In 2004, I was speaking on the phone with then-candidate Mike Aguirre. He was making a point about something going on in the city and he referred, like he always does, to the city charter. He stopped and asked if I had a copy with me of the charter. He said it held the key to everything. It adds perspective and guidance to all city issues.
I said no, I didn’t have a hard copy. After all, I could look it up online. He said I should go to the City Clerk’s Office and pay a couple of bucks for a bound copy.
I actually took his advice and still have the thing on my desk. It comes in handy on days like today.
Aguirre’s archrivals at the U-T editorial board just fashioned a bomb out of a passage in the document and dropped it on his lap. If it explodes, it could be devastating.
Now, will it explode?
In case you missed it, the paper found a provision that prohibits a city official from accepting “any donation or gratuity in money, or other thing of value” from one of his or her subordinates.
The paper found the contributions Aguirre’s top managers had made to his campaign and highlighted the salary raises each of those managers received. The charter calls for anyone guilty of violating this provision to forfeit their job.
I talked to Stacey Fulhorst, the executive director of the city’s Ethics Commission. She started by pointing out that the commission doesn’t have jurisdiction over the city charter and can’t interpret or enforce its provisions. The commission was built to enforce the ethics laws and campaign laws in the municipal code.
She said the commission did craft ethics laws for the city that prohibit candidates and city officials who run for office from soliciting donations from city employees. But the municipal code specifically does not prohibit city employees from donating to their bosses’ campaigns.
“The Ethics Commission did not propose an outright ban on campaign contributions from city employees to officials because the commission received legal advice that it would violate their First Amendment rights to give to candidates of their choice,” Fulhorst said.
So do we have a conflict between the city charter and the municipal code?
The last major one of these produced that epic fight about whether City Councilwoman Donna Frye properly should have been allowed to run as a write-in candidate.
You lawyers want to chime in?