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Campaign ethics under fire

By Andy Sevilla

Kyle council member Becky Selbera is in the hot seat, and it’s not the first time.

The city’s ethics commission Monday night unanimously voted to further investigate allegations that the elected official may have violated Kyle’s Code of Ethics when she solicited the help of City Attorney Ken Johnson for political purposes. 

Ethics Commissioner Raven Scott motioned to look into the allegations against Selbera saying the commission, which discussed the matter with special legal counsel Frank Garza in executive session, felt the complaint “warrants investigation.”

The matter first came to light after a Hays Free Press investigation questioned Selbera regarding her accepting more than $1,000 in her bid for reelection this year after closing her campaign treasurer appointment.

State election rules prohibit candidates for office from accepting political contributions without a campaign treasurer appointment. 

In her April 10 campaign finance report, Selbera terminated her campaign treasurer appointment on file when she filed a final report, per state ethics commission findings. In the final report, which covered her campaign’s political activity between Feb. 28 and April 10, Selbera indicated she did not anticipate further campaign contributions or political expenditures. 

However, between April 11 and May 2, Selbera received $1,375 in political contributions and expended $1,373.35 in political funds, according to her May 2 campaign finance report. 

When questioned about accepting political contributions without a campaign treasurer, potentially going against state election rules, Selbera requested the Hays Free Press interview her at the city attorney’s office.

In a May 6 interview, Selbera said she inadvertently terminated her campaign treasurer appointment. She said that mistake was made amid the confusion of sifting through previously filed reports as a premise to reporting her campaign’s financial activity due April 10. 

She said City Attorney Ken Johnson helped her fill out a campaign finance report amendment for her reelection bid, correcting her misfiling that terminated her treasurer appointment. 

During the first part of that interview, Selbera requested Johnson speak on her behalf to the Hays Free Press. 

When questioned whether the city had a responsibility or should have a role in helping Selbera, then a candidate, correct her campaign’s paperwork or speak for her during interviews she had regarding her reelection campaign activity, Johnson said that as the city attorney he could help her.

“In my role, I represent the council and I represent individual council members in city business, so it’s an attorney-client relationship,” Johnson said. “If one of them needs legal assistance, guidance, help, then I’m going to give that to them within the parameters of the city attorney.”

“Becky (Selbera) got in a situation to where this was a legal matter. You know this is a big legal issue; you’re talking about the (state) ethics commission, ethics violations,” he continued. “So that’s why I helped her in this one.”

The city’s ethics code, however, forbids that help. 

“A city official or employee shall not use, request, or permit the use of city facilities, personnel, equipment, or supplies for private purpose (including political purpose), except: (a) pursuant to duly adopted city policies, or (b) to the extent and according to the terms that those resources are lawfully available to the public,” states Part B, Section 7 of the city’s ethics ordinance. 

When the Hays Free Press asked Selbera for comment Tuesday regarding the ethics commission’s investigation into her alleged ethics violations, she said, “I’m not interested.”

Selbera said she was not interested in discussing the matter until she first spoke with “the city attorney or whoever is going to look at this.” 

Mike Fulton, who filed the complaint against Selbera, also filed an ethics complaint against Johnson. 

The ethics commission Monday night unanimously voted to clear Johnson of any wrongdoing. 

The commission found, per the ethics code, that Johnson, as a council appointed position, is neither a city official nor an employee for the purposes of the ethics code. Therefore, the ethics provision does not apply to him.

“I know that it’s much to do about nothing, in my opinion,” Johnson said in a phone interview Tuesday. “So I felt like, I mean, that’s what I was hoping they would decide. They obviously did not disappoint.” 

Johnson said he was glad for the decision, but wasn’t really concerned about it, because he said he knew he wasn’t involved in anything unethical.

“The law did not apply to the city attorney, and that’s the way it’s written,” he said.

The commission, however, recommended council revise the ethics ordinance to include the city attorney under the purview of the law. 

The commission will forward a copy of the complaint to Selbera who will have 14 days to respond to the allegations. Once, and if, a response is submitted by Selbera, that will be forwarded to Fulton who then will have seven days to respond. 

After the commission receives responses from Selbera and Fulton, it will set a hearing date.

In 2012, Selbera was brought up on an ethics violation when she asked for a job from Image Mi- crosystems, which agreed to move its operations to Kyle. Selbera voted in favor of offering the company economic incentives; after that meeting, she requested the director of marketing help her get a job with the firm. 

The Ethics Commission decided Selbera used poor judgment in that situation, but there was not enough evidence of misconduct.

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