Traditionally, a member of council is encouraged to abstain from voting if the subject at-hand creates a conflict of interest. The ordinance, passed by a vote of 4-3, amends the city's code of conduct, stating that any campaign contribution of more than $1,000 creates a conflict of interest for City Council members.
This applies to contributions made by individual donors as well as business entities that have a substantial financial interest in an issue. Contributors are expected to identify any such interests at the time of their donation, according to the ordinance. The definition of a substantial interest will follow the same language as what is outlined in the Texas Local Government Code for local public officials, the ordinance states.
There is no means of enforcement included in the ordinance, making it more of an "aspirational expectation" for the council rather than a mandate, City Attorney Paige Mims said.
The ordinance, which was cosponsored by council members Lily Bao and Rick Smith, went into effect as soon as it was approved and will apply to the upcoming council races in May. Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Ricciardelli and Council Member Shelby Williams also voted in support.
"It makes it clear, whether you are receiving or whether you are donating, the code of ethics is there, and there will be no ambiguity," Bao said.
Those who opposed the bill referenced its timing, which comes just over a month before the candidate filing window opens Jan. 13, as well as its unenforceable nature.
"I'm struggling with putting together an ordinance that will only restrict the council members and will not really affect anything else," Council Member Maria Tu said.
If council chooses to revisit the topic, a penalty could be applied to the ordinance via a separate vote or by city charter and citizen commission, Mims said. Smith encouraged council to support the ordinance as written.
The ordinance was introduced as part of council's preliminary open meeting. After discussions both within and outside of executive session, members voted on a motion introduced by Williams and seconded by Smith. Mayor Harry LaRosiliere, Mayor Pro Tem Kayci Prince and Tu dissented. Council member Rick Grady was absent from the meeting.