When the Dallas City Council finally passed its long-gestating ethics reform package in March, council member Philip Kingston was among those dissatisfied with the new rules because they weren't strong enough. On Friday, Kingston became the first council member rung up on the new rules.
The city's ethics advisory commission found that Kingston violated the new city ordinance when he filmed a campaign ad promoting an upcoming fundraiser at Urbano Cafe in his city hall office. The commission recommended to the Dallas City Council that Kingston be given a letter of reprimand, which comes with no other punishment.
Retired Dallas attorney Barry Jacobs filed the complaint. Jacobs isn't a big player in Dallas politics, but he donated $200 to Kingston's opponent, Matt Wood, during the City Council election in May. Like any citizen, Jacobs has the power under the city ordinance to file a complaint against any of Dallas' city officials. Kingston, he argued, violated the city's prohibition against using city facilities for campaign communications.
"Let's remember what he says in the video. That's right, he says 'I really need you to bring me a contribution,'" Jacobs said. "Not, 'I need you to bring the city of Dallas a contribution,' but, 'I need you to bring me a contribution.' The ad the City Council person used his office to make was for his personal gain."
Dallas attorney Sean Kelly represented Kingston at the hearing. He argued that because the ethics reforms are so poorly written, it's impossible to know what is and isn't permitted.
"This code section is brand new," Kelly said. "No City Council member has been brought up under this code section. It references the Texas elections commission, which does not exist."
He said it's a stretch to consider it unethical to film a Facebook video at a council member's desk.
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"Going forward, any council member will have to walk on eggshells to film any sort of campaign video anywhere in the city to make sure they do not show something that is a city facility or city personnel," Kelly said.
Kingston said he did not attend the hearing because of a planned out-of-town trip. He also declined to comment on the hearing Friday, saying it is still up to his colleagues on the City Council to make a final decision about the complaint.
John Rogers, the chair of the ethics commission, told Kelly that Kingston shouldn't have voted for the ethics reform ordinance if he had problems with the rules and the way they're written.
"It carries some weight with me that this ordinance was passed in March 2017 and became effective in July 2017," he said. "Mr. Kingston did, in fact, vote on this ordinance. If he had problems with the section [on campaign communications], he should've proposed an amendment to the section at that time."