The City’s Ethics Review Board unanimously voted Tuesday to dismiss a complaint lodged against Councilman Cruz Shaw (D2) and his director of constituent services, Jarvis Soileau, for illegally campaigning against three firefighters union-backed propositions on the November ballot.
Shaw and Soileau did not violate the City’s ethics code that prohibits the use of City resources for political activity, the board found, when Soileau forwarded a communication sent to him from a neighborhood association inviting community members to a “Free Community Breakfast and Community Meeting” that turned out to be a rally for the Go Vote No campaign on Sept. 8.
The email did not contain any overt reference to the event, which served coffee and breakfast tacos, only that “City Officials will be addressing several issues of concerns to the Community.”
Soileau told the board he did not know that it was a political event until afterwards. “If I would have known that was the case, I would have never sent that email out,” he said.
Part of his job is to keep the community aware of activities and events in District 2, he said, which includes the historically underserved East Side of the city. He focuses email blasts on neighborhood associations, but has access to a network of more than 10,000 email addresses for area partners.
“In District 2, communication is such a challenging [job] because of the digital divide,” he said, so he relies on neighborhood leaders to help him get the word out.
Shaw, who did not attend the meeting, said the email should not have been sent and self-reported the possible violation soon after hearing about it, as did Soileau.
Several former and current City Council members attended the event to call for citizens to vote against the propositions that would, among other things, expand the range of issues voters could petition to vote on in the future and make it easier to do so; cap the tenure and compensation of future city managers; and force the City into binding arbitration with the firefighters union over a new labor contract.
Eiginio Rodriguez, a retired firefighter who supports the propositions, filed the ethics complaint after seeing the fire union’s Facebook post calling for citizens to report Shaw and Soileau and similar activity.
Rodriguez told the board that he was glad Shaw and Soileau self-reported.
“During that time, they did have access to more than 10,000 emails for their side – since the event was political,” he said. “We don’t have that opportunity.”
Rodriguez said he does not believe that Soileau sent the email on purpose, but would like to see clearer lines drawn between the roles of Council members’ district staff and campaign staff, which are paid by the City and campaigns, respectively. Soileau works for the City.
“I really appreciate the effort of all the committee members,” Shaw said. “I’m really pleased at the outcomes.”
Since the complaint was filed, Shaw said, he and his staff “vet each email” to make sure it’s not political, adding “it may slow down the [communication] process.”
Two members of the citizen board that is appointed by City Council members and the mayor recused themselves from the vote: Patrick Lang (D2) and Linda Jackson (D6).