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County Cmmsr Escobar: Special meeting to implement Ethics Commission

From the NPT Inbox:

August 21, 2009

Dear Friends,

I wanted to make sure you are aware of a very important community issue that the Court will discuss and take action on: implementation of the Ethics legislation. Please read this email, let us know what you think, and attend the special meeting if you can.

A Quick History

For the past year, the effort to create an ethics commission at the County has been underway. The idea started with our Board of Ethics; eventually, they brought forward language for legislation that came to Commissioners Court for approval (and was passed unanimously a total four times); the legislative request went through the legislature (with great work by our sponsors, Representative Marisa Marquez and co-sponsor Representative Chente Quintanilla, Senator Eliot Shapleigh and ultimately gained support of every member of our delegation including Reps. Joe Pickett, Norma Chavez and Joe Moody); finally, a bill authorizing us to create an ethics commission was signed by the Governor on June 19, 2009.

Quick Highlights

The bill that is now in the hands of the County allows us to create an Ethics Commission that will be able to apply consequences to those who violate our ethics code (our code already exists). Here’s what the bill would allow us to do:

El Paso County would be the first county in Texas to create an ethics commission that could assess civil penalties (fines of up to $4,000 for violations, fines of up to $500 for County public servants); criminal complaints would go to law enforcement;

County officials, County employees and agents, lobbyists and vendors who do business with the County would be covered under this legislation;

Numerous safeguards would protect whistleblowers AND the accused;

The cost for the county remains low by created a rotating three person committee to review and weed out frivolous complaints, and repeated frivolous complaints would bring consequences to complaining party;

This commission cannot interfere with an employee’s collective bargaining or civil service agreement.

The final version of the ethics bill is available for your review.

Share Your Opinions With Us!

Now that the legislation is in our hands, we have three options: (1) we can take no action; (2) we can adopt it by commissioners court vote; or (3) we ask the voters to decide whether we implement it in a November election.

In order to discuss and take action on these three options, the commissioners court will hold a special meeting. Between now and then, please let us hear from you! Do you have questions or concerns? Let me know, and I’d be happy to answer any questions you have. Do you favor an election or a vote of the court? Do you think we should do nothing?

My own personal opinion is that we need to implement this legislation immediately. However, there are benefits to an election. If the Court adopts the legislation, it can be undone by a subsequent court. If the voters decide and vote to have the County adopt the legislation, then only the voters can undo it.

This is a critical issue in our community. The state of Texas (its elected officials and its employees) have to follow state rules and answer to the state ethics commission; the City of El Paso (its elected officials and its employees) have to follow their rules and answer to their ethics commission; the County should also.

I look forward to hearing from you, and if you can attend our meeting, please do!

Veronica

SPECIAL MEETING
Implementation of Ethics Commission Legislation

DATE: Tuesday, September 1, 2009
TIME: 9:00 a.m.
PLACE: County Courthouse, Commissioner Courtroom, Suite 303 500 E. San Antonio, El Paso, TX 79901

CONTACT US

County Judge Anthony Cobos Phone (915) 546-2098 Fax (915) 543-3888 CountyJudge@epcounty.com

Commissioner Anna Perez, Pct. 1 Phone (915) 546-2014 Fax (915) 543-3885 Commissioner1@epcounty.com

Commissioner Veronica Escobar, Pct. 2 Phone (915) 546-2111 Fax (915) 543-3817 commissioner2@epcounty.com

Commissioner Willie Gandara Jr., Pct. 3 Phone (915) 546-2144 Fax (915) 543-3809 commissioner3@epcounty.com

Commissioner Dan Haggerty, Pct. 4 Phone (915) 546-2044 Fax (915) 543-3854 commissioner4@epcounty.com

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Written by newspapertreeelpaso

August 22, 2009 at 11:08 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I will not lie, cheat or steal, nor tolerate those who do.

    Sounds like the simple answer for ethics rules. Tie it to an honor court of randomly selected citizens when charges or accusations are brought forth. No appointed members

    Tim Collins

    August 23, 2009 at 6:33 pm

  2. 30 F. 3d 1115 The State argues that Lind similarly struck a bargain with the Commission when he filed a complaint knowing that, by doing so, he would be subject to section 11-216(d)’s confidentiality provisions. The State contends that he therefore imposed section 11-216(d)’s restrictions on himself, and like the newspaper in Cowles, cannot now complain that those restrictions violate his First Amendment rights…the interaction between Lind and the Commission cannot be characterized as a simple bargain in which Lind obtained use of the Commission’s investigatory machinery in exchange for his silence, it is not the function of government to promote speech it deems more valuable and to suppress speech it deems less valuable.

    JOURNAL COMPANY v. LINDA H. NEWTON, et al. UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT 723 F. Supp. 846 July 14, 1989

    PROCEDURAL POSTURE: Plaintiff activist filed a complaint with defendants, ethics commission’s members, about certain officials’ conduct and discussed the matter with plaintiff media. He and the media sued under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 and won a order restraining the commission’s enforcement of Gen. Laws § 36-14-5 and related rules and sought summary judgment that the confidentiality provisions were unconstitutional.

    OVERVIEW: The media published stories disclosing the activist’s claims of ethics breaches by public officials and sued under 42 U.S.C.S. § 1983 to enjoin enforcement of laws prohibiting those disclosures. After issuing a temporary restraining order, the court granted summary judgment. Finding that the commission and its members were “persons” for § 1983 purposes, the court ruled that Gen. Laws § 36-14-5 was unconstitutional and that the activist’s speech was protected as “political speech” under the First Amendment. Because the state was proposing to regulate the speech based on its content, the court subjected the statutes to the strictest scrutiny. It held that (1) none of the seven interests advanced by the state to justify the confidentiality requirements was compelling enough to justify enforcement of the confidentiality statutes against the activist, (2) it was impermissible for the state to inhibit otherwise constitutionally-protected speech by encasing it in a mechanism for investigating the speech’s veracity, and (3) there was no reasonable relationship between the activist’s speech and the state’s claimed interest in protecting its investigative process.

    OUTCOME: Accordingly, the summary judgment motion of the activist and the media was granted and the ethics commission’s members were permanently enjoined from enforcing the confidentiality requirements at issue against the officials in the commission’s proceedings.

    Carl Starr

    August 24, 2009 at 11:01 am


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