Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones used city employees to help run her personal law practice and instructed her staff not to meet with investigators looking into her alleged misconduct, the city’s inspector general has determined.
For three of the six findings, Jones could face misdemeanor criminal charges.
In a June 2 memorandum to Mayor Annise Parker, Inspector General Robert A. Doguim reported that Jones — who is seeking a third term for her at-large seat – violated a city ethics ordinance and the mayor’s executive order on internal investigations three times each. The activities involve the improper use of city resources and personnel as well as Jones’ lack of cooperation and truthfulness with the Office of Inspector General, the probe revealed.
The investigation stemmed from a complaint about Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, distributing “Know Your Rights With The Police” cards that advise residents never to speak with law enforcement. The handouts included phone numbers to her council office and law office. She has explained that she has distributed a version of the card since before her election in 2007.
But in interviews with Jones’ staff, the inspector general’s investigators found violations beyond the handout and determined that the councilwoman has used employees on city time to notarize documents for her law practice, fax legal papers and drive her to court hearings.
“I think it’s going to fall somewhere in the range of — depending on how the council member responds – some form of censure,” Parker said.
When asked if censure in the case of Jones was sufficient to deter other public officials from committing misdeeds, Parker said:
Just the fact that we’re having this public discussion is enough to impact any public official. It always causes us to pause and think about what we’re doing and examine our own behavior.
Whether or not Jones faces censure is up to her fellow Council members.
Several steps must be taken before the council can discipline a member.
First, a member must file a letter of complaint outlining alleged misconduct by another member. The mayor then would convene a three-person committee consisting of herself, the complaining member and a member appointed by the target of the complaint. That committee must vote to forward the complaint to the full city council.
So far, no one on the council has publicly indicated an intention to file a complaint that would start the process.
Councilman Mike Sullivan, chairman of the council’s Ethics and Governance Committee, said, “As disappointed as I am in how this has gone — and I think it’s a poor reflection on council – I am much more focused on issues at hand, such as the drainage fee problem that we’re dealing with, and will leave it up to another council member if they choose to move forward with a request.”
When asked if she thought Jones deserved to be disciplined, Councilwoman Wanda Adams said, “I don’t know because I’m not in that situation, so I’m really not commenting on the case right now.”
Councilman C.O. Bradford, a former Houston police chief, said he intends to review the Jones probe before commenting on possible action.
“I want to know the facts supporting the conclusions that were drawn in the summary,” Bradford said.
Jack Christie, who narrowly lost to Jones two years ago in an election in which he had the endorsement of four sitting council members, called on Jones to resign Thursday, and said he will run against her again if she does not.
Christie’s campaign manager told me he was indeed running and that a formal announcement was coming soon. You can read his press release here. I think it’s premature to talk about resignation – she is entitled to defend herself – but if Council censures her, she ought to give it serious consideration. Even if she survives that, she needs to think long and hard about whether she should run for that third term or not.
For her part, CM Jones released this statement, which you can see on her Facebook page:
“I have just received this report and will comment further once I have reviewed it. I hold myself and my staff to the highest ethical standards. I look forward to clearing up any misunderstandings with respect to this report as expeditiously as the process permits.”
None of this is good. I like CM Jones, but I don’t see how she can be an effective advocate for any of the things she’s passionate about now. I really hate to see it come to this, because I think CM Jones has a lot of talent and pays attention to things that too often get overlooked. If these charges are proven to be true, she will have no one to blame but herself. It’s just a shame.