neglect to wield its own existing subpoena power in 2015? If so, why? IANAL, but 2020's change to the Code of Ethics makes the 2015 investigation curiouser and curiouser.

City Manager Dan Johnson says he's mindful that this is "a living document." More like DNA preserved in amber, not so much living as theoretically possible, at least in science fiction, to be extracted and used to recreate living dinosaurs. But because of the risk that carries with it, expect this "living document" to remain safely encased in amber, used more as a talisman to ward off public criticism than wielded as a weapon against corruption.

Oh, the City Council is also considering adopting a social media policy for council members and city officials. Call it Richardson's "Bimbo Policy" (aka, "Einen Veritablen Shitstorm"). Enough said.

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