How Wilco Attorney Dee Hobbs can solve the Taylor district 1 City Council seat issue.
By Tom Mowdy
Sept 13, 2016, Taylor, TX. - What is the Taylor District 1 City Council seat issue?
Ms. Christine Lopez was elected to the Taylor City Council in May 2016. A complaint was filed with the Taylor City Attorney, Ted Hejl, that claims she violated the Taylor City Charter and, according to the complaint, Ms. Lopez must immediately forfeit and vacate the Council seat because she has a “substantial business entity conflict of interest.”
Taylor Councilwoman Christine Lopez
Section 4.2 of the Taylor City Charter establishes the qualifications, or prerequisites, for Taylor City Councilmembers. One of those qualifications is a limit on the level of business conflict of interest that is allowed for a City Councilmember.
To determine the level of conflict allowed, the City Charter is required by Texas law to defer to State law, Texas Government Code (TGC) Chapter 171, which governs conflict of interest.
TGC Chapter 171, defines a “substantial business entity conflict of interest” as owning 10% or more of a business or receiving income of more than $15,000, per year from doing business with the City.
In 2009, Ted Hejl ruled that Mayor Rod Hortenstine had to resign from the Taylor City Council because Hortenstine had a “substantial business entity conflict of interest.” The Taylor Press wrote an article on Mayor Hortenstine and the business he joined which prompted his forced resignation.
Ms. Lopez admits that according to Texas law, she has a “substantial business entity conflict of interest.” But, claims with an affidavit she can bypass the Elective Officer qualifications, or prerequisite, laws.
Under Section 10 of the Taylor City Charter, there is a provision that allows Councilmembers, and other City officials, to recuse themselves from any decisions involving conflicts of interest that do not rise to the “substantial business entity” level.
The Chapter 10 provision is used by Councilmembers who have non-substantial, or “common” conflicts of interest such as a close friend who does own a business. It is also used by other City officers, so it was not created specifically for use by a Councilmember.
Without question, if Ms. Lopez owned only 9% of the business and received less than $15,000 per year she could recuse herself from City business decisions involving her business using Section 10. But, she owns half the business and exceeds the income allowed by Texas Conflict of Interest law.
The issue is that Ms. Lopez wants to use the Charter Section 10 recusal process to “recuse” herself from the Elective Officer Qualifications required by Section 4.2 of the Taylor City Charter.
The Taylor City Attorney, Ted Hejl, and the County Attorney, Dee Hobbs, have both refused to document a legal position on the issue. The Taylor City Council is divided. Three lawyers, the Taylor City Attorney and two Councilmembers, seemed confused about the issue at the last Council meeting.
But, Ms. Christine Lopez can help solve the Taylor District 1 City Council seat issue and win the hearts of all those who have questions about the issue, no matter what the outcome.
Ms. Lopez can write and publish a public letter to the Williamson County Attorney, Dee Hobbs, and request he seek an immediate and detailed opinion response from the Texas Attorney General. She should ask for a clear and detailed response that will leave no doubt about the questions concerning the issues.
Williamson County Attorney Dee Hobbs
Ms. Lopez should specifically state that she wants to know if the requirements of the Taylor City Charter, Section 4.2 Elective Officer Qualifications, are “prerequisites” for councilmembers that can or cannot be waived or dismissed by a conflict of interest affidavit and using the Section 10 recusal procedure.
The Texas Attorney General (TAG) will only accept requests from specific elected public officials. The lowest level elected official that can request a TAG opinion is the County Attorney, Dee Hobbs.
If Ms. Lopez does write such a letter and make that request, she will show that she is dedicated to our Constitutions, Texas laws, the Taylor City Charter, and Taylor Ethics Ordinance 99.17.
The act of writing the request will set a public example and show courage and a willingness to follow our laws. Many voters will honor such an effort. We will be able to see if our government will behave responsibly and accountable to the citizens.
If the Attorney General fully addresses the issues and determines Ms. Lopez has not violated the “substantial business entity” conflict of interest prerequisite for a Taylor City Councilmember, then she will be completely vindicated.
If the Attorney General fully addresses the issues and determines Ms. Lopez is in violation of the Taylor City Charter, she must forfeit and vacate the seat. However, she will do so with complete honor and grace. She will have set a sterling example of civic responsibility that every citizen must admire.
If Ms. Lopez does write such a letter and make such a request, then Wilco County Attorney, Dee Hobbs must prove the value and quality of his sworn dedication to uphold our Constitution, State laws, City Charter, Taylor Ethics Ordinance 99.17, and the citizens of Taylor, Texas.
"Corruption in our courts and government will not be stopped by those at the top, they benefit too much. It can only be stopped from the bottom, by each voter becoming informed and holding city and county elected officials responsible.
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