in Houston, Texas
Inspector general finds Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones violated ethics rules; Jones out of town and not commenting, her staff says
Thursday, Jun 09, 2011, 02:24PM CST
By Kevin Lee
Jolanda JonesJONES

Houston City Council member Jolanda Jones improperly used city staff and resources to aid her private law firm and interfered with a city investigation into the matter, according to a report by Houston Inspector General Robert A. Doguim and widely reported on today.

Jones was out of town and not available for comment Thursday morning, Jones’ deputy chief of staff Jack Valinski said.

The council member was found in violation of three ethics ordinances and three executive orders, according to the inspector general’s report dated June 2. Jones used city staff to transport her to and from court and ordered staff to redirect calls made to her council office to her law firm.

The inspector general’s office initiated the investigation after members of the Houston Police Officers’ Union raised concerns over a flyer -- titled “Know Your Rights With The Police” -- that Jones distributed at a town hall meeting in February. The flyer included phone numbers for both Jones’ law firm and her city council office, and its second bullet point advised: “Never speak with the police. You have a 5th Amendment right to remain silent.”

Mayor Annise Parker said the message was wrong and counterproductive, and an official with the police union said it would “foster an environment that puts officers on the street in danger,” according to the Houston Chronicle.

Jones, a criminal defense lawyer, said the card is a quick legal reference to remind people of their Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, not a call to refuse to cooperate with police. She said she has passed out a version of the card for years, even before her election to the council in 2007.


The report indicated Jones interfered the investigation “by instructing her staff not to meet with the OIG investigator” and to ignore investigators’ phone calls and emails. The report also alleges Jones did not tell investigators the truth.

The investigation revealed that CM Jones was untruthful in her sworn statement when she denied using City resources and employees to aid in the furtherance of her personal law practice and when she denied instructing, directing and/or encouraging her staff to postpone, cancel or delay meeting with the OIG investigator.


City Attorney David Feldman told the Houston Chronicle he doesn’t know whether the city would pursue the matter further.

"Violations ... under the current code of ordinances are Class C misdemeanors, which would be technically subject to prosecution in our municipal courts, but that would be a matter of discretion on my part as the city attorney as to whether or not those are prosecuted," City Attorney David Feldman said, adding that he has not decided whether to pursue criminal charges.

Feldman also indicated to the Chronicle that the City Council could initiate a separate disciplinary procedure for Jones.

On Wednesday, the IG made its latest attempt to conduct a follow-up interview with Jones, but the council member deferred, citing the need to talk to an “advisor,” according to the IG report.

In a statement released to media Wednesday night, Jones said she holds herself to high ethical standards and would comment more after reviewing the report.

***
Contact Kevin Lee at 713-228-3733 or news@texaswatchdog.org.

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Photo of Houston City Hall by flickr user Jujutacular, used via a Creative Commons license.

Comments
City employee
Wednesday, 06/15/2011 - 12:40PM

Her actions are disturbing, especially when City of Houston employees are being forced to take 6 furlough days due to budget cuts - and she gets free rides!

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