Dallas City Council Candidate and Former Rawlings Aide Merten Beats Ethics Complaint
Sam Merten for District 9 via Facebook
CORRECTION: I mistakenly wrote that James Parker, who filed the ethics complaint against council candidate Sam Merten, said he wasn't told a hearing on his complaint was scheduled. He was, and the corrected sentence is marked in bold below.
The first ethics complaint to make it to a formal hearing in seven years is no more.
Sam Merten, erstwhile spokesman for the mayor and current seeker of Sheffie Kadane's District 9 Dallas City Council seat, did nothing wrong when he took a $10,000 check from his former boss Mike Rawlings' campaign fund, according to a unanimous city Ethics Advisory Commission.
The complaint was filed by District 9 resident and attorney James Parker, who documented a since-deleted Facebook conversation during which Merten said Rawlings gave him the money "for the extra hours I was putting in at City Hall."
If that were true, Merten would have violated city ethics regulations which prohibit outside compensation for work done for the city. Merten soon walked the statements back, however, telling Unfair Park that he'd taken the money as a reward from the mayor for the work Merten had put in on the DISD home rule initiative.
"[After the Dallas school district's home rule commission was convened] the mayor decided to, basically, pay me for all the work I'd done on the home rule initiative because that was not a city of Dallas initiative, but something that he'd asked me to participate in," Merten said.
The commission agreed with Merten.
"The overwhelming evidence that is in front of us right now is that the payment was made to him outside the scope of his employment, and that ends the inquiry for me," said Mickie Simpson Bragalone, the commission's vice chair, according to The Dallas Morning News.
Merten claimed validation from the process.
"The unanimous vote says a lot about this and the fact that the complainant didn't even show up says a lot about this," he said to the News.
Randy Skinner, the ethics commission's chair, also noted Parker's absence, but Parker said it was simply a matter of being a lawyer. He didn't get an advance notice of a court hearing he had to attend, so there was nothing he could do, he said.
"That's the nature of these things, there was no warning of it," Parker said.
Update 9:26 a.m.: Merten has provided us with a copy of a March 5 letter notifying Parker of the hearing date and time.