Mayor's comments come under fire, prompt outside review
June 14, 2010 at 1:14 a.m.
Comments Victoria Mayor Will Armstrong made about a former city council candidate are being reviewed.
The city hired an outside consultant to review a complaint filed about comments Armstrong made concerning former candidate Jeff Williams during the May 4 city council meeting.
The consultant was hired after Williams and Henry Perez, both candidates who lost races for council, filed complaints.
"I haven't done anything wrong," said Armstrong. "This sounds like sour grapes to me."
Williams ran against Super District 6 incumbent Tom Halepaska in the May 8 election. Williams lost by 119 votes.
During the televised meeting, Armstrong brought up and commented on an invitation-only meeting. Williams, Councilman Gabriel Soliz and Williams' biggest campaign contributor James Wayne all attended the meeting at Victoria resident Homer Hill's house.
"Councilman Soliz, you and Jeff Williams were recently together at Swan Crossing and you discussed matters that I'm not privileged to," said Armstrong during the city council meeting. "You and Mr. Williams and Mr. Wayne seem to be together on some of these issues and I suspect that this is some type of a strategy to affect this election."
The Victoria Police Department received the complaints that Armstrong's comments violated Article XII, Section 9 of the city charter.
The charter forbids city employees or elected officials from influencing others to favor or oppose a candidate for city office, or make derogatory remarks about candidates for elected positions.
"It's not so much a comment was made about me," said Williams, who filed a complaint. "It was that a city ordinance was blatantly disregarded."
He continued, "Based on what I heard him say, he was taking an active part in someone's campaign by making derogatory comments about a candidate."
Williams said the casual meeting in question was held not to discuss election strategies, but to discuss a property value situation in Hill's neighborhood.
"I was just invited to listen to what he had to say," said Williams.
If found to be in violation of the charter, Armstrong could face a misdemeanor charge, a fine not to exceed $500, and he may have to forfeit his office.
The hired consultant is expected to reveal the findings from his investigation into Armstrong's comments in an executive session during Tuesday's city council meeting.
In his own defense, Armstrong said, "The First Amendment and freedom of speech are something that applies to everyone, including mayors."
Williams said he could not definitively say whether Armstrong's comments swayed voters toward Halepaska.
"Someone who is supposed to be leading the city used his platform to make comments that could have impacted an election," said Williams. "If those comments swayed 61 people to vote against me, then yes, it impacted the election."
He added, "I don't take it personally. I can only speculate that he did not want me on the council because we disagreed on many issues."
Halepaska commented on the complaints made against Armstrong.
"I know my opponent and I ... ran very hard. I'm sure he was disappointed and probably embittered by it," said Halepaska. "Maybe it's a vengeful feud because their earlier demands of the city were self serving."
Several others also had something to say about the mayor's statements.
"Everything a city council person says is important and open to criticism," said Councilwoman Denise Rangel. "It's important that we are respectful to others on the council as well as visitors to the council meetings."
Perez also shared his thoughts on the situation.
"He should be removed from office," said Perez. "He's done this before. The mayor thinks he can do whatever he wants to do and nobody will do anything about it."
Williams said he intends to fight Armstrong to the fullest extent.
"There's a feeling among a great number of people in Victoria that the laws are not applied equally depending on who you are," said Williams. "He seems to feel the rules do not apply to him."