Houston City Council ethics committee to review speech policies

Houston City Hall aerial view
After a recent Facebook comment controversy, Houston City Council's ethics committee will review its speech policies. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

After a recent Facebook comment controversy, Houston City Council's ethics committee will review its speech policies. (Courtesy Visit Houston)

In light of recent backlash against Facebook comments posted by Houston City Council Member Greg Travis, Council Member Letitia Plummer scheduled a Jan. 21 committee meeting to review the city’s speech policies.

Plummer, an at-large council member and chair of the council’s Ethics, Elections and Council Governance Committee, called for the meeting after members of the public, the NAACP of Houston and Black Lives Matter Houston called on Travis to resign or for council to censure him. The ethics committee meets on an as-needed basis rather than following a regular schedule.

The reprimand stemmed from a Dec. 29 Facebook post shared by Travis that compared former First Lady Michelle Obama to First Lady Melania Trump. In comments that have since been taken down, Travis questioned Obama’s intelligence and attributed her acceptance to Harvard University to affirmative action.

Travis also attributed former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s success to her husband’s presidency rather than to her own qualifications and alleged that Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris received her position by engaging in improper romantic relationships.

“It created an uproar in the Black community, and they felt it was time to voice opinions and demand accountability of an elected official,” said Plummer, who is Black. “Obviously, the emotions are high, so what I wanted to do was to see, ‘How does this look from a policy perspective? What are we able to say with respect to free speech?”


The meeting will serve as an opportunity to educate members of the public and of council on the city’s policies around council members' speech, Plummer said. A public comment portion at the end of the meeting will serve as an additional opportunity for residents to voice their opinions on the matter, she said.

“We’ve seen at the nation’s capitol what words can do to incite fear and destruction and what that responsibility means,” Plummer said, referring to the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.

Members of the city’s legal team and a separate ethics commission will review two city ordinances related to council member conduct. Plummer said reviewing the policies will refresh council members on appropriate conduct and serve as an opportunity to identify weaknesses in the ordinances.

If council members determine that Travis’s comments do violate city policy, Plummer said they will have the option to ask the ethics commission, which operates outside of City Council, to recommend disciplinary action.

“Regardless of what comes out of this meeting, we have to hold ourselves at a higher standard,” she said.

Travis, who represents areas of West Houston, has said previously that he stands by his comments.

“I don’t mind Democrats. I have a lot of friends who are Democrats, but I don’t like extreme liberalism,” Travis said. “[The comments] had nothing to do with race or gender or anything. They just had to do with extreme liberalism.”

The meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Jan. 21 and will be livestreamed on HTV.
By Emma Whalen
Emma is Community Impact Newspaper's Houston City Hall reporter. Previously, she covered public health, education and features for several Austin-area publications. A Boston native, she is a former student athlete and alumna of The University of Texas at Austin.


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