Ethics Ordinance Nears Completion

In the Denton City Council chambers Tuesday night, the dominant story was the upcoming ethics reform vote, stemming from a voter mandate per the referendum last November to bring Denton’s ethics code up to par with statewide standards.

Mr. Alan Bojorquez of the eponymous, Austin-based Bojorquez Law Firm, gave a presentation to the Council Tuesday night on the status of the reform. Mr. Bojorquez, as a municipal attorney, was charged by the Council to lead the commission in updating the city’s ethics code. Such reform has widespread implications for both city vendors and those who desire to lobby or gift the City Council and its members.

The presentation by Mr. Bojorquez outlined: 1) the goals of the commission, 2) the methodology for reaching said goals, and 3) the purpose of the entire reform. The goals, Mr. Bojorquez said, were to provide a code of ethics for Denton with “the best practices [and] clear guidelines.” He further explained that the methodology took into consideration both state law and samplings of ethics codes from eighteen other cities, as well as ten public hearings on the matter. Lastly, and most importantly, the purpose, or aim, of the reform was targeted at current and former city officials, as well as vendors — or those who hold contracts with the city.

As these measures could, if ratified by the Council, redefine and restrict the relationship between the Council, vendors, and gift-givers (namely in ensuring that gifts to councillors could not exceed a $600 dollar annual limit and that councillors could not use their position to expressly benefit their business or the business of others), there were several persons who expressed concerns following Mr. Bojorquez’s initial presentation.

A local hotel owner, a local attorney, and a member of the Denton Chamber of Commerce all lodged questions regarding the specifics of business/council relations and the wording of certain clauses in the ethics draft document, as well as the potential to use future ethics complaints as a weapon in slander.

Following the questions from citizens, Mr. Bojorquez sought to assuage concerns by maintaining that any ethics complaint would go through a multi-tiered process before such complaints went public, and that these reforms were only aimed at lobbying, gifts, and specific monetary transactions between entities and the Council.

Regarding the concerns about wording in the document, Mayor Watts and Mayor Pro Tem Bagheri maintained that corrections had been agreed upon in the prior Council work session. Following a string of questions by Councillor Gregory about a highly specific set of circumstances, Mr. Bojorquez was thanked for his time, and the vote for ratification was set for the next council meeting.

The ethics vote is scheduled to be held on April 17. The latest draft of the ethics ordinance can be viewed on the City of Denton website.

Curtis can be reached on Twitter @Curtis_Stratton.

Header image by Mateo Granados