Dallas City Council member Philip Kingston agreed Friday to pay the just more than $8,000 penalty assessed against him by the city's chief financial officer in July for missing too many meetings over the previous year. Although he paid, Kingston still disputes the decision and calls it a "witch hunt."
Dallas city ordinances require that city council members attend 90 percent of council and committee meetings for which they are not excused for being away on official city business. According to a memo sent to Kingston in July, former Dallas City Secretary Rosa Rios determined that Kingston missed 13.6 percent of meetings in the calendar year starting when the City Council's new term began last summer.
Rios sent her findings to Elizabeth Reich, the city's chief financial officer, who told Kingston to pay $8,160, or 13.6 percent of his $60,000 city salary.
Kingston believes Rios monitored his attendance — he'd been at several of the meetings in question but didn't sit in for the 50 percent threshold required to be marked present for the day, according to the secretary — at the behest of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings, a frequent political opponent.
Kingston says that since he helped derail Rawlings' plan to hand over the operations of Fair Park to a private entity headed by Walt Humann, the mayor has repeatedly tried to muddy the council member's political future. He says Rawlings' crusade started with the mayor's support for Kingston's opponent, Matt Wood, in this spring's City Council elections.
"What is his reaction? It's to try to drive me out of office by raising this huge super PAC [For Our Community] to spend money against me," Kingston says. "It didn't work, and I won, and a month later, the city secretary's office suddenly thinks I owe money back to the city."
Rawlings denied he had anything to do with Rios' tracking of Kingston's attendance.
"Nothing could be further from the truth, though the allegation doesn’t surprise me," Rawlings told the Dallas Observer on Sunday. "I’ve never requested the City Secretary’s Office penalize any of my fellow council members over attendance issues. The city secretary has long tracked attendance, and other council members have been asked to repay a portion of their salaries for missed meetings since long before I was mayor."
Rios responded in a July interview with The Dallas Morning News. "My office doesn't do witch hunts," she said. "We base our information on facts. ... I don't make my decisions for political purposes."
By agreeing to pay back the money, Kingston avoids a hearing before the city's ethics advisory commission that was initially scheduled for Monday.
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Kingston's decision to repay the money seems to end the second of two ethics complaints he's faced this year. In November, his City Council colleagues opted to give him an official reprimand after Barry Jacobs, a retired Dallas attorney, complained that Kingston filmed a campaign ad in his City Council office. Dallas officials are not allowed to use city property for campaign purposes.
After his experience with the ethics commission, Kingston decided to fork over the cash rather than risk another trip to the committee. "Because they've created this star chamber of an Ethics Advisory Commission, I just have to, under duress, agree to pay this money back rather than get dragged through this stupid tribunal again," Kingston says.
Kingston apologized for wasting his colleagues' time before the debated his sanction. "This is a stupid mistake, and I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you. I'll see you after lunch," he said Nov. 6 before recusing himself from the debate.
Kingston is the first member of the current City Council to run afoul of the attendance requirement, but he isn't the first in Dallas history. His predecessor in District 14, Angela Hunt, and former Mayor Pro Tem Don Hill also got in trouble for missing more than 10 percent of their assigned meetings in the '00s.