Friday, April 11, 2014

The Latest Local Government Horror Story from Williamson County

"A ruler who lacks understanding is a great oppressor,
But he who hates covetousness will prolong his days."
Proverbs 28:16

Fantastic find from Holly Hansen:
According to official City Council Meeting Minutes from October 25, 2012, Councilman Salinas (and other council members,) voted to approve a development agreement [Resolution Number R-12-10-25-H3] for the City of Round Rock to provide a $400,000, 5-year, interest-free loan to a local developer in order to complete the purchase of the historic Nelson Hardware Building.  Supposedly this transaction was to further the City Council’s goal of making the “Main Street area an authentic dining, entertainment and retail shopping destination for local citizens and tourists alike.”  While we can certainly argue the merits of government choosing economic winners and losers in this way, there is an even more disturbing aspect to this story.

However, rather than an attractive new restaurant or shop, now it appears that the Nelson Building's main tenant is...Councilman Carlos Salinas.  During the first week of March 2014, Councilman Salinas' re-election campaign began occupying ground floor space at 201 East Main Street.  Since then, Salinas has held numerous campaign meetings and fundraisers with his out of town Democrat allies (like Travis County's Gonzalo Barrientos and Democrat congressional candidate Louie Minor of Bell County, who is running against Round Rock's John Carter.)


The real kicker is that, according to Salinas' financial reports, he is 'renting' the Nelson Building space for a mere $1,000 per month.  Based on the advertised price of the lease space and estimates by local brokers, the market value for this location is estimated to be approximately $5,500 a month, making this a sweet $4,500 monthly financial benefit for Salinas.

Not only does this apparent 'gift' seem unethical, it is also clearly illegal. 

Such a gift would be in violation of Section 2-118(a)(2) of the City of Round Rock Code of Ordinances, which states:

Gifts. No city official shall intentionally or knowingly solicit or accept any contribution, gift or economic benefit with actual or constructive knowledge that is given in consideration of the favorable exercise of such official’s judgment or discretion in the past.
Even more serious than the city ordinance is Councilman Salinas' possible violation of state statutes, specifically Section 39.02(7) of the Texas Penal Code, which states:
An a felony of the first degree if the value of the use of the thing misused is $200,000.00 or more.  
Salinas voted for the $400,000 interest-free loan, and therefore cannot claim he did not know about the agreement with the city.  Since a campaign office is clearly not a part of the original development agreement, Salinas could be guilty of official misuse of city subsidized property.  Legally speaking, some $400,000 of that building is government property, which would make abuse of the building a first degree felony

Councilman Salinas’s use of the Nelson Building does suggest an abuse of the city development agreement’s intent and stated purpose, which violates both City Ethics and State Abuse of Official Capacity laws.  Furthermore, Councilman Salinas’s below market lease rate constitutes an illegal gift, which violates both City Ethics and State Abuse of Official Capacity laws.

If you’d like to go see the Nelson building and the benefits of incumbency for yourself, Mr. Salinas is holding a fundraiser in his totally awesome taxpayer-subsidized digs this Saturday, April 12 from 11:30-3:00pm.  (201 East Main Street)  Admission is only $10, unless of course you're counting your taxpayer-funded loan to the owner.
 Read the whole thing here.

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