Home City of Austin City Council Ward Didn’t File Financial Disclosure, a Possible Class B Misdemeanor

Ward Didn’t File Financial Disclosure, a Possible Class B Misdemeanor

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Story update: District 8 runoff candidate Frank Ward filed his two financial disclosures with the City Clerk’s office December 6, 2018. The Personal Financial Statement was was 97 days late (the deadline was September 10). The Statement of Financial Information was 111 days late (the deadline was August 27). These filings are now linked at the bottom of this story, along with the Certificate of Formation for Hat Creek Domain LLC, a business in which Ward’s PFS indicates he has an interest of less than $5,000.

District 8 runoff candidate Ward is 85 days overdue on Personal Financial Statement

Updated Friday December 7, 2018 10:23am to include links to the PFS and SFI documents Ward filed December 6, 2018

Frank Ward, in ball cap, in campaign photo from his website

District 8 candidate Frank Pelouze Ward III is going head to head with Paige Johanna Ellis in the December 11 runoff election to decide who succeeds incumbent Ellen Troxclair. She was elected in 2014 and opted not to seek reelection, then endorsed fellow Republican Ward to take over her job, as did the Travis County Republican Party.

Of the six runoff candidates on the December 11 ballot, only Ward failed to file the two financial disclosures. The Austin Bulldog discovered this in reviewing the City’s responses to multiple public information requests filed to gather key documents about this year’s candidates.

As of 12:45pm today, the City Clerk’s office stated that Ward still has not filed the two financial disclosures.

Failing to file a Personal Financial Statement (PFS) is serious. Local Government Code Section 145.009 states that a municipal officer or candidate for a municipal office commits an offense if the officer or candidate knowingly fails to file a financial statement, an offense classified as a Class B misdemeanor.

It is a defense to prosecution if he did not receive copies of the financial statement form required to be delivered to him. Section 145.002(1) defines “deliver” to mean “transmitting by mail, personal delivery, or e-mail or any other means of electronic transfer.”

Ward, however, was notified. On September 11 Elections Clerk Frances Aguilar emailed him and six other candidates that had not filed disclosures due September 10. That email included links to the appropriate forms. Yet in response Ward failed to file disclosures then and still has not done so.

City officials do not review financial disclosures for completeness or accuracy. Hence the need for The Austin Bulldog’s independent analysis of these filings.

Financial disclosures are public records but they are not published on the City’s website. They can only be obtained by filing public information requests.  Our investigations provide public access to documents otherwise hidden from view.

In keeping with The Austin Bulldog’s mission of ensuring transparency and holding officials accountable, since 2011 we have gathered, analyzed, and published City financial disclosure filings to provide greater transparency and facilitate public scrutiny of candidates and elected officials who otherwise might have conflicts of interest that would go undetected.

This report will address only the financial disclosures of District 8 runoff candidates Ward and Ellis. Similar reports for District 1 runoff candidates Natasha Harper-Madison and Marina Salazar are scheduled for publication December 5. District 3 runoff candidates Susana Renteria Almanza and Sabino “Pio” Renteria are scheduled for December 6.

Ward lagging in votes and money

Ellis led in the November 6 election with 30.5 percent of the votes and Ward netted 24.7 percent, trailing her by 2,389 votes. The other two District 8 candidates, Bobby Levinski and Rich DePalma, together drew 14,139 votes and both of them endorsed Ellis in the runoff, according to her website.

In addition to the advantage she has with endorsements from the losing candidates, Ellis, along with three other candidates in the runoffs, has been issued a check for $15,490 from the City’s Fair Campaign Fund. The others are Susana Almanza and Sabino Renteria in District 3 and Natasha Harper-Madison in District 1.

Ward’s latest campaign finance report filed December 3 shows he got $28,790 in contributions in the latest reporting period and had $20,653 in cash on hand.

Ellis’ campaign finance report filed the same day shows she raised $59,241 in contributions, of which $15,490 came from the Fair Campaign Fund, and she had $55,683 in cash on hand.

Among others, Ward was endorsed by the Austin Board of Realtors, Austin Firefighters Association, and Austin Police Association, organizations that historically have made large independent expenditures to back their chosen candidates. In the 2014 elections that established the 10-1 council, for example, their political action committees together laid out a combined $444,633 to boost or oppose selected candidates. (More about Ellis’ endorsements later.)

Early voting by personal appearance for the December 11 runoffs began November 29 and ends December 7.

Financial disclosure requirements

Jannette Goodall
Jannette Goodall

City Clerk Jannette Goodall is responsible for providing candidates with forms and instructions. To that end her office prepared a 360-page Candidate Packet (linked at the bottom of this story) for those who may run for mayor and City Council. The forms that candidates must use to file financial disclosures are provided in the packets. The packet is available in hard copy as well as a PDF.

Two disclosures are required:

The Statement of Financial Information (SFI) is required by Section 2-7-72 of the Austin City Code. The deadline for filing the SFI with the City Clerk’s Office was 4:45pm August 27, 2018.

The Personal Financial Statement (PFS) for local candidates and officials is required by Government Code Chapter 572. The Candidate Packet provides a link to a Texas Ethics Commission Instruction Guide for completing Form PFS. The deadline for filing a PFS with the City Clerk’s Office was September 10, 2018.

Ward’s omissions, errors, liability

The Austin Bulldog telephoned Ward November 29 to notify him that the City Clerk had no record of his two financial disclosures. He said he had filed an SFI in January per his responsibility as a member of the City’s Parks and Recreation Board.

The City Clerk’s office had overlooked that document when responding to our public information request. When The Austin Bulldog notified the clerk’s office that Ward had previously filed an SFI, a copy of it was provided immediately. However, the SFI form required of board and commission members,—which Ward filed electronically January 21, 2018—is not the same SFI form that candidates must file.

The Austin Bulldog’s copy of Ward’s SFI filed in January was redacted by the City to delete his home address and names of his three children. It lists his employer as the Mach 1 Group, a public affairs and strategic communications consulting company. The firm’s website indicates that he is a partner in the firm but he told The Austin Bulldog, “Our CEO owns the firm and pays my salary…and I don’t have an equity stake in the firm.” Ward’s LinkedIn page states that he’s been with the firm since July 2016.

Because the SFI he filed in January is not identical to the form included in the Candidate Packet, it does not provide all the information a candidate must report. For example, the form fails to provide a space to list the category of income. Contacted by phone December 3, Ward said his income from the Mach I Group falls into Category VI: $100,000. (Income in Category VI is reported to the nearest $100,000.)

Income and assets of spouses and domestic partners must also be reported. Ward responded to an email to say, “My wife, Marion, is a stay-at-home mom and community volunteer for organizations such as Meals on Wheels here in Central Texas. She has no income to report.”

Per City Code Section 2-7-73, where a monetary amount or value of income or an asset is required, the exact amount need not be reported. The SFI provides six categories for a range of different amounts.

Ward’s SFI lists a single property interest in real estate at a residence address that was redacted. Both his application for a place on the ballot and Travis Central Appraisal District (TCAD) records indicate the address is 10902 Medfield Court, which is in Circle C Ranch in the southern portion of District 8. The TCAD record indicates that Ward and his wife Marion bought the home August 6, 2015.

Ward’s SFI lists no loans, debts or other financial liabilities in excess of $5,000. If accurate, that would indicate he has no home mortgage. Contacted for clarification, Ward said he does have a home mortgage and failure to include that information “was an oversight on my part.”

Ward said he thought the SFI he had filed in January satisfied all requirements and he had not understood the other reporting requirement.

“I support your mission of transparency,” he said.

In a text message November 29, Ward said, “I’m also going to find out why I wasn’t alerted to it. When I filed all my paperwork to run, I confirmed at the time that I had filed the necessary paperwork and don’t recall being told anything else was to be submitted…otherwise, I would have filed additional paperwork at that time.”

His application for a place on the ballot was filed July 23, 2018, five weeks before the first financial disclosure would be due.

His statement, however, doesn’t take into account the Election Clerk’s September 11 email sent to non-filers. He has not responded to The Austin Bulldog’s email sent at 1:53pm December 3—whichincluded a copy of the Election Clerk’s email—to ask if he had received that email.

Penalties possible

Texas Penal Code Section 12.22 states, “An individual adjudged guilty of a Class B misdemeanor shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $2,000; confinement in jail for a time not to exceed 180 days; or both such fine and confinement.”

In addition to the criminal penalty for knowingly failing to file the PFS, Ward could be the subject of a sworn complaint filed with the City Clerk for consideration by the Ethics Review Commission, should anyone wish to do so.

Peter Einhorn
Peter Einhorn

Ethics Review Commission member Peter Einhorn, who has served since March 1, 2012, and previously chaired the Commission, told The Austin Bulldog that the maximum penalty that could result from complaints for violations within the Commission’s jurisdiction would be $500. And that only if the commission, after due process, found a violation serious enough to refer it to the Law Department for prosecution and the Law Department chose to try the case in Municipal Court.

“I don’t recall ever referring a violation to the Law Department,” Einhorn said, adding there is a range of other less severe options for sanctions.

Ward told The Austin Bulldog he will complete and file a PFS and a corrected SFI “as soon as possible.”

Longtime Republican voter

Ward’s voter registration records show that when he registered to vote in Travis County October 16, 2009, his address was in an apartment at 800 W. 38th St., an area in what is now District 9.

Since then he has voted in 15 elections, including eight Republican primaries and no Democratic primaries. He is assigned to Election Precinct 304.

Paige Ellis financial disclosures

Paige Ellis from campaign website
Paige Ellis from campaign website

Ward’s runoff opponent filed her SFI September 14, or 18 days after the August 27 deadline. She filed her PFS on the due date September 10.

Ellis’ financial disclosures indicate she works for ACI Consulting, an environmental consulting firm with offices in Austin and Denver. She lists her occupation as “marketing/public involvement” with a salary in Category III, at least $20,000 but less than $50,000. Her LinkedIn page states that she’s been with the company since July 2010.

Her byline appears on 16 short blog posts on topics including CodeNEXT, endangered species listings, and promotional pieces published on the company’s website from November 2015 to July 2018.

The SFI shows she owns shares in four mutual funds: American Funds EuroPacific, JH Hancock, Prudential, and Growth Fund of America.

The remainder of her financial disclosures are either blank or marked not applicable.

On her application for a place on the ballot, Ellis lists her residence address as an apartment at 2500 Walsh Tarlton Lane, which is in the northern part of District 8.

Longtime Democratic voter

Ellis was living at 8320-A Greenslope when she registered to vote in October 2008, an address in what is now District 10.

Since then she has voted in 18 elections including four Democratic primaries and no Republican primaries. She is assigned to Election Precinct 347.

Ellis endorsements, according to her campaign website, include Austin Central Labor Council, Austin-Travis County EMS, Texas Democratic Party, Travis County Democratic Party, The Austin Chronicle, and Workers Defense Action Fund. She was also endorsed by eight local Democratic clubs.

In addition, Mayor Steve Adler endorsed Ellis, as have City Council Members Greg Casar, Delia Garza, and Ann Kitchen.

Next: District 1 candidates Natasha Harper-Madison and Marina Salazar

Links:

Candidate Packet for General Election of November 6, 2018 (360 pages)

Hat Creek Domain LLC Certificate of Formation, May 25, 2016

Personal Financial Statement of Paige Johanna Ellis (6 pages)

Statement of Financial Information of Frank Pelouze Ward III (6 pages)

Personal Financial Statement of Frank Pelouze Ward III (not yet filed)

Personal Financial Statement of Frank Pelouze Ward III, December 6, 2018 (14 pages)

Statement of Financial Information of Frank Pelouze Ward III (January 3 pages, wrong form)

Personal Financial Statement of Frank Pelouze Ward III, December 6, 2018 (6 pages)

Related Bulldog coverage:

Mayor Moves to Downtown: Mid-year reports must show changes in ‘substantial interests’ for first half 2015, August 7, 2015

Candidates Rich and Poor Competing: Occupational income, investments, debts, real estate, business interests, and much more detailed in filings, September 30, 2014

Austin Governed by the Well-to-Do: November 2014 elections may deliver economic diversity in next city council, May 17, 2013

Some Council Members’ Finances Change Significantly: Mayor carries campaign debt, Riley adds domestic partner, Martinez adds investments, Cole reports spouse separately, and Tovo pays off $528,000 in real estate loans, August 22, 2012

How Rich Are Austin’s Mayor and Council Members? Most are pretty well off by local standards, with extensive holdings in real estate and investments, June 27, 2012

Council Member Martinez Reports Big Gains in Financial Assets: May have failed to report mayor investments in last annual report, August 17, 2011

Council Members Riley and Shade May Have Violated Austin City Code: Sworn financial statements give public tools to monitor their elected officials, June 3, 2011

Trust indicators:

Ken Martin has been covering local government and politics in the Austin area since 1981. See more on Ken on the About page.

Email [email protected].

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