HUTTO, Texas (KXAN) — Although Hutto City Council members Tanner Rose and Patti Turner-Martinez sit inches away from one another during council meetings, they never spoke inside council chambers Wednesday night.
They were there for a face-off in front of the city’s Ethics Review Commission.
During the August 1 council meeting, Rose filed a formal ethics complaint against Turner-Martinez. He accused his colleague of abusing her power by using a city park for her wedding.
A park that wasn’t open to the public for another two weeks.
The city even denied two other taxpayers from using the brand new Hutto Park at Brushy Creek for wedding rentals, weeks after Turner-Martinez held her wedding there on June 22.
The ethics complaint went to the city’s Ethics Review Commission for investigation. But the commission shot the complaint down during Wednesday’s preliminary hearing in a 3-1 vote to dismiss the complaint.
The dismissal means the complaint will not be investigated by the commission and Turner-Martinez is no longer under investigation.
“I’m seeing it more of it being a mudslinging contest type thing,” Ethics Review Commissioner Dana Lively told Rose during his Rose’s testimony. “I think this is just complete and total frivolous thing.” Lively was the most vocal commissioner, criticizing Rose’s decision to include pictures of Turner-Martinez’s wedding he pulled from the councilwoman’s Facebook page showing proof the wedding was held at the city’s new park.
Lively called the photographic evidence of where the wedding was held “hearsay” and chastised Rose for attaching those to his complaint. “Personally, I think if you’re pulling these pictures off of Facebook, I mean, to me it just seems more like a mudslinging issue,” Lively told Rose.
During the hearing, Lively got into a discussion over what appeared to be her opinion on the make-up of city council—a council Rose joined in June. “You guys are supposed to be here representing the citizens, doing what’s best for the citizens and honestly, I haven’t seen a thing from our newly-elected council people. I’ve seen more coming from the ones that are already here than our new ones.”
Lively did not elaborate further on those comments.
“I expected them to be fair, I did expect it to be dismissed because I did no wrongdoing,” Turner-Martinez told KXAN following the ethics hearing. Turner-Martinez testified that she asked the city’s then-director of Community Services, Tony Host, on June 1 whether she could rent the park pavilion to hold her wedding. The councilwoman testified she “followed the process” in reserving the park for her wedding.
The city, however, told two separate taxpayers on July 11 and again on July 23 the pavilion Turner-Martinez used was not available to the public for the same use. The councilwoman blamed the scenario on a staffer who “misunderstood” whether the pavilion could be rented by the public.
KXAN’s investigation found that those two communications came from two separate city staffers in two separate departments: the city’s Public Information Office and the city’s Community Services department.
“I don’t in any way feel like I used my position or my power. I went through the process just like anyone else would,” Turner-Martinez testified during the hearing. She went on to explain she didn’t know anyone was denied access to the pavilion until KXAN contacted her for comment during the last week of July.
“I immediately emailed Odis [City Manager Odis Jones] and said you need to handle this, this is not okay because the park is open, that pavilion should be open for rental.”
The only Ethics Review Commission member to vote to send the case to a final hearing was Bill Kohl. He explained he believed there were enough questions and evidence in the case to have the commission further investigate Rose’s complaint. Kohl was defeated by the other three ethics commissioners: Dana Lively, Lori Brown-Duncan and Chairman Russell Daniel.
“I felt like it was on me to make the complaint and make the initial case and then them to do the investigation and drive it home and then make what they believe is the best decision,” Councilman Tanner Rose told KXAN following the hearing.
“Did that happen here?” KXAN Investigative Reporter Jody Barr asked Rose.
Rose: “I don’t believe it did, no.”
Editor’s Note: A previous version of this story spelled Patti Turner-Martinez’s name wrong. It has since been fixed.