CM Jones Review Panel: No Council Action Needed, but OIG Investigation Kinda Lame

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The three-member review panel charged with deciding whether Houston City Councilwoman Jolanda Jones violated the city's ethics code found that she showed "extremely poor judgment" by including her council office number on a card advising people of their rights under the U.S. Constitution, and stated that some other violations alleged by the Office of Inspector General didn't even apply to elected officials.

In a statement of "findings" that only seemed to find how feeble the OIG's investigation was, Mayor Annise Parker and council members Sue Lovell and C.O. Bradford stated that "it is not in the best interest of the City to refer this matter to the full Council for action."

The panel noted its "concern regarding the lack of thoroughness in the underlying OIG investigation. The Panel found a number of instances where further substantiation or verification was needed, but not obtained, at least in the initial investigation."

Parker moved the city's Office of Inspector General from the Houston Police Department to the Office of the City Attorney; the current city attorney, David Feldman, is one of the architects of the new ethics code review process.

Although the OIG wrote that Jones violated parts of an executive order by being untruthful and uncooperative during the investigation, the panel wrote that "they are violations that an elected official cannot commit" because they "apply only to employees and appointed officials."

Moreover, according to the panel, "there is no evidence that [Jones] was untruthful in her statements to the OIG. The initial investigators questions were vague [sic]. Once given specific questions about alleged violations, [Jones] answered those questions." (The panel found that Jones's staff were uncooperative and delayed proceedings because Jones told them not to answer any questions until she received a copy of the complaint.)

As for other OIG allegations, the panel was unable to determine if Jones instructed any staff member to fax-file a court pleading for her private practice, and remained vague on whether a staff member who drove her to the courthouse was doing so on city time. The panel simply insisted that "a commingling of a private and public purpose cannot be tolerated."

Ultimately, according to the findings, the panel "requested that [Jones] provide a written statement that might serve as a basis for bringing this matter to a resolution." Per the findings, Jones has "engaged in or agreed to" remove her council office number from the "Know Your Rights With the Police" card, conduct additional ethics training for her staff, physically separate her business and council activities, and create a written record stating that any staff member who drives her to the courthouse is not doing so on city time.

In a statement to media, Jones claimed that "the accusations made against me have been baseless and defamatory from the start. I do not practice civil law and have never represented anyone in a police brutality case. It is always good judgment to inform the public of their legal rights and for that, I take full responsibility. As was finally acknowledged by the Review Panel today, this process allowed for multiple allegations against me to remain in the media and with the public, for which the OIG never had the authority to make. I am disappointed in a process that allowed for this sort of negligence to occur. I share the Review Panel's concern regarding a lack of thoroughness in the OIG investigatory processes and it is my hope that changes will be made to prevent further situations that result in nothing more than waste and injustice."

Jones will hold a press conference at 1 p.m. at the City Hall Annex.

We wonder why a three-member panel had to meet multiple times, in private, for something that could have been handled by e-mailing Jones a notice to take her phone number off a card. More importantly, we wonder how OIG investigators found that Jones committed violations that, per a policy written by the city's own freaking attorney, don't apply to council members.

Seriously -- and we're not being sarcastic here -- if anyone can tell us what this whole exercise actually achieved, and how it benefited the public, please, for the love of all things holy, let us know.


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12 comments
regent032
regent032

Mr. Malislow I agree that council member Jones didn't technically violate the law and yes, OIG should have done a better investigation, but you can't deny that Ms. Jones got off due to the fact that the rules concerning honesty and cooperation apply to cops, firefighters, secretaries, people who drive around the carts around Hermann park and empty the trash cans and everyone else who has taken the civil service exam, but they DON'T apply to elected officials.  Your writing about her like she's a victim of a McCarthy era red scare instead of someone that got off on a technicality. You seem to want us to believe she is a civil libertarian who was only out to defend the rights of the little people, instead of a council member who was at a city function drumming up business by handing out a flyer for her law firm that repeats legal advise from Jay Z lyrics and came close to telling citizens of Houston that "Snitches get stitches". I can agree that misuse of the fax machine and having someone give you a ride somewhere seems trivial and something that i'm sure nearly every elected official has done, but do you really think the city should not have investigated the "know your rights" - "to hire me as lawyer:" issue? I have to wonder though, if the investigation is over, what will you write about next? How will you continue your campaign for Council member Jones' martyrdom? Good thing the election season is starting.  I look forward to your strident defense of council member Jones and your attacks on her opponents in the election.  Keep up the excellent journalism.

Guest
Guest

Ah, Craig, a variant on the old moral relativism argument, eh?  There are more important things, so why bother with this?  Everyone does some personal stuff out of their office, so why pick on Jones?Come to think of it, why are you spending time to even report on this, Craig?  Aren't there people in Houston who don't have enough food to eat this week, or a disabled vet who needs a wheelchair?  Why haven't you written an article on those topics?  Surely you agree that those are way more important than this.

Oh, nevermind.  You have the pen and buy the ink by the barrel. You get the final say on what should be a priority and what should not be.  And then you lash out and deploy your magnificent sarcastic powers towards all who disagree.

(Oh, and, right, I was seriously comparing Jones to Nixon.  That was the main thrust of my post.  And you slip in death row, too.  Nicely done.  You are a master of setting up your own strawmen, Craig.  Your editor must be so proud.)

Guest
Guest

You say --  "the panel was unable to determine if Jones instructed any staff member to fax-file a court pleading for her private practice,"Read the findings again, please.  Oddly, what you cite is stated with respect to item (b) about using the fax machine, BUT in item (c) about "improper use of city employees" they say clearly that "evidence found ... and subsequently corroborated ... staff, while on city time, notarized and fax-filed a pleading."

I don't get how they go both ways on the same event.  And who else would have instructed staff to make a fax filing?  Surely the staffer didn't do it just because he/she saw some paperwork lying around?  And why is personal business paperwork in the council office anyway?

Bottom line, it looks like Jones did these things but the final product -- agreed to and signed by her representative CM Clarence Bradford -- is a compromise to let her off and to avoid the trauma of a Council meeting.  She specifically agrees to separate her business and council duties, which everyone should do anyway.  That's an admission of guilt to me.  As the old Doonesbury cartoon said about Richard Nixon:  "Guilty, Guilty, Guilty."

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Actually, I think McCarthy's red scare was much better-planned, and certainly more successful in destroying careers and lives, and comparing his nationwide witch-hunt to this bargain-basement bickering is an insult to the distinguished fat alcoholic gentleman from Wisconsin.

And I'm with you on wondering why those particular elements of the ethics code wouldn't apply to public officials as well. It doesn't seem to make any sense.

Just for the record, I think the way Jones handled the whole "Know Your Rights" thing was bone-headed and inflammatory. The administration had every right to call her on it. But it just appears that, after all this time and effort, the OIG investigation hardly seemed worth it.

Thanks,Craig

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Guest -- I don't set the political agenda, I cover it. An investigation of a council member is a newsworthy topic; that the investigation appears to be largely idiotic is also an element. And while I understand your argument, I just want to point out that we do spend an incredible amount of time reporting on and writing "bigger" issues in our features. That's why this particular saga remained on the blog, delivered with a somewhat irreverent tone. If you haven't yet, I urge you to read the complete OIG report in order to get a better sense of the amount of time and resources the city devoted to this thing.

Anyway, all that said -- I do truly appreciate your comments, and I'm not being sarcastic about that; feedback is always welcome, even if it's critical.

Thanks,Craig

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

Hi Guest -- first, I just want to say the reference to that Doonesbury cartoon is spot-on: there is no question that telling a staff member to notarize and fax a document is such an egregious violation of the public's trust that it is wholly reminiscent of Nixon's transgressions.

Actually, come to think of it, it's worse. I can't think of a worse thing a public official could do to disgrace his or her office than take a piece of paper related to their business practice and order a staff member to actually walk over to a fax machine, plunk it down, dial a number, and hit send. Frankly, I don't think enough man-hours were spent investigating this breach of civic ethics and documenting the collateral damage? I've been racking my brain for the last few hours, trying to think if there's anything more important facing the city right now that would demand more attention from the mayor and two council members, and I came up with nothing. There has simply been no more important issue in the last six months than whether Jones ordered (probably upon penalty of death) a meek staffer to fax something. And I dare anyone to show me anything more important.

OK, now to address your other point -- yes, it does seem like a feat of semantic acrobatics, does it not? My interpretation was that (b) refers strictly to misuse of resources, while (c) pertains to misuse of city employees. But both pertain to the same actual event. And yes, any reasonable person would assume that this employee did not fax-file something without it being requested or ordered by Jones. But, regarding this whole process, we've entered a time-sucking vortex of reason and logic.

Bottom line: Jones got off way too easy for such an outrageous act. I don't know why she's not on death row.

Thanks,Craig

Craig Malisow
Craig Malisow

The report wasn't considered a public document until last week, unfortunately, and I just haven't had a chance to post it. Apologies.

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