We're taking a closer look at how and why Lubbock City Council Members choose not to vote on specific issues.
It's commonly referred to as a recusal and is typically done in order to prevent conflicts of interest.
We started looking into the issue following our investigation into the North and East Lubbock Community Development Corporation. Councilwoman Latrelle Joy voted three times last year to fund the organization.
Previously, we asked if she thought there was a conflict, since her law firm represents the organization. She told us she did not believe so, but after requesting all of her recusals, we uncovered a potential double standard.
Shortly after Councilwoman Joy took office, back in May 2012, she recused herself from a vote involving City Bank.
The law is summarized in the recusal affidavit. It spells out business ownership or relationship conflicts that may be cause for recusal.
In June of 2012, council was considering an extension of the naming rights for City Bank Auditorium and Coliseum. According to an affidavit obtained through an open records request, Joy recused herself, not for any of the above-mentioned reasons, but in the "other" section she listed her law firm, Mullin Hoard and Brown, is counsel for the bank.
Joy also recused herself from a July vote involving Lubbock Trailer Sales, but the affidavit does not say why, and in December, she chose not to vote on an item involving Star Landscape, because, Joy stated, they "do my yard".
In 2013 it seems her attitude changed, first with votes to fund the North and East Lubbock Community Development Corporation (NELCDC). As we mentioned, she did not recuse herself on three votes to fund the organization in March, May and September, even though the organization budgets $40,000 a year for legal expenses with her law firm.
"Is there appearance of impropriety in your participating in the vote," we asked Joy during our NELCDC investigation back in March.
Joy said "I don't believe so; I don't believe so," at that time.
In September of 2013, Joy voted three times for board appointments to the Lubbock Reese Redevelopment Authority. Those votes are significant, because Joy's law firm is general counsel for the Reese Center, and has been its general counsel since 1997, under a contract secured by her law partner, David Langston, shortly after he went off the Reese Board where he served as chairman in 1995-1996.
Our investigation has revealed that between May of 2012, when Joy took office, and April 2014, Reese spent over $181,000 with her firm.
In February, Councilwoman Joy told us there is no legal conflict for her to vote on a matter that concerns her law firm's clients. However, legal conflict or not, she recused herself from the City Bank vote because her firm is its counsel.
Another vote also drew our attention. In November of 2013, Joy voted to remove Marc McDougal from the Electric Utility Board, citing - not a legal conflict - but her personal opinion about his actions.
"I know that there has been a legal opinion issued by the city attorney that Marc McDougal does not have a conflict on paper. However, I think there is more to consider than just whether or not there is a legal conflict. We have to look at how he has operated during the past years," Joy said during the November 2013 meeting.
So in this instance, Joy seems to see a conflict, even though the city attorney found no legal conflict.
During the same meeting, Joy voted in favor of appointing Jerry Bell to the EUB, who also serves as Chairman of the Reese Redevelopment Authority. And, as we mentioned earlier, Joy's law firm is the general counsel for Reese Center.
McDougal doesn't feel the vote had anything to do with a conflict of interest.
"They didn't kick me off that board because of conflicts; they kicked me off because I voted to fire Gary Zheng," McDougal said.
So we tried to ask Joy about her record. Why did she recuse herself in some instances and not others? And, what "past operations" should be considered beyond a legal conflict of interest?
Joy did not return our requests for interviews, and, when we caught up with her at the last city council meeting, she said it was not a good time.
When we talked with Councilwoman Joy by phone trying to arrange an interview to ask her about these inconsistencies, she told us that a "smart person" ought to be able to figure out the difference.
While there was no controversy over the City Bank naming rights, appropriating money and appointments to boards and commissions are two of the most significant ways that the city council exercises its power.
This is an ongoing investigation. We have also requested recusals by other council members to check their records.
For more on the law, visit https://www.texasattorneygeneral.gov/AG_Publications/pdfs/conflict_easy.pdf
To see the conflicts disclosure documents, visit http://www.mylubbock.us/departmental-websites/departments/city-secretary/conflicts-disclosure
For more on this story, check out the Sandstorm Scholar blog post: Latrelle Joy: a tale of inconsistency and double-standards
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