Rose Hargrave Featured In An Article By The Austin American-Statesman: ‘You Let Us Down’; Ethics Panel Reprimands Bastrop Mayor Nelson For Inquiry Interference

Rose Hargrave Featured In An Article By The Austin American-Statesman: ‘You Let Us Down’; Ethics Panel Reprimands Bastrop Mayor Nelson For Inquiry Interference

In a recent article by The Austin American-Statesman, Culhane’s Austin office partner Rose Hargrave, who successfully represented the City Council in a recent ethics hearing regarding Bastrop, TX, City Mayor Lyle Nelson, discusses the significance of accountability in governance and strong advocacy for community involvement.

Here are a few excerpts from Rose’s interview:

The Bastrop Ethics Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to issue a letter of reprimand against Mayor Lyle Nelson for interfering in an investigation into a city contractor.

The commission is not a judicial body so it cannot punish Nelson, said Culhane LLP Partner Rose Hargrave, a lawyer who represented the City Council after the Wednesday hearing. She said it was “up to the community” to decide about Nelson by choosing not to reelect him or by holding a recall election.

“Even as a public official, people have their right to privacy and the minutiae of their private lives are not fair game just because a City Council seeks to pry into their lives,” Ringel said. “Ultimately, this is an example of government overreach by the City Council with a legal justification that is tenuous at best. The mayor also wants to assure the public that he will strive to better serve the community moving forward.

The commission made its decision Wednesday after the City Council made a complaint in January saying that Nelson refused to give officials eight and half months’ worth of communications between him and Susan Smith, who is being investigated for misuse of public funds while she was the chief executive officer of Visit Bastrop. The marketing company promotes tourism and is funded by more than $1.5 million of the city’s hotel occupancy tax.

During the investigation, a forensic audit of Visit Bastrop showed that from 2021 to 2023, approximately $70,000 in public funds from the city were spent on Visit Bastrop credit cards and approved by Smith without itemized receipts or other required documentation, the ethics complaint said.

Hargrave said in her closing statement Wednesday that commissioners should listen to at least the first five minutes of the recorded conversation between Nelson and the attorney conducting the city’s investigation so they could hear Nelson lying.

“The mayor’s actions are in contempt of the council, in contempt of his seven years of ethics training and in contempt of the office of mayor,” she said.

The commission decided before its vote to not consider during the hearing some of the information the city had collected during the investigation, including the 232 pages of intimate text messages between Nelson and Smith. The commission members did not say why they voted against including it. Before the hearing, Ringel had filed an objection to admitting much of the evidence the city had collected because it was “hearsay.”

But the Texas attorney general issued an opinion last week saying the 232 pages of texts between Nelson and Smith are public information. “We conclude all of the submitted information was collected, assembled or maintained in connection with the transaction of official business of the city and thus constitutes ‘public information,'” it said.

Smith was put on leave during the investigation and then terminated without cause, which makes her eligible for a $90,000 severance, Kirkland said during the hearing.

A spokesman for the Texas Rangers said previously that the agency is “looking into some allegations” against Smith but declined further comment.

To read the entire article, click HERE


About Culhane Big Law for the New Economy®
The largest woman-owned national full-service business law firm in the U.S., Culhane  fields nearly 70 partners in twelve major markets across the country. Uniquely structured, the firm’s Disruptive Law® business model gives attorneys greater work-life flexibility while delivering outstanding, partner-level legal services to major corporations and emerging companies across industry sectors more efficiently and cost-effectively than conventional law firms. Clients enjoy exceptional and highly-efficient legal services provided exclusively by partner-level attorneys with significant experience and training from large law firms or in-house legal departments of respected corporations. U.S. News & World Report has named Culhane among the country’s “Best Law Firms” in its 2014 through 2024 rankings and many of the firm’s partners are regularly recognized in Chambers, Super Lawyers, Best Lawyers and Martindale-Hubbell Peer Reviews.

The foregoing content is for informational purposes only and should not be relied upon as legal advice. Federal, state, and local laws can change rapidly and, therefore, this content may become obsolete or outdated. Please consult with an attorney of your choice to ensure you obtain the most current and accurate counsel about your particular situation.