WICHITA FALLS (KFDX/KJTL) — The city of Wichita Falls has released the city attorney’s report of the investigation into an alleged violation of the code of ethics by District Five Councilor Steve Jackson, an action his lawyer alleges is a violation of Jackson’s first amendment rights.
On July 31, Mayor Stephen Santellana filed a complaint with the city clerk against Jackson for making false statements verbally, in writing or on social media or via texts or emails regarding a city issue or use of city funds.
The alleged statements concerned the defeated May 2018 bond election for a new $77 million municipal government building. The plan was to build the complex between 3rd and 5th Streets and Scott and Ohio, which would have resulted in at least 16 businesses relocating or closing.
Even though the proposition failed, Jackson believes many city leaders still want to build a new facility, which is something his attorney said he shared with some of his constituents.
The report states that City Attorney Kinley Hegglund interviewed seven downtown business people who said Jackson spoke to them in July. It states all shared similar stories about Jackson telling them that the city wanted to take their property for a new police and fire station and pay them only pennies on the dollar. According to the report, Jackson told business owners that the mayor was trying to do this under the table and the city would use a loophole by using Certificates of Obligation to finance it.
The report quotes them saying Jackson told them the “backdoor deal” could happen between December 2019 or Spring 2020, and would include confiscating downtown properties on Indiana Avenue.
City Manager Darron Leiker and Assistant City Manager Paul Menzies were also interviewed by Hegglund. Both said the city has no plans to build a new city hall following the failed bond proposition. Menzies said the plan now is to renovate existing facilities. Leiker said the city’s focus has shifted to making critical improvements to Memorial Auditorium in phases, with the first phase being the structural stabilization. The report states the only project for which the city is considering issuing Certificates of Obligation is for the conference center portion of the convention center hotel planned for construction adjacent to MPEC.
Pat Hoffman, city property administrator, was also interviewed as part of the investigation. Hoffman said she had no knowledge of any plans to acquire land downtown. She said if the city was planning to acquire land downtown, she would be one of the first staff members involved because she would have to do a valuation and find out the ownership of the property.
In the report, Santellana said there are no under the table or backroom discussions regarding acquiring private downtown property.
Based on the interviews of city councilors and city staff, Hegglund said he found no evidence that would support the statements made by Jackson. He also found no evidence supporting the statement that the city has a plan to acquire or take any downtown property for any purpose.
Hegglund said Jackson did not respond to his offer to speak to him.
“I contacted Councilor Jackson and made myself available to talk to him,” Hegglund said. “I let him know that I would look at any evidence and talk to any witnesses he presented. Councilor Jackson did not respond to this office, and I have not talked to him about the facts of his complaint or investigation.”
Jackson has hired an attorney out of the Metroplex, Elizabeth Alvarez, who sent a response to the city on August 9. Alvarez said the first amendment protects Jackson’s comments, and the city’s attempt to restrict his speech due to political disagreement over the content is unacceptable.
The city council received the full report Wednesday morning and on Tuesday, August 20, the city council will have a hearing in open session on the complaint. If any action is taken by the city council, it will be done in open session as well. Possible action ranges from nothing at all, to a letter to Jackson specifying how to avoid repeating the violations, to the maximum of removal from the council, which requires five votes.
Alvarez said she will be present and if any action is taken to remove Jackson from office, they plan to take the case to federal court.