Dallas City Councilman Philip Kingston was on the receiving end of ethics punishment Wednesday after spending four years at Dallas City Hall pushing for tougher ethics and greater transparency in government.
Mayor Mike Rawlings said it was the first time anyone at City Hall could remember that the Dallas City Council disciplined one of its own.
The mayor said it was disappointing after voters overwhelmingly approved a $1.05 billion Dallas capital improvement bond referendum Tuesday.
"They feel that this city is moving in the right direction and we want to keep them feeling that way," Rawlings said. "It is very sad that we have to take this item up, because it's going to create tension."
There was indeed a bitter debate before the rest of the Dallas City Council unanimously decided on a reprimand and ethics training for Kingston over a Facebook campaign video he recorded in his City Hall office. Use of city facilities for political purposes is prohibited.
"Thank you all for your consideration today. This was a stupid mistake and I'm sorry to have inconvenienced you," Kingston told the other council members as he was forced to leave for deliberation on his violation.
The complaint was filed by citizen Barry Jacobs.
"Ethics pantomime. That's what the council member we are here to discuss said when you passed a new code of ethics last spring," Jacobs said. "When the ethics advisory commission met to discuss the complaint against him, he didn't show up. He had other things to do."
The Ethics Commission recommended a "reprimand" for Kingston, in the mid-range of potential punishment.
But frequent Kingston opponent Lee Kleinman called for the ethics training and a more serious "censure." City rules say censure is appropriate for repeat violations.
"The offense continued and continued and continued," Kleinman said.
Kingston's video was still posted on Facebook as the meeting began Wednesday morning.
"If that's not thumbing his nose up, what is?" Councilman Dwaine Caraway asked.
Caraway played another video from a past City Council meeting where Kingston attacked Southern Dallas members' request for district offices as an opportunity for ethics infractions.
"He took $250,000 away. And that was what was politics," Caraway said.
Kingston's council allies came to his defense. They accused supporters of the tougher penalty of playing politics and taking out a personal grudge against Kingston.
"Mr. Kingston is a friend of mine. I enjoy his company. And there are times that I cannot stand Mr. Kingston and do not enjoy his company," said Councilman Omar Narvaez. "This adding and making it go further is a little vindictive."
Councilman Mark Clayton said taking action stronger than what the Ethics Commission recommended would set a precedent for hostility from which the council could not turn back.
"I like my job six days a week and then the seventh day I come to Wednesday, because this is not a nice group," Clayton said.
In the end, the rest of the members unanimously settled on the milder reprimand, coupled with ethics training within 90 days.
"I'm always being challenged by colleagues to stay within the law, stay within the rules, be careful, be careful, be careful. Well I've tried to careful, but our friend here he needs to be careful, too," Councilman Rickey Callahan said.
Kingston declined a request for an interview after the meeting, but replied with a written statement:
"I made a mistake and apologized for it, but it's nothing in comparison to the corruption I've been fighting in this building for the last four years. And that's why you see the overwhelmingly political response. They want me to stop. They're going to be disappointed," Kingston's statement said.
The man who filed the city ethics complaint against Kingston also filed one with the state ethics commission.
"It will be up to the state to be looking at this and, frankly, I think the Dallas County District Attorney should be looking at this as well," Barry Jacobs said.