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Councilman Philip Kingston Unanimously Cleared of Ethics Violation

His lawyer argued the Councilman’s economic opportunity is no different than any of his neighbors. The Ethics Advisory Commission agreed.
By Shawn Shinneman |
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Councilman Philip Kingston will not face punishment for an ethics complaint filed against him over his advocacy for a zoning change in his neighborhood. The Ethics Advisory Commission on Tuesday unanimously decided that there was no ethics violation, clearing the councilman of wrongdoing the same day the polls open in his bid for re-election in the runoff for District 14, which includes downtown, Uptown, and East Dallas.

The complaint, filed anonymously, alleged that Kingston broke ethics laws when he pushed for, and ultimately voted in favor of, a change to his neighborhood’s conservation district code that would allow granny flats—detached, rentable units on single-family lots. While Kingston advocated for the change, he and his partner, Melissa, were lining up construction on their own flat above their garage. Another complaint from Dallas resident Dale Coonrod was tacked onto the hearing, but it was substantially similar and tried at the same time. Neither Coonrod—who was not present—or the City Auditor’s office, which represented the anonymous complaint, presented evidence against Kingston.

On Tuesday, Victor Vital, Kingston’s attorney, carried two white poster boards into a chambers on the sixth floor of City Hall, where the hearing took place. On those boards were the portions of the city ethics code on which he wanted the Commission to fixate. Those portions explained that a city official cannot take official action that “is likely to affect particularly the economic interests of” themselves. The second board quoted from a piece of the code that further defines that phrase:

An action is likely to “affect particularly an economic interest” or “affect particularly a substantial economic interest,” whichever is applicable, if it is likely to have an effect on the particular interest that is distinguishable from its effect on members of the public in general or on a substantial segment of the public.

Vital argued that anyone in the Belmont Addition Conservation District has the same opportunity to put up a granny flat that Kingston did, and that the district represents the general public. He went back to those phrases throughout the hearing—”particular” and “distinguishable”—relating them to each of the handful of witnesses he questioned. Three of Kingston’s neighbors in the Belmont Addition told the Commission they believed their Councilman’s intentions were pure.

Kingston has maintained that he sees ADUs as a way to add affordable density in neighborhoods of opportunity. But the economics of the units are debatable. On Tuesday, Melissa Kingston estimated their garage apartment will cost about $115,000, putting monthly costs between $1,115 and $1,150. She estimated market value for the 375-square-foot space at somewhere around $800 a month, based on research of the area that she says puts the going rate at $1.80 per square foot. Melissa said the couple had previously considered moving her mother into the space but eventually decided to rent it out instead. “We’re going to lose money on this unit,” she said.

By the end of the four hour hearing, the Commission had been swayed. Commissioner Pam Gerber had been the most outspoken skeptic throughout the hearing but, during final deliberations, said she’d reversed course. Commissioner William Coleman said he agreed with the argument that Kingston’s actions were no different than a Council member voting on, say, a street improvement in their neighborhood.

“There’s virtually nothing you do as a council person in a city that doesn’t affect you as a homeowner in that city,” he said.

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