City of Georgetown

Council Member Berryman Expenses Detailed

Posted Tuesday November 9, 2010 4:36pm

Berryman Expenses Finally Detailed
in Response to Request and Complaint

After the Fact Compilation
Now Open to Public Scrutiny

Investigative Report by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Pat BerrymanGeorgetown Council Member Pat Berryman has at last provided a report of the expenses she claims to have incurred, and for which she was retroactively issued a payment of $13,600 by the City of Georgetown.

The 20-page report comes 10 months after Berryman was paid, a result of The Austin Bulldog’s open records request and subsequent complaints filed with several law enforcement agencies.

“The attached expense report is accurate to my recollection and has been verified by the research I have done with city staff, and my own records,” Berryman states in an October 15 cover letter.

“It was a difficult task because so much time has elapsed from this time period. I think it should be noted that the Georgetown City Council was not required by the city resolution to provide documentation of any kind. Therefore, it was not anticipated this would occur.

“None of the other council members have been or are being required to provide this in depth information regarding the reimbursement for expenses. I must say that it is unfair to be singled out in this manner.”

Berryman only state employee on council

The Austin Bulldog targeted Berryman because she was the only state employee serving on the council during the period covered by her $13,600 payment, July 2008 through December 2009. As a state employee, she was prohibited by Section 40(b) of the Texas Constitution from drawing a salary for service as an elected official. Berryman should prove her expenses are legitimate and not a means to circumvent the salary prohibition, according to opinions issued by the Texas Attorney General.

City Attorney’s Performance Evaluations

Posted Wednesday September 1, 2010 1:56pm
Updated Sunday September 5, 2010 1:15pm
City Attorney’s Performance
Evaluations Finally Made Public

But Questions Arise Concerning
Information Deleted from Evaluations

by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow was tenacious about trying to keep his performance evaluations from being released. The Austin Bulldog filed an open records request for copies of these evaluations on May 16, 2010.

Mark SokolowSokolow stated his case for withholding his evaluations in his May 28 letter to the Attorney General and, when he got a decision he didn’t like, he filed a lawsuit to contest the decision—without asking the City Council for permission.

He could have lost his job over this and, as reported by The Austin Bulldog on August 24, there was evidence that powerful Republican officials and ordinary citizens alike were fed up with the negative publicity being generated by Sokolow's actions and were calling for his dismissal.

Instead, the Georgetown City Council on August 24 voted 7-0 to direct him to drop the lawsuit and release his performance evaluations, minus information the Texas Attorney General ruled may be withheld for attorney-client privilege.

George GarverAfter the council meeting that night, Mayor George Garver told The Austin Bulldog that in the closed-door executive session, the council decided to devise a standard way of evaluating the performance of not only the city attorney but that of the city manager and city secretary, all of whom report directly to the council.

Tommy GonzalesOn August 25, Council Member Tommy Gonzales told The Austin Bulldog that the city lacks a good method of formally evaluating the work of these key city officials. “No expectations have been set, and no goals or objectives either,” he said. “We're trying to find the best way to protect Georgetown and be fair to all parties concerned.”

Deletions raise questions

The Austin Bulldog received Sokolow’s performance evaluations August 25, seven pages in all. Some of the information on every page has been redacted (blacked out).

Sokolow To Be Terminated?

Posted Tuesday August 24, 2010 1:24am
Updated 12:28pm
Updated 4:25pm
Georgetown City Attorney
Ready for the Firing Squad

Sokolow Increasingly Viewed
as a Problem to be Solved
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Mark SokolowThe Roman orator and philosopher Cicero once wrote, “The good of the people is the greatest law,” and that seems to be a guiding principle in how the Georgetown City Council deals with the fate of its chief legal counsel, City Attorney Mark Sokolow.

None of the four council members interviewed would speak on the record about how they intend to vote in tonight’s council meeting, and no one but the council members can decide whether Sokolow keeps or loses a job that pays $130,000 a year.

George GarverMayor George Garver cannot vote except to break a tie and says his focus for action this week has been to establish an orderly and discreet process for considering whether Sokolow goes or stays, and under what conditions.

Nevertheless there is a possibility that Sokolow will be terminated just over 10 months after he started work last October 19 with the responsibility to establish a new in-house legal staff.

Long Shot Lawsuit

Posted Thursday August 19, 2010 9:40pm
Georgetown City Attorney Sues to
Keep Performance Reviews Secret
by Ken Martin
© The Austin Bulldog 2010

Greg AbbottMark SokolowGeorgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow has sued Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott to contest a decision made by the Attorney General’s Open Records Division.

The lawsuit stems from an open records request filed by The Austin Bulldog on May 16 to obtain copies of Sokolow’s written performance evaluations that had been delivered to him by the Georgetown mayor and city council members during closed-door executive sessions.

The Attorney General’s open records decision, rendered in a letter dated August 3, states that the city may withhold a portion of the information in the performance evaluations that is protected by the attorney-client privilege. But, the letter states, “...we find you have failed to demonstrate the remaining information is protected by the attorney-client privilege...and it must be released.”

Sokolow filed the lawsuit, The City of Georgetown v. Greg Abbott, Attorney General of Texas in Travis County on Friday, August 13. The lawsuit requests that the court find that the remaining information in his performance evaluations is also protected and should be excepted from disclosure under the Texas Public Information Act.

Citizen Requests Investigation

Posted Thursday July 22, 2010 3:26pm
Georgetown Resident Files Complaint
with Travis County District Attorney

Complaint Names District Attorney,
City Attorney, and Council Member

by Ken Martin

On July 13, eight citizens told the Georgetown City Council they wanted an investigation into numerous matters reported by The Austin Bulldog and the Williamson County Sun.

As reported by The Austin Bulldog July 18, the matters of concern include a $13,600 payment made to Council Member Pat Berryman that was facilitated by City Attorney Mark Sokolow; Sokolow’s hiring as the city attorney involving a violation of the Open Meetings Act and working under a contract that was never legally executed; Sokolow’s violation of the Georgetown City Charter by hiring of an assistant city attorney without getting city council approval; and the city’s ongoing resistance to releasing public records requested by the media.

At that meeting, Georgetown Council Member Patty Eason’s motion for such an investigation was not even discussed by the council, because no other council member would second the motion.

John BradleyJohn Bradley, the Williamson County district attorney, looked into a request for an investigation—filed by The Austin Bulldog May 11—concerning the payment made to Council Member Berryman. Bradley dismissed the matter without prosecution, as reported by the Williamson County Sun July 18.

But, like the famous baseball player and manager Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

And one Georgetown citizen just can’t let it go.

Georgetown Citizens Want an Investigation

Posted Sunday July 18, 2010 7:54pm
Updated Tuesday July 20, 2010 4:08pm
Georgetown City Council Gets an
Earful from Concerned Citizens

by Ken Martin

Last Tuesday night’s meeting of the Georgetown City Council had its tense moments, as several motions died aborning, without even winning the second needed to open a discussion.

Patty EasonCouncil Member Patty Eason’s Agenda Item Q drew about a dozen citizens to the meeting:

“Discussion regarding public concerns relating to press reports about improprieties in the conduct of certain city business over which the Council exercises authority and for which Council is responsible.”

Early in the meeting, under action from the council’s executive session discussions, Eason offered a motion to direct city staff to hire independent counsel to research City Attorney Mark Sokolow’s employment agreement to determine its validity, who wrote the agreement, and the timeline and sequence of events leading up to its execution.

Eason’s motion would have further tasked the independent counsel to investigate the hiring of Assistant City Attorney Bridget Chapman.

Georgetown City Attorney Violates Charter

Posted Sunday July 11, 2010 2:54pm
Updated Monday July 12, 2010 12:12pm
City Attorney Sokolow Ignores City Charter,
Waives Requirement for Assistant
City Attorney to Have Municipal Experience

Is Hiring Council Member Pat
Berryman’s Friend That Important?

Investigative Report by Ken Martin

When it comes to hiring attorneys, the City of Georgetown just can’t seem to get it right.

First it violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in hiring City Attorney Mark Sokolow and failed to legally execute his contract.

Mark SokolowSokolow himself violated the Georgetown City Charter by hiring Assistant City Attorney Bridget Chapman without the City Council’s approval.

Section 5.06 of the Georgetown City Charter states that both the city attorney and assistant city attorney serve at the will of the council. The charter authorizes the city attorney to appoint his assistant but requires the City Council’s approval.

Chapman was hired effective April 19, 2010, at an annual salary of $76,907, according to the Personnel Action Form obtained by The Austin Bulldog through an open records request filed under the Texas Public Information Act.

City Attorney Sokolow did not respond to two messages left with his office on Friday, requesting an interview about this matter.

Mark Sokolow’s Competence in Question

Posted Monday June 14, 2010 7:01pm
Georgetown City Attorney's
Competence Called Into Question

His Contract Never Legally Executed,
His Support Nearly Nonexistent
Investigative Report by Ken Martin

Mark SokolowThe municipal legal career of Mark Sokolow has seen its ups and downs:

Up: In 1991, Sokolow was hired by the City of League City, Texas.

Down: In February 1996 he was fired as city attorney of League City; he returned the favor by suing the city.

Up: Despite getting canned by League City, he was hired the very next month as city attorney for the City of Port Arthur; a council member in Port Arthur when Sokolow was hired said the council wasn’t aware of what had happened in League City.

Down: Sokolow's lawsuit against League City was so flimsy it was dismissed without getting a trial.

Up: When Sokolow resigned last October to take the job of Georgetown’s city attorney, the Port Arthur city council handed him a hefty bonus.

Up: Sokolow was hired by the City of Georgetown and started work last October 19 for $125,000 a year.

Down: He is working for the City of Georgetown under a contract that was never legally executed.

Down: The Austin Bulldog reported on May 4 how Sokolow facilitated the illegal payment of $13,600 for Georgetown Council Member Pat Berryman last December.

Down: He screwed up a deal to buy property for city facilities, hacked off the school district and embarrassed the city he represents.

Up: After six months on the job the city council evaluated his performance and gave him a $5,000 raise.

Down: He has alienated numerous colleagues. Examples abound, as detailed below.

Down: City staff is rooting for his ouster, though they fear being fired if they speak up.

The defense rests: Sokolow declined to be interviewed for this story.

Hardball tactics blow up in his face
The city wanted to acquire land where it could build a new fire station, police station and storage yard. The most critical element was the new fire station, which was needed to meet response times on fire alarms on the west side of I-35.

The negotiation process for the targeted site had been underway for almost a year when Sokolow got involved. It had taken that long because of the necessity to coordinate the location of the city’s new fire station with an Emergency Services District, which provides fire protection outside the city limits. Settling the terms of a purchase agreement for the city’s tract was to be the final step in closing the deal.