Want to get elected but not be accountable?

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This story was updated at 3:54pm October 13, 2022, to provide links to statements filed after the deadline by candidates Ken Craig, Melonie House-Dixon, and Clinton Rarey. These were obtained through a second round of public information requests. Neither the text of the story nor the accompanying spreadsheet have been updated.

More than a third of candidates failed to file required personal financial reports that allow the public to monitor elected officials for possible conflicts of interest

Candidates running for mayor and city council are, in effect, seeking decision-making authority to oversee a City of Austin budget totaling $5 billion.

Click this image to download the Bulldog’s complete analysis of the candidates’ compliance with reporting on personal finances.

Yet 13 of those 34 candidates failed to file one or both of the reports required to shed light on their personal finances. (See accompanying spreadsheet, “Candidate Compliance with Reporting on Personal Finances.” Those missing reports are indicated by gray bars to show where the pertinent information has not been made available.)

It’s understandable that people don’t want to talk about sensitive personal information, like how much their job pays, how much money they have, and how they invest it. But guess what? If you want to be an elected official, you have entered the public arena and all those things are now public information. So get used to it.

Myrna Rios

In fact, there are criminal penalties for failing to disclose this information. (More about that later.) Ignorance should be no defense, because the Austin City Clerk Myrna Rios provided a Candidate Packet for the November 8th election that includes links to the forms and instructions for completing these financial statements.

“When a candidate files a CTA (Campaign Treasurer Appointment), we offer a hard copy packet or point them to the online version,” Rios said in a September 28th email.

In executing their duties in office, elected officials are required to withdraw from even discussing something in which they have a substantial interest and, per City Charter Section 2-7-64, they must disclose their conflict. By law, the public is entitled to know about the personal financial interests of the mayor and council members so they can observe and monitor how these officials conduct themselves.

To that end, elected officials and candidates are required to financial statements, one required by state law, the other by the Austin City Charter. (Details about the specific requirements are included in the last section of this story.)

The required statements cover a candidate or elected official’s sources of occupational income, stocks, bonds, mutual funds, other income, debts, interests in real estate and businesses, and much more.

Statements are public records and are required to be made accessible in the city clerk’s office during regular office hours. But these statements are not published on the City’s website. So, as part of The Austin Bulldog’s ongoing project to provide transparency and accountability, we filed multiple public information requests to obtain copies and are publishing them with this report.

To permit increased public scrutiny of these candidates, the 48 statements we obtained are published in alphabetic order and linked at the bottom of this article for easy access. However, 20 statements were missing by the deadlines.

What’s notable in these reports

Seven of the 34 candidates whose names will be on the ballot filed neither of the required reports. Six other candidates filed only one of the two required reports. It should be noted that one of these scofflaws who ignored the requirement to file these financial statements also failed to timely report his campaign finances. That person is mayoral candidate Gary S. Spellman.

The Austin Bulldog’s analysis of these statements, which total 515 pages, provided the following highlights:

Occupation—Two candidates are incumbent council members running for reelection. Six candidates are self-employed, two are teachers, two are retired, the rest work in a variety of occupations. (The occupations listed for candidates who did not file financial statements were taken from their ballot applications.)

Marital status—Fifteen candidates are married, A dozen are single and did not report having a domestic partner, which is defined as an individual who lives in the same household and shares common resources of life in a close, personal, intimate relationship with the candidate.

According to values assigned by the Travis Central Appraisal District, this home purchased in January 2022 by District 5 candidate Aaron Velazquez Webman is valued at $2,161,204. That makes it the most expensive home among all candidates who reported their personal finances.

Home—Seventeen candidates own their homes. Ten candidates are renters. The spreadsheet lists the 2022 market values for those homes, which the Bulldog obtained from online records published by the Travis Central Appraisal District. These values range from less than $309,000 to nearly $2.2 million. Four homes are valued at more than $1 million. Those are owned by mayoral candidates Spellman ($1,154,718) and Kirk Watson ($1,743,741), District 5 candidate Aaron Velazquez Webman ($2,161,204), and District 8 candidate Richard Smith ($1,348,169).

Webman actually bought his current homestead January 4, 2022, so he was not required to include that asset in his financial statements covering his activity in 2021. The Bulldog chose to include it because his previous homestead, a house he bought in May 2020 and still owns, is located in District 3. Had he not relocated he would not be eligible to run in District 5.

Wealth—Sixteen candidates have investments in either annuities, mutual funds, real estate (other than their homestead) and/or stocks. Eleven candidates reported having no investments.

Boards—Eleven candidates reported involvement in a board of directors, either for their company or with a community organization. Fifteen candidates reported no such participation.

Debt—Rules for completing the financial statements allow some debts to be reported within a range and not specific amounts. The figures shown on the Bulldog’s spreadsheet for each candidate’s debts were calculated by taking the mid-range figure, e.g., for a debt of more than $20,000 but less than $50,000, the debt included in the spreadsheet was listed as $35,000.

Seven candidates reported having no debts. Total debts for the others ranged from less than $8,800 to $6.9 million.

Ryan Joseph Alter

The eye-popping latter figure belongs to District 5 candidate Ryan Joseph Alter  (no relation to incumbent Council Member Alison Alter) and it’s more than 10 times the debt reported by any other candidate. Alter’s total debt of $6.9 million consists of a $500,000 home mortgage and a loan of $6.4 million from Capstone Capital Partners. On September 26th, Alter said via text message that the Capstone loan will finance construction of 18 townhomes to be built on vacant lots at 5912 and 5916 Harold Court in East Austin, “all of which are to be sold below the median price for Austin.” He said this project is a small business venture he’s undertaken with his sister, Adrianna Moreno.

City Charter and state law requirements

Both PFS and SFI reports cover the filer’s financial activity in calendar year 2021. In addition, incumbents are required to update mid-year SFIs for any changes in financial activity during the first six months of 2022. Neither of the incumbents running for reelection filed updated reports this year.

Incumbent elected officials and candidates alike are required to file two reports, one to satisfy the Austin City Charter and the other to comply with state law. The content of these reports is similar but there are significant differences.

Personal Financial StatementsLocal Government Code Chapter 145 requires the mayor and council members of municipalities with a population of 100,000 or more to annually file Personal Financial Statements on Form PFS. Section 145.004 requires candidates for municipal offices to file these reports. The Austin City Clerk requires these reports to be filed electronically.

Section 145.009 of the Local Government Code states that a candidate who knowingly fails to file a financial statement commits a Class B misdemeanor.

The Austin Bulldog contested the redaction (blacking out) of any information from the Forms PFS that were initially supplied by the City in response to a public information request. Subsequently unredacted copies were obtained and those are published here.

Statement of Financial Information—The Austin City Charter Section 2-7-72 requires incumbent elected officials to file a Statement of Financial Information (SFI) in connection with rules for ethics and standards of conduct. Section 2-7-74 requires non-incumbent candidates do so. These reports, which must be signed under oath and subject to a penalty of perjury, include information not only about the incumbents and candidates but also about their spouses and domestic partners.

Austin City Charter Section 2-7-99 states that a violation of financial disclosure rules, which would include failure to file required reports, is a Class C misdemeanor punishable by a fine not to exceed $500.

Because different statutes apply to PFS and SFI, certain information is allowed to be redacted from SFIs.

Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful criminal prosecutions. His 2011 investigation of the Austin City Council’s open meetings violations triggered a 20-month investigation by the Travis County attorney that resulted in the mayor and council members signing deferred prosecution agreements to avoid being charged, tried, and if convicted serving one to six months in jail and forfeiting their elective offices. See more on Ken on the About page. Email [email protected].

Related documents:

Ryan Joseph Alter Personal PFS and SFI (21 pages)

Brian Anderson II PFS only (11 pages)

Stephanie Bazan SFI only (6 pages)

Anthony Bradshaw filed neither PFS nor SFI  (0 pages)

Phil Compero Brual filed neither PFS nor SFI (0 pages)

Ken Craig PFS and SFI (12 pages) both filed late

José Noé Elias SFI only (7 pages)

Paige Ellis PFS and SFI (10 pages)

Gavino Fernandez Jr. PFS and SFI (20 pages)

Linda Guerrero PFS and SFI (18 pages)

Natasha Harper-Madison PFS and SFI (11 pages)

Kimberly P. Hawkins filed neither PFS nor SFI (0 pages)

Melonie House-Dixon PFS and SFI (21 pages) SFI filed late

Celia Israel PFS and SFI (21 pages)

Ben Leffler PFS and SFI (13 pages)

Zena Mitchell filed neither PFS nor SFI (0 pages)

Kym Olson PFS and SFI (9 pages)

Zohaib “Zo” Qadri PFS and SFI (9 pages)

Misael D. Ramos PFS and SFI (13 pages)

Clinton Rarey PFS and SFI (7 pages) PFS filed late

Antonio D. Ross neither PFS nor SFI (0 pages)

Daniela Silva PFS and SFI (15 pages)

Greg Smith neither PFS nor SFI (0 pages)

Richard Smith PFS and SFI (33 pages)

Joah Spearman PFS and SFI (15 pages)

Gary S. Spellman SFI only (10 pages)

Jose Velasquez PFS and SFI (12 pages)

Jennifer Virden PFS and SFI (38 pages)

Tom Wald PFS and SFI (11 pages)

Kirk Watson PFS and SFI (100 pages)

Aaron Velazquez Webman PFS and SFI (13 pages)

Bill Welch PFS and SFI (19 pages)

Yvonne Weldon PFS and SFI (55 pages)

Esala Wueschner PFS and SFI (11 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Mayor and council candidates rake up $2.3 million, September 7, 2022

Urbanists vie to replace council member Kathie Tovo, August 30, 2022

Let the mayor and council campaigns begin, August 22, 2022

Delgado will not be on the District 3 ballot, August 18, 2022

Half the mayor and council candidates haven’t file for a place on the ballot, August 18, 2022

Cosmetic executive runs for mayor on message of unity, ‘cooperation’, August 18, 2022

D3 candidate Delgado disqualified but seeks reinstatement, August 12, 2022

Candidates have voting records too, August 11, 2022

An economically diverse City Council, June 14, 2015

Candidates rich and poor competing, September 30, 2014

Austin governed by the well-to-do, May 17, 2013

Some council members’ finances change significantly, August 21, 2012

Four council members err in latest financial statements, June 27, 2012

2 COMMENTS

  1. Thanks Anonymous for your questions. Good idea to file another public information request for any late filers. Any disciplinary action for non-filers would arise only if complaints are filed for consideration by the City’s Ethics Review Commission.

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