The Leander Ethics Commission reviewed three charges against Councilman Jason Dishongh during a May 14 preliminary hearing, ultimately deciding to further investigate whether he acted as a citizen or public servant when missing a campaign finance paperwork filing deadline.
Former Leander volunteer firefighter Braden Frame filed complaints with the ad hoc commission April 29 that allege Dishongh, while acting as treasurer of the political action committee Leander Taxpayers for Responsible Government, took personal gifts from developers, accepted campaign contributions totaling $2,412.50 prior to appointment of a treasurer and missed a campaign paperwork filing deadline by one week.
The commission dismissed the allegation that Dishongh accepted personal gifts. Frame withdrew his complaint that the councilman accepted contributions prematurely after hearing testimony from two of the three named donors including City Manager Kent Cagle and The Lookout Group developer James Plasek.
Dishongh admitted to filing the PAC's financial report one week late, which is a violation of Texas Election Code. However, the Leander Ethics Commission debated whether a councilman should be separated from his public servant status when acting as a private citizen, such as when serving on a PAC.
"The state will do what they will do, but I'm trying to figure out did you act as a private citizen when you accepted being treasurer," Commissioner Vic Villarreal said. "This is a philosophical thing. There are lines to where you give up rights as a citizen because you took an oath of office. But as a Leander council member, you have no authority beyond this chamber."
Commission Chairman Richard Shirley argued that the oath of office for council members includes a promise to uphold the laws of the city and state. He said the commission's purpose is to determine whether the Leander ethics code—not state law—has been broken and, if needed, make recommendations for sanction to City Council.
"This could establish a precedent that says if a City Council member goes home, they can do whatever they want despite the oath they take to uphold the laws of the city and state," Shirley said. "I'm not making a determination at this time. I'm simply saying I need to have a better understanding of this."
The Texas Ethics Commission is concurrently investigating Dishongh on similar charges filed by Frame, according to documents obtained May 10 by Community Impact Newspaper. Members of the TEC are not allowed to comment on cases, but Frame said it could take about three months for the state organization to hold a hearing.
The Leander Ethics Commission must schedule a full hearing date within 30 days of the May 14 preliminary hearing, during which both Frame and Dishongh may present physical evidence, witness testimony and personal narratives.