photo by Traci Rodriguez
After a contentious discussion, the Leander City Council referred a list of allegations against Mayor John Cowman to the city's ethics commission at the April 5 meeting. Mayor Pro Tem David Siebold and Councilwoman Michell Cantwell requested the agenda item.
"It's nothing I want to do. I've been on council 13 years. It's probably the least favorite thing I've had to do," Siebold said.
Among the issues raised at the meeting was Siebold's claim that Cowman used a city-issued cell phone for campaigning purposes. Cowman said the phone number he used was his own, but the cell phone itself was the city's.
Siebold also brought up alleged impropriety during the mayor's involvement in seeking right of way for the Lakeline extension project, as well as accusations Cowman was reimbursed personally by Capital Metro for mileage incurred on a city vehicle during his tenure as a Capital Metro board member.
Cowman said he would welcome the opportunity to defend himself in front of the ethics commission.
"I strongly urge you to send this to the ethics commission," Cowman said.
Siebold also read into the record a memo sent by Cowman to City Manager Kent Cagle that Siebold obtained through an open records request. In the memo, Cowman asks Cagle to "educate" council members who disagreed with him on an issue. Cowman challenged Cagle to change the minds of Councilwoman Andrea Navarratte and Councilman Simon Garcia.
"I want Mr. Garcia to make the motion and Ms. Navarrette to second such or vice versa," Cowman wrote in the memo dated March 16. "This more than likely will come from your guidance to said council members. You are our manager, but you are also our leader. This is what I am expecting from you and your staff. I hope you are up to this correction/challenge."
Cowman said he had no comment at that point. Navarratte said she was incensed after reading the memo.
"You can imagine the lividity," she said. "To think you can direct staff … is highly against our charter. It should be against your soul."
However, Navarratte said she was unhappy the allegations, other than the memo, were brought up so close to the election. Cowman is running for re-election against Councilman Chris Fielder.
City Attorney Barney Knight said the ethics commission would have an independent counsel to help it look into the allegations and advise it on how to proceed.
Cowman requested an item looking into an alleged ethics violation as well. He said Fielder's submission of a letter of recommendation on behalf of an applicant for a city position was troubling and that it affected the hiring process.
Cagle and Knight both said the letter did not violate the city's charter. Cowman declined to make a motion on the matter, and as the item was the last on the agenda, the meeting was adjourned immediately after.