Former Fort Worth assistant city manager Susan Alanis wrote on a conflict disclosure form in 2018 that her daughter worked at the winter YMCA camp, earning $330.
The form is one of only 10 filed by city employees since 2015, according to records obtained by the Fort Worth Report.
The disclosure forms came under public scrutiny after City Manager David Cooke’s vacation with Ed and Sasha Bass, where he took the Bass’ private jet to Aspen, Colorado. Cooke did not report the trip as a gift, city spokesperson Reyne Telles said, because he did not view it as such.
Although Cooke saw no need to file a disclosure, his assistant city manager did because her daughter had a part-time job with the YMCA, which did business with the city. Nine other reports indicate other conflicts of interest ranging from spouses working with city vendors to officials holding other jobs.
Jared Williams is the only City Council member who has submitted a disclosure form since 2015. Williams, who represents District 6, said when he was offered the position of vice president of advocacy for the Tarrant Area Food Bank, he was concerned he wouldn’t be able to accept.
“The first call I made when I knew it was going to be an opportunity was to our city attorney to say, ‘Hey, is this a conflict?’” he said. “This whole process for me is something that I think is super important, and it sheds light on the importance of the onboarding process for new council members.”
Williams said he worked with city staff to come up with a game plan for evaluating the conflict, including writing a letter to the Department of Housing and Urban Development for an opinion on the matter. Eventually, they settled on making a disclosure statement publicly every time council considers something related to the food bank, and Williams excuses himself from conversations or votes about those matters.
“Even the (disclosure form) was a learning curve for me, because I thought that letter from HUD served as my record that I have a conflict,” he said. “As soon as I learned that I needed to do that document, I was like, ‘Oh, crap, I need to fill this out because transparency is super important.”
That lack of knowledge about disclosure requirements, he said, hammers home the need for strong onboarding procedures as Fort Worth prepares to welcome two new council members in 2023 as a result of redistricting.
Seven of the city disclosure forms are available online at the city’s website, and three additional forms were submitted but not posted publicly, according to the records obtained by the Fort Worth Report.
City employees must fill out a conflict of interest disclosure form if they have a business or family relationship with a vendor that works with the city. They must explain the relationship and list gifts received from the vendor, if those gifts add up to more than $100 over a 12-month period, per Texas law.
In Texas code, gift is defined as “a benefit offered by a person, including food, lodging, transportation, and entertainment accepted as a guest.” However, it does not include any of these benefits if they were offered on account of kinship or a personal relationship independent of the government official’s status.
Fort Worth’s own city code has less gray area.
City employees are not allowed to accept or solicit “any benefit from any person, group or business entity that might reasonably tend to influence the officer, employee or advisory board member in the discharge of his or her official duties,” according to the city’s standards of conduct.
Several of the disclosure forms obtained by the Report involved family members working for city vendors:
- Former purchasing manager John Dale wrote in 2015 that his son worked for ConocoPhillips, his daughter-in-law worked for ExxonMobil, and his brother worked for Southwest Airlines.
- Former director of public events Kirk Slaughter wrote in 2015 that his wife worked for the American Paint Horse Association. Slaughter later reported that an assistant city manager had influenced the bid process for the parking management contract for the Will Rogers Memorial Center in 2019. The allegation was handed off to then-city auditor Patrice Randle to investigate, and no further details have been released. A judge ruled Sept. 16 that the report generated by Randle’s office was protected by attorney-client privilege.
- Roger Hauser, water systems superintendent, reported in September 2016 that a vendor was sponsoring a motor for his son’s dirt truck as a gift. Hauser estimated the value of the motor at $3,000.
Kevin Neal, city public information officer, said in an email to the Fort Worth Report that the city secretary, attorney, and director of human resources are “committed to working together to refine city of Fort Worth processes, including the conflict of interest form filing process.”
Any alleged violation of ethics rules would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis, he said.
Several weeks after Cooke’s vacation with the Basses prompted concerns over a conflict of interest, the city manager was spotted again with the Bass couple at one of the biggest philanthropic events in the city — the Fort Worth Zoo Ball.
Tables for the event ran from $8,000 to $50,000. City Council members were also in attendance, including Mayor Mattie Parker and District 8 council member Chris Nettles. They sat at a table designated for City Council members. Nettles publicly announced his attendance at a City Council session Sept. 27, as is customary for council members when they attend events or travel for ceremonial reasons.
The Fort Worth Zoo does not release a list of attendees publicly, said Avery Elander, a communications employee with the zoo. Telles, the city spokesperson, confirmed Cooke’s attendance with the Bass couple and said he paid for his and his wife’s share of the table.
The City Council is preparing to start Cooke’s annual performance review. Council members will discuss his evaluation in executive session Oct. 4. Traditionally, council members provide a verbal evaluation to council-appointed employees instead of a written one. The practice was criticized for a lack of transparency by residents in 2019, when Cooke received a raise from council.
The executive session will also discuss legal issues concerning attorney-client privilege, which city officials have repeatedly cited as a reason for not answering questions about the potential conflicts of interest created by Cooke’s friendship with the Bass couple.
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter.