Leander City Council accepts report, takes no additional action against former mayor

Leander City Council avoided potential legal action July 5 by not formally disciplining former Mayor John Cowman for alleged ethics violations.

By a 6-1 vote, the council accepted a June 13 Ethics Commission report but did not follow through on the committee's recommendations to issue two letters of reprimand and a letter of censure against Cowman, who is accused of using his city-issued cell phone and computer for personal use, requesting and receiving reimbursement money not owed to him, and submitting a memorandum that inappropriately directed city staff. The commission found no evidence supporting three other allegations.

Instead, the report will serve as letters of censure and reprimand, according to the motion made by Councilwoman Andrea Navarrette. Councilman Simon Garcia seconded the motion. Councilwoman Kirsten Lynch cast the lone dissenting vote.

The report is nothing more than a public record, Leander City Attorney Paige Saenz said, in much the same way a letter of reprimand or letter of censure would be. The decision would in no way affect Cowman's status as an elected official if he were still mayor, she said.

Cowman, who lost the May 12 election to Mayor Chris Fielder, attended the meeting but had no comment on the matter. Instead, his attorney, Eric J.R. Nichols, spoke on his behalf.

Nichols accused the discipline process of being flawed because there was no preliminary hearing before the Ethics Commission made its recommendations.

"The Ethics Commission ... acted outside its rules the city and this council set up many years ago for that commission," he said. "The analysis from our perspective is straightforward—if the city takes action outside the city's own rules that violates a person's rights, the city is then vulnerable to legal action."

In addition, Nichols said many of the things said about Cowman throughout the process were derogatory. Even members within the Ethics Commission, including Chairman Curtis Corley, were not pleased with the committee's decision, Nichols said.

"When the Ethics Commission chair [Corley] made his report, he described in his own personal view that things said about Mr. Cowman were nothing short of hateful and reflect the effort to run down this man who served this community well for many years," Nichols said. "The chairman of the Ethics Commission made heartfelt comments about how things said about Mr. Cowman do not reflect well on the city he has lived in and supported for decades."

Cowman does not take lightly his threats of legal action against the city, Nichols said, but he felt as if he had no choice. Nichols did not indicate plans to follow through on such legal threats because the City Council did not formally adopt the Ethics Commission's recommendations.

UPDATE (5:10 p.m. July 6): Nichols said it is he and his client's understanding that the city does not intend to take any further action regarding the complaints issued to the Ethics Commission.

At this time, no lawsuits have been filed, he said. Nichols said he also intends on reviewing the minutes from the July 5 City Council meeting and monitor any additional actions—if any—the city takes on the matter before considering taking legal action.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.


MOST RECENT

Rodeo stock image
Inaugural Williamson County Fair and Rodeo ready to open gates Oct. 21 after coronavirus delay

After the inaugural Williamson County Fair and Rodeo was postponed in 2020, county and fair officials said they are excited to kick off the agricultural celebration.

Renderings of the conceptual tower were shown depicting a roughly 100-foot tower, but the intent is to build a smaller tower. A total of $2.43 million was given as an estimated cost for a 100-foot gravity tower, but presenters said the cost would scale down with a smaller tower. (Courtesy city of Frisco)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Early concept for Frisco’s Northwest Community Park includes biking tower for ‘gravity riding’; Perky Beans Cafe now open in Leander, and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 20.

Eanes ISD relaxes in-person visitation rules. (Courtesy Pexels)
Eanes ISD easing restrictions on campus activities

Eanes ISD easing restrictions in time for Veterans Day celebrations

Want to know more about new businesses coming to the Katy area? Below you can find details on the five latest commercial projects filed in Katy. (Courtesy Canva)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Read the latest top news about restaurants, businesses and other commercial projects that are coming soon or now open

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 19.

Black Rock Coffee Bar's menu features Americanos, drip coffees, cold brews, specialty lattes, teas and smoothies. (Courtesy Black Rock Coffee Bar)
4 businesses coming to Cedar Park, Leander; Barton Springs Pool reopens and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Williamson County Commissioners hope to vote on a new county precinct map before the end of November. The redistricting process comes after the county saw an explosion of population growth from 2010-20, according to census numbers. (Community Impact Newspaper staff)
Officials look to make new Williamson County precinct map available to public in early November

Williamson County will redraw its commissioner precinct map after the county saw a 44% growth in population over the past decade.

Perky Beans Cafe is located next to the coffee shop at 2080 US 183, Ste. 220, Leander. (Courtesy Perky Beans Cafe)
Perky Beans Cafe open for breakfast, lunch in north Leander

The cafe menu includes pancakes, omelets, eggs Benedict, sandwiches, mimosas and more.

The new H-E-B store is located on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in north Leander. (Taylor Girtman/Community Impact Newspaper)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: New H-E-B in Leander opening soon; Texas Supreme Court grants rehearing for high-speed rail eminent domain case and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 18.

black rock coffee bar interior
4 businesses coming to Cedar Park, Leander

Check out four businesses coming soon to the area, including fitness studios, a coffee shop and a therapy center. 

The new H-E-B store is located on Ronald Reagan Boulevard in north Leander. (Taylor Girtman/Community Impact Newspaper)
New H-E-B in Leander opening soon

The store is scheduled to open Wednesday, Nov. 17.

The amended version of the planned development unit will now go to the Austin Planning Commission for review. (Rendering courtesy Austin Environmental Commission)
CI NATION ROUNDUP: Austin commission OKs development plan near Lady Bird Lake; shopping center coming to Porter and more top news

Take a look at the top five trending stories across all of Community Impact Newspaper’s coverage areas as of Oct. 15.