Fort Worth City Council reprimanded City Manager David Cooke late Tuesday afternoon for taking a private plane flight to Aspen, Colorado, with billionaire couple Ed and Sasha Bass over Labor Day weekend.
Cooke will remain city manager, according to a press release from the council and mayor. A consultation with the city attorney revealed Cooke did not violate the city’s code of ethics, but the trip caused an erosion of public trust regardless. The flight was first revealed in a Fort Worth Report news story.
“To speak directly, taking this trip was questionable judgment, and, when asked about the trip, City Manager Cooke exercised poor communication to the public,” the release states. “As public officials, we all are, and should be, held to a higher standard,and it is imperative we demonstrate the highest level of ethics.”
He will also recuse himself from any further decisions regarding disputes around the Downtown Public Improvement District and any contracts or city partnership issues that involve Sundance Square. Cooke’s friendship with the Bass couple drew concern specifically because of an ongoing dispute between the couple and DFWI, which manages downtown landscaping for the city. A representative for Sundance Square did not respond to a request for comment.
“Public officials, including City Manager Cooke, have personal friendships outside of work, but when those personal relationships also involve individuals that have official business with the city, heightened discretion must be exercised,” the statement continued. “Public perception matters, and we must go the extra mile to reassure residents and taxpayers, removing even the appearance of a gray area.”
The city attorney will be responsible for any necessary mediation related to the Downtown Public Improvement District.
Council members previously refused to comment on the trip after the Report first reported it. They said in the statement that the council has been “thoughtful about the issue, gathering facts and consulting with our city attorney.”
“Council will continue to talk to our city attorney to see where there are areas where we might look at improving an existing policy or making it more clear,” Carlos Flores, who represents District 2, said.
Further reporting by the Report revealed Cooke did not report the flight as a gift, despite significant monetary value. Records requests show only 10 employees and elected officials in Fort Worth have filled out gift and conflict disclosure forms since 2015.
Cooke previously told the Report perceptions of a conflict were flawed.
“It assumes that everybody at City Hall is making decisions based on friendships and not the policies,” Cooke said in a Sept. 18 interview. “There’s not a policy you’re going to find that says, ‘Hey, give better deals to the people that you hang out with.’”
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Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter.