A political playground spat in the Texas town of Leander


No one in the the city of Leander, it seems, is quite ready to take that next step its new mayor talked about on election night in May.

Dragging the battered, bloody, two-year-old hulk of political acrimony through the streets one more time, the City Council today is considering signing letters of censure and reprimand against former mayor John Cowman, the Austin American-Statesman reports.

On cue and in perfect character, Cowman has threatened to sue the city if those letters are approved, the newspaper says.

Remind us again what started all of this, something about ethics or something?

Well, yes, sort of. It really all began with two versions of what happened in 2010 at a city retreat in nearby Lakeway. Mayor Cowman told the press council member Chris Fielder had grabbed his throat. Fielder replied that it was the mayor’s collar he had been grabbing at and that no assault had taken place.

And although the American-Statesman reported that the two hugged and made up, Cowman in a city memo wrote that he regretted not filing charge “against a certain Councilman who demonstrated such a high degree of hatred upon me."

Over the next year, allegations that Cowman called on the city manager to instruct two council members on how to vote on a zoning issue and he misused a city vehicle, were taken to the Texas Rangers and the Williamson County district attorney.

None of the alleged violation has so far resulted in criminal charges. Desperate for some action, as we told you in April, the council took the allegations to the city’s Ethics Commission.

The commission in June recommended Cowman be censured for asking for and getting a $52 in mileage reimbursements for Capital Metro board meetings he drove to in a city vehicle.

Letters of reprimand should be issued to Cowman for the voting order and for using city property for his business and for campaigning, the commission decided.   

City property did not help the campaign. The one-time collar snatcher, Fielder, drubbed the former windpipe assault victim, Cowman, 53 to 30 percent in the mayoral election May 12. That night, Fielder called the result “a great next step for the city.”

The next step after that one, should the council decide to take it, is based on an ethics process that at no time gave Cowman the opportunity to address the allegations made against him, his lawyer said in a letter sent to the city.

Ethics Commission members were personal rather than professional in their assessment of wrongdoing. In all, the letter said the commission took  "a rambling, undisciplined, highly divided, and at times incoherent approach."

Which is just the sort of approach needed to bring on a lawsuit the city of Leander can fight its its taxpayers’ expense.

Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of money by flickr user nathangibbs, used via a Creative Commons license.