Dallas’ Ethics Advisory Commission hit Council member Casey Thomas with a violation Tuesday morning stemming from his use of VisitDallas’ suite at American Airlines Center. Thomas’ recommended punishment amounts to a slap on the wrist; even the complainant had asked the board to take it easy on the southern Dallas representative.
Pending approval from the full Council, Thomas will receive a letter notifying him of his violation—he is, of course, already aware—and advising him of the steps he should take to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Retired Dallas attorney Barry Jacobs filed the complaint in late August, stemming from VisitDallas documents first reported in July by D Magazine that showed Thomas had used the suite multiple times. After a hefty delay and a ruling from the Office of the Attorney General regarding our open records request, the city sent us a list of Council members who’ve used the troubled visitor’s bureau’s suite. On it were Thomas and former West Dallas Council member Monica Alonzo.
Jacobs’ original complaint took issue with Thomas’ continued participation in VisitDallas business and his failure to report the free tickets on his annual gift disclosures. On Tuesday, Thomas’ attorney said the Councilman has agreed to recuse himself from VisitDallas business going forward. With a 6-1 vote, the Commission found he violated his duty to report the tickets. Council members must disclose gifts worth at least $250.
In his response to the complaint, Thomas admitted to accepting the tickets but said he only attended two events—a WWW Big 3 event (professional 3-on-3 basketball) on August 17, 2018, and a Bruno Mars concert on October 14, 2018. Also in 2018, he says he gave away tickets to Justin Timberlake to his sister and received tickets for, but didn’t attend, a Sam Smith concert and a Michelle Obama event. The VisitDallas documents also showed Thomas got tickets to R. Kelly in 2016. In his response and during testimony Tuesday, Thomas said his failure to disclose was an oversight and that he’s since reported the tickets.
“I don’t believe there was substantial harm to the public or really any harm to the public,” Thomas’ attorney, Courtney Barksdale Perez, said on Tuesday. (Barksdale Perez, of Carter Arnett, began representing Thomas only after Jacobs appealed the City Attorney Office’s original representation of the Council member. The CAO also advises the Commission.)
VisitDallas says it maintains a suite at American Airlines Center so that it can court potential clients, and that it invites elected officials “to help demonstrate the city’s interest in business.” The board’s lone dissenting voice was Commissioner Pam Gerber. She asked him point blank how the tickets came about, whether he’d been approached or sought them out.
“To my recollection it was an invitation,” Thomas replied. Because he was responding to an invite on the city’s behalf, she argued, Thomas didn’t have a duty to report.
But the rest of the board could not see how that excused the requirement under the city’s ethics code, and Commissioner Molly Whitman swatted away Gerber’s logic. “The perception that this is an invitation to carry out some form of official duties does not make sense to me if you’re freely able to give them out to someone else,” Whitman said.
After declaring a violation, the Commission unanimously decided on a letter of notification, the slightest sanction it can hand down. That satisfied Jacobs, who said it would suffice to “make sure Council member Thomas knows and other Council members know this is not appropriate.”
The ruling could go to City Council as early as October 23 but may not show up until November 13, City Secretary Bilierae Johnson said.