This story and headline have been updated to correctly describe the nature of Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer's sanction.
A five-member panel from Denton’s Board of Ethics ruled that Denton City Council member Paul Meltzer violated the city’s ethics ordinance when he voted on polling locations for the May 4 election.
While also citing problems with definitions in the ordinance as it pertains to conflicts of interests, the board elected to sanction Meltzer by issuing a “letter of reprimand” for what ethics board members described as a minor violation that Meltzer had knowingly and intentionally committed. The action is the strongest the board can take against a council member.
The board previously ruled that council member Deb Armintor violated the city’s conflict of interest provisions when she voted on the polling locations in March. The vote approved polling locations on the University of North Texas campus. Meltzer’s wife and Armintor are UNT employees.
Meltzer, who represented himself during the hearing, said during his opening statement that the Denton community needs to know whether elected officials are working for the public good rather than their own interests. Meltzer did not contest that his wife was employed by UNT, but said he did not have a financial interest or personal gain in a polling location on the UNT campus.
“Incidentally, no money even goes to UNT — from anybody — for serving as a polling place,” Meltzer said in his opening statement. “It’s purely a civic gesture that has no bearing on me or my family.”
Board member Ron Johnson, who brought forth the complaints against Armintor and Meltzer, said during his closing statement that he does not believe that Meltzer intended to act improperly, but rather that the fault in the matter lies in how conflicts of interest are structured in the city’s ethics ordinance.
“I know it needs to be rewritten,” Johnson said about the conflict of interest provisions in the city’s ethics ordinance. “I think everybody who had a hand whether formally or informally knows that it needs to be rewritten because how it is structured now is unworkable.”
Johnson, referencing a 2015 Denton City Council vote to ban hydraulic fracturing within city limits that was ultimately overruled by the Texas Legislature, said there are often times in government when things happen that do not always make sense but that regardless, they had to be done. While he acknowledged that provisions in the city’s ethics ordinance “do not make sense,” that it is up to City Council to change it.
Board members who voted to rule that Meltzer violated the city’s ethics ordinance included board chairman Lara Tomlin and members Deborah Cosimo, Don Cartwright and Rob Rayner. The lone member to vote in opposition was Charla Bradshaw.
Bradshaw, a Denton lawyer who was appointed to the Board of Ethics earlier this month, said she did not believe the burden of proof for conflicts of interest had been met because the ethics board’s advisory opinion was not mandated. In addition, she said Meltzer’s choice not to follow the board’s advisory opinion was based on who he represents, in reference to his constituents and status as an elected official.
During his closing statement, Meltzer said he has a duty to his constituents that he will vote when present at City Council unless there’s a good reason — especially where protecting the rights of voters is concerned.
“People died in this country for voting rights,” Meltzer said toward the conclusion of his remarks. “Why would they do that? Because they deserve representation.”