7-0 vote sends San Marcos councilman’s ethics complaint to hearing

Investigations

SAN MARCOS, Texas (KXAN) — Nearly six weeks after a KXAN investigation exposed a San Marcos city councilman’s ties to a city grant program, the city’s ethics commission is holding a public hearing to gather evidence in the case. 

The San Marcos Ethics Review Commission held a closed-door meeting on Sept. 27, voting to send the case to a public hearing. The city’s ethics ordinance shows a vote to send a case to a public hearing happens after the commission determines “the complaint is in proper form” and “alleges sufficient facts to constitute a prima facie violation” of the city’s ethics laws or a potential conflict of interest.”

A public hearing will allow the person who filed the complaint and Council Member Scott Gregson to present evidence to the commission. The hearing can also include cross-examination of witnesses. 

Our investigation found that Councilman Gregson’s corporation benefited from multiple grants issued from the city’s Business Improvement and Growth program. The BIG program gives business owners public tax dollars to pay for permanent renovations to the buildings that house those businesses.

State records show Gregson and his business partner, Elliott J. Vance, II, formed East Hopkins, LLC in 2007. The company owns several properties in San Marcos and two of the corporation’s properties received grants from the BIG program. Gregson’s financial filings show he is a “Manager/Member” in the corporation and values his 50 percent share in the corporation at $1.9 million. 

City council minutes show Gregson voted on two city budgets that funded the BIG program. Council records do not show Gregson ever disclosed his corporation’s involvement in the program during the budget votes or that he recused himself from voting on the budgets that funded the program.  

A city brochure promoting the BIG program touts the program’s goal of helping to financially benefit property owners, “The BIG Grant Program strives to increase sales and/or revenue for the property owner or tenant.”

“I did not recuse myself from the Business, Improvement and Growth (BIG) program vote because I was not planning to apply.”

In a previous KXAN report on this investigation, Gregson argued since he didn’t personally apply for the grant, he had no reason to recuse himself from the vote.

“I did not recuse myself from the Business, Improvement and Growth (BIG) program vote because I was not planning to apply. To date, I have not and have no intention of applying for matching funds under this program,” Gregson wrote in an Aug. 16 emailed statement. “I had nothing to do with submitting the application, completing the work, providing the dollars to draw down the matching funds, or the City Manager’s approval of the application.”

With Gregson’s stated 50 percent share in East Hopkins, LLC, an ethics expert interviewed in a previous KXAN report on this argued that any decision in a split-share ownership would indicate both owners would make decisions involving the corporation since no single manager holds a majority share of the company. 

“…I have not been notified of the date of the hearing or of any alleged violations of any city provision of the City’s ethics rules,” Gregson wrote in an email to KXAN Thursday. “The original ethics complaint noted no specific charges, so I have no clue what I’m even being accused of. Regardless, I am confident that all my votes on Council have not crossed any ethical lines.”

The public hearing on the Gregson ethics complaint is set for Oct. 25 at 5:30 p.m. in the San Marcos City Hall council chamber.

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