Ethics Board Finds Briones Knowingly Violated Ethics Code
The Ethics Review Board found Wednesday night that former City Council District 8 candidate Rolando Briones knowingly violated San Antonio’s ethics code by accepting a contract for his consulting and engineering firm with the city when he sat on San Antonio's Planning Commission.
The case was filed by William Hurley, a citizen who believed Briones acted inappropriately because he used a public entity for personal business.
Briones was present for the hearing, in which he testified that he never had any intention of knowingly violating the ethics code.
Board member Michael Ariens, a law professor at St. Mary’s University, grilled Briones on that point.
"Do you believe you did not violate the ethics code because you believe your actions were not intentional?" Ariens asked.
"We're here for a reason, you know," Briones began. "Someone thinks I did something wrong. I have always felt that I never did intentionally did anything wrong."
Briones argued over a disparity in the language of the city charter, telling the Ethics Review Board that the Planning Commission does not have total power and that it can be advisory in nature.
"I point to a conflict of laws and that the city charter said it's advisory," he said. "Now I guess the case is being made that it's more than advisory. I see several instances of that."
Ariens countered that Briones signed a document outlining the specific nature of the Planning Commission -- that it is more advisory in nature.
The board had several options to explore, including imposing civil sanctions like disqualifying Briones from contracts with the city for up to three years, a fine up to $500, or issuing a letter of reprimand.
The board’s ruling makes Briones’ contract automatically voidable, but members decided by vote to let the city council handle that.
"We found that the contracts are voidable, which means they can decide that he's doing a good job and keep the contract," said Ariens. "They can decide that perceptions are such that the contract should be voided."
Acting ethics board chairman Robert Piatt said City Manager Sheryl Sculley might solely have the authority to void the contract given their findings.
The only board member to vote no on all the motions, including the knowing violation, was David Armendariz.
Armendariz said he wasn't satisfied with the evidence that the Planning Commission was more than advisory.
He said it's up to the complainant, William Hurley, to prove, but Hurley wasn't there.
"If the complainant couldn't get over that initial hurdle then everything else fell apart," he said.
Hurley said by phone that he is satisfied with the outcome. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, he said, referring to how highlighting a problem like this helps tremendously.
Ariens nearly echoed that sentiment following the meeting.
"I think we're a body that is designed to shine a little light on city actions," he said.
What the board is not, Ariens added, is a body charged with administering a punishment.