On Tuesday, the San Marcos City Council held a discussion regarding the use of the policy and purpose statements in Section 2.421 of the San Marcos Code of Ethics.
The council was slated to provide direction to staff on bringing forward an amendment to Section 2.421 of the San Marcos City Code to clearly state that the policy and purpose provisions in that section cannot be cited or used by a citizen or considered by the Ethics Review Commission as the basis of the ethics complaint.
On May 13, the Ethics Review Commission met and discussed a recommendation to the council to amend the code to disallow the section to be cited in an ethics violation complaint.
The commission provided the council with a redlined draft, which contained suggested wording to provide clarification in a new subsection (e).
(e) This Section 2.421 is intended only to set forth the policy and purposes for adoption of the San Marcos Code of Ethics; it shall not be cited, used, or considered by a citizen or by the Ethics Review Commission as the basis of an ethics complaint filed against any officer or employee of the city.
Councilmember Jocabed Marquez requested the item be brought forward for discussion.
“There is several reasons why I wanted this item on the agenda,” Marquez said. “Since I’ve been office, which is from Dec. 2018 till now, there have been three ethics complaints filed against me citing section 2.421 of the ethics code as the violation. It’s so broad almost anything an officer or an employee does even in their private life could somehow be interpreted as a violation of that section.”
Marquez said while the complaints have been dropped, she couldn’t begin to explain the stress they had caused her and her family.
According to Marquez, the complaints came with unintended consequences including the City of San Marcos spending $1,004 in attorney’s fees to advise the commission on a complaint.
During their meeting, the Ethics Review Commission members stated they had seen a number of complaints filed citing a violation of section 2.421; while most of the complaints had been dismissed, it had taken up a great deal of the commission and staffs’ time to review the complaints.
“I would like the council to consider an ordinance amendment to the ethics code to prevent misuse of ethics complaints and the ethics code to be utilized as a political weapon or to intimidate or embarrass city employees or council members,” Marquez said.
Michael Cosentino, City Attorney, said the ethics commission came to the conclusion for the amendment on their own after seeing the nature of the complaints that had been filed.
“I think the point was made at the meeting last week that really some of the complaints based on this purpose and policy statement really get into trying to call out council members for things that may not have anything to do with their performance of their duties as an elected official,” Cosentino said.
Cosentino continued that complaints are being filed for an individual merely endorsing or sharing their opinion of their preferred candidate for office and not remaining “impartial.”
“Things have gotten considerably out of hand on this,” Cosentino said. “This section is so broad almost anything could be deemed the basis of an ethics complaint.”
The council shared a consensus on having an ordinance brought back to amend the section and prevent individuals from citing it as the basis for a complaint.SMTX-Code-Ethics-From-Agenda-2020-May-19