Law Enforcement Lobby Blocking Family Access to Info About Deceased Suspects
Court Guts Open Meetings Act
Legislation to open government records
County Attorney Asks City for Records
Georgetown Citizens Want an Investigation
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.
Council 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.
Council Member’s Pay Violates Texas Constitution
Pat Berryman, who is serving in her second term as a member of the Georgetown City Council, was paid a lump sum of $13,600 by the City of Georgetown in an apparent violation of the Texas Constitution.
The payment was requested by Berryman as reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.
The payment is reflected in a copy of Council Member Berryman’s city payroll record obtained from the City of Georgetown using the Texas Public Information Act.
During the entire period for which Berryman claimed reimbursement, she was a state employee working for State Senator Steve Ogden (R-Bryan), according to state payroll records obtained from the Secretary of the Texas Senate through an open records request.
Section 40(b) of the Texas Constitution prohibits a state employee who is a member of a governing body from drawing a salary. A state employee serving as a council member may be reimbursed for actual expenses but must prove that the expenses equal or exceed the amount reimbursed.
Council Member Berryman has not met that requirement.
In a December 15, 2009, e-mail to Georgetown City Attorney Mark Sokolow, Berryman requested reimbursement of expenses from July 2008 through December 2009.
The $13,600 she was paid represents 17 months at $800 a month.
Berryman’s e-mail to Sokolow lists 16 items, or types of expenses. The e-mail provides no indication of the amount of expenses incurred for any or all of these items. Berryman provided no receipts for the stated expenses.
According to the minutes of the Georgetown City Council Meeting of April 8, 2008, under Agenda Item T, the council voted 7-0 to approve a change to the compensation schedule for the mayor and council members.
The new schedule was based on recommendations of a compensation committee appointed by the council to study the matter.
The compensation schedule authorized:
• “Base compensation” of $450 a month for the mayor and $300 a month for each of the seven council members.
• An “optional stipend” of $800 a month for the mayor and council members.
The minutes of that council meeting do not fully explain the compensation, but the minutes specify—as the compensation committee recommended—that the mayor and council members “would not be required to explain their reason for accepting the stipend.”
To facilitate these payments, the city devised a form that provided boxes to be checked, to either accept or decline each form of compensation
A warning was printed on the form: