San Marcos City Council Discusses Recommended Updates To San Marcos Code Of Ethics

Several council members expressed concerns regarding the definitions of lobbying and lobbyists and how it might deter residents from talking to their elected officials.

By, Terra Rivers, Managing Editor

On Tuesday, the San Marcos City Council discussed recommended updates to the city’s Code of Ethics during council’s work session.

Council members received a presentation from the city’s Ethics Review Commission; the updates include campaign contribution limitations and regulation and registration of lobbyists.

It also talked about reporting ethics violations and providing “remedial education” to city staff or officials who are found to have violated the ethics ordinance.

Several of the items discussed during the work session were items that council had requested in 2016 be brought back for further study.

William De Soto, the Ethics Review Commission’s out going chair, gave the presentation to council. De Soto said the recommendations were the collective work of the entire staff and that they had looked at ordinances from Austin and San Antonio.

The commission proposed limiting individuals from contributing more than $500 per election cycle to a city council or mayor candidate.

Several council members expressed concerns regarding the definitions of lobbying and lobbyists and how it might deter residents from talking to their elected officials.

In the proposed ethics ordinances, “individuals whose communications represent their own interests for their homestead, or family other than business, or other matters that do not involve possible personal financial benefit or detriment” is stated to be an exception to lobbying.

The proposed ordinance also states “Individuals who file a complaint or seek information or advice, regarding a matter that does not involve possible financial benefit to a business with which the individual is involved or whose interest the individual is representing are also exempted.”

The Ethics Review Commissions proposed to require city officials and staff to report ethics violations including city council. The proposed ordinance includes protections for “whistleblowers” who report those violations.

City Council Member Lisa Prewitt asked how employees or appointees to the council would be protected for whistleblowing.

Michael Cosentino, San Marcos City Attorney, said the recommendation doesn’t include any extra protections on that, but there is a Texas Statute that does apply and protects individuals who report, in good faith, a violation to the law to a law enforcement authority.

Cosentino continued to say that the term “law enforcement authority” had been construed by the Texas court system very narrowly; to him, it means reporting to the city manager or the ERC was insufficient to gain those protections.

Council member Prewitt said she supported the recommendation, but she also wants to take it a little bit father.

“[I want to] have that protection base for people because I think without that protection base people will be very concerned about whistleblowing,” Prewitt said.

Several council members said they would like the employment protection for an employee, who was reporting a violation, to be in writing.

Council Member Jane Hughson said if the city council were to pass the ordinance and make reporting ethics violations mandatory, the city would have to provide training to its employees and officials as well.

City Manager, Bert Lumbreras said he wanted to look at what the city was already doing, so City Council would have an idea of what was already in place.


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