In a 58-minute hearing Friday morning, the three-member Ethics Advisory preliminary panel voted to move to a full commission hearing on an ethics complaint filed against Council member Paul Ridley.
The complaint was filed by District 14 resident Kristin Scholer, who was removed from the Redistricting Commission by the City Council at the request of Ridley.
As previously reported by The Advocate, Scholer was appointed to the Redistricting Commission by Ridley’s predecessor, David Blewett. Scholer’s term on the commission expires when the work of re-drawing the Council boundaries are done. Ridley asked the City Council to dismiss Scholer under a charter provision that allows the Council to remove commission members if it is “in the interest of the public.” The Council voted 10-5 for dismissal, and Ridley appointed Norma Minnis.
The focus of the complaint is Scholer’s determination to prove she only received one email from Ridley asking for her resignation. She chose not to respond because she believed her experience in data analytics would be “impactful” to the commission. Also, to avoid the appearance of partisanship, the rules prohibit commission members from discussing “the work of the commission” with Council members. She said she feels she was following the rules. Ridley maintains he made “multiple attempts” to communicate with Scholer, and her non-response, along with his desire to make his own appointment, was a reason to remove her.
In the Ethics Advisory preliminary panel hearing, Scholer said she filed the complaint to “clear my name,” and she added that Ridley made “false claims” and his “dishonest statements damaged my character and defamed my reputation.” Resident Michelle Espinal spoke in favor of the complaint, citing her disappointing experience with Ridley as a board member of the Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center.
Former District 14 Council member Philip Kingston appeared on behalf of Ridley, who was in Houston attending a meeting of the Texas Municipal League. Kingston called the complaint “inadequate” because it “doesn’t properly identify any provision of Section 12(A) of the Ethics Code that has been violated.” He noted in Ridley’s written response to the complaint there is sworn testimony from Ridley and two staff members that a phone call was made to Scholer. He ended by calling the complaint “politically motivated” and said the commission should dismiss the complaint to “signal to other people that this is not what you do when you lose an election.”
The panel saw it Scholer’s way. In three separate votes, the panel voted there was “just cause” to move to a full commission hearing on the ethics charges against Ridley, specifically on three items under Section 12(A)-1.2(a) of the Ethics code.
Standards of behavior. City officials shall comply with the following standards of behavior:
(1) To conduct themselves and to operate with integrity and in a manner that merits the trust and support of the public.
(3) To treat others with respect, doing for and to others what the official would have done for and to him or her in similar circumstances.
(6) To carefully consider the public perception of personal and professional actions and the effect such actions could have, positively or negatively, on the city’s reputation both in the community and elsewhere.
Chairman Tim Powers and members Cassandra Hernandez and Raha Assadi voted unanimously on (1). Powers and Hernandez voted to move (3) and (6) to the full commission. Assadi voted no on those sections.
Once scheduled by the city secretary, the full seven member Ethics Advisory Commission will meet to take testimony regarding the complaint and determine if the complaint is valid. If upheld, they will decide on which sanctions to recommend to the City Council. There are a range of sanctions the commission could consider, including a simple letter of notification all the way to removal from office.
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