Rowlett Resident Accuses City Council Member of Corruption | Dallas Observer

Conflict of Interest? Rowlett Resident Accuses City Council Member of Corruption

A Rowlett city council member voted to approve a zoning case earlier this year. A Rowlett resident says he should have recused himself from the vote.
Kellie McKee has been waiting months for someone to take up her complaints against a sitting city council member in Rowlett.
Kellie McKee has been waiting months for someone to take up her complaints against a sitting city council member in Rowlett. Blake Margolis
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Nobody seems to be listening to Rowlett resident Kellie McKee. She’s tried going to the local police. She’s tried going to the Dallas County District Attorney's Office. She’s even tried going to the Texas Rangers, but no one seems to want to take up her criminal complaint alleging corruption by a sitting Rowlett City Council member.

McKee claims that council member Mike Britton had a conflict of interest in a vote on a zoning case earlier this year. “Nobody wants to do anything with it,” McKee said, referring to her criminal complaint. “It’s a crime.”

The Rangers have directed McKee to the Rowlett Police Department, the Dallas County Sheriff’s Department, the Public Corruption Unit of the  Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, the Texas Attorney General’s office and the FBI.

McKee’s criminal complaint and subsequent city ethics complaint says that Britton’s daughter Julie Christine Britton Hedgecock is married to Philip Cole Hedgecock, a senior pastor at the First Baptist Church Rowlett, which was seeking a zoning change.

The church was requesting the land be rezoned from a general office district to a planned development district that would allow for multifamily attached residential townhomes. The plan was for the church to sell the property to a development company called JH Design Build to construct 61 townhomes there.

During a presentation of the zoning case to the council on Jan. 16, developer Nick Patel of JH Design Build was asked whether the company had already purchased the church’s land, according to the complaints. Patel said the land had not been purchased yet and that the sale was “contingent on rezoning.”

“It’s a crime.” – Kellie McKee, Rowlett resident

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The complaints claim that Philip Hedgecock had a substantial interest in the church because he received more than 10% of his income from it. Because Britton’s daughter is married to Philip Hedgecock, he, too, had a substantial interest in the church, according to the complaints.

Britton did not disclose that interest in the church, nor did he recuse himself from the vote. Instead, he made a motion to approve the rezoning of the property. McKee claims that because Britton’s son-in-law is a senior pastor at the church, he had a conflict of interest when he voted on the case.

“Mr. Britton granted special consideration, treatment and advantage to [the First Baptist Church Rowlett] and Mr. Hedgecock,” McKee’s ethics complaint with the city reads. “Mr. Britton willfully and knowingly engaged in a dishonest act and a crime of moral turpitude in connection with his duties of office, which was prejudicial to the city.”

It is against Rowlett’s ethics code for council members to use their official position to secure special privileges or exemptions for themselves or others. It is also a violation to grant any special consideration, treatment or advantage to any person, business, organization or group beyond what is afforded to everyone else.

Britton did not respond to requests for comment. Now, the ethics complaint against him will go before the Rowlett City Council for review at a later date.

Rowlett City Council member Elise Bowers told the Observer that the matter should be looked into. “I certainly think that it should be investigated, and I look forward to hearing the results,” Bowers said.

We asked if she suspected anything unethical was happening when the city council took a vote on the rezoning case. She couldn’t say for sure, but said that before the vote Britton, Rowlett Mayor Blake Margolis and the city attorney had a brief discussion during a council recess. She doesn’t know what that discussion was about.

We called Mayor Margolis to see what he had to say. He was careful and wouldn’t give us a whole lot of information.

“I’m not going to be specific, so I’ll be vague,” he said when asked what was discussed during the council recess. “From time to time, there are moments when individual members of the council or the council collectively need to receive legal advice from the city attorney.”

If the whole council needs legal advice, it will go into executive session. “In this case, this was an individual which needed to receive legal advice, and it was my purview to move in that direction to recess so that an individual of counsel could receive legal advice, which was done,” Margolis said.

He wouldn’t say exactly what was said during this discussion or if Britton was asked to recuse himself. Asked if Britton should have recused himself from the vote, Margolis said it’s never a bad idea to recuse oneself even when there is just a perception of a conflict of interest.

“But I’m not going to say that one person should have or should not have,” Margolis said. “I’ll just say that it’s my personal practice that if there’s a perceived conflict of interest, it only benefits me and the community that I recuse myself and not leave questions about my intentions.”

The whole ordeal with her complaints has exhausted McKee.

“I’m tired of dealing with all this,” she said. “These people, they just do what they want to do." 
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