Pearland City Council Member Alex Kamkar was reprimanded by City Council at a May 8 meeting for the unauthorized release of the semifinalist candidate list for the previously open city manager position.

What happened

On April 23, Kamkar used his private email to send a 107-page document including the names of the city manager candidate semifinalists to both the president and vice president of the Pearland Police Officers Association.

In response to the leak, council voted 6-0, with Kamkar abstaining, to reprimand Kamkar for the unauthorized release of the document.

Mayor Kevin Cole said it’s been the city’s policy to not release the identities of candidates to prevent jeopardizing their current employment.

Zooming in

The previous city manager, Clay Pearson, was fired in November following a discovery of a county tax worksheet error that left the city with a $10.3 million deficit and incorrect tax rates.

In February, the city posted an application on the Strategic Government Resources website showing it was open for candidates.

On April 24, council had narrowed the search down to two finalists: one internal candidate, interim City Manager Trent Epperson, and an undisclosed external candidate, Cole said. The mayor added there were five other semifinalist candidates, yet one withdrew, and council decided to not select the two other candidates.

Cole said a consultant from Strategic Government Resources, the city’s hiring partner, told him that someone had reached out to the Texas Municipal Police Officers Association on behalf of the Pearland Police Officers Association to run background checks on the candidates. Jon Albin, Pearland Police Officers Association vice president, said neither the Pearland Police Officers Association nor the Texas Municipal Police Officers Association perform background checks.

The mayor also said the consultant let him know the external candidate withdrew his application due to the list being leaked and because he had learned an internal candidate had applied for the role.

Kamkar defended his decision to release the list to the city’s police officers association members by saying he felt there was never confidentiality in the hiring process as several members of the community had encouraged him to support Epperson’s bid for the role, despite the candidates’ names being confidential.

Kamkar also said he was motivated by concern for Pearland police officers, saying the last city manager, in his opinion, had lied about wage increases for police, and that he wanted to ensure the candidates would support Pearland police officers.

Council Member Layni Cade said if Epperson himself shared publicly he was applying for the role, he had not broken confidentiality. Epperson told Community Impact at a March 23 Pearland ISD State of the District event he had applied for the role.

What they’re saying

“These actions altered the defined and agreed upon action plan from the city of Pearland, SGR and the remaining five candidates,” Council Member Jeffrey Barry said. “We could have affected the employment of these other candidates. We won’t even know the extent of what’s actually happened for weeks to come. So at the end of the day, the city of Pearland and the way that they conduct their actual business looks really bad for the public sector and the state of Texas. It’s a shame.”

Council Member Joseph Koza presented a study conducted by Pew Research Center that showed 65% of Americans felt political candidates do so to serve their own personal interests before addressing Kamkar, saying his decision to release the information proved the study to be true.

“In my wildest dreams, I don’t know why anyone would release this information except for self interest,” Koza said. “This release of confidential information has broken the trust of fellow council members, city staff involved in the process and the citizens of Pearland.”

In response to the comments from other council members, Kamkar defended his actions again saying he had released the information to the city’s police officers association to support Pearland police.

“I’ll take it as a badge of honor to be reprimanded by you,” Kamkar said. “If supporting police and wanting them to have a city manager who supports them is wrong, I don’t want to be right.”

“This has nothing to do with our police department. It has nothing to do with the fine members of the PPOA. It has everything to do with irresponsible behavior with confidential information,” Cole said.

Other members of City Council voiced their frustrations that the information release compromised the integrity of the final hiring decision. Council Member Adrian Hernandez said he wanted to be able to tell members of the community the council gave Epperson the opportunity to rise to the top on his own merit but felt the release of the list prevented that.

Cole confirmed the city had planned to bring the external candidate for interview May 22 before the candidate withdrew his application following Kamkar’s release of the list.

Next steps

At this time, the city has not determined what possible action will be taken in response to Kamkar’s unauthorized release of the list.

On April 4, Community Impact filed an open records request with the city of Pearland to access the list. As of May 9, the request is under the review of the attorney general.