A recent investigative report has uncovered evidence of a Texas mayor personally benefitting from residents’ failure or inability to pay their property taxes.
Recently, Austin’s KXAN published a report exposing city contracts held by Round Rock mayor Craig Morgan’s law firm, McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen, P.C. The news report states that Morgan, “heads one of the most lucrative arms of the law firm—the one responsible for Williamson County and Round Rock tax collections.”
Morgan, who vocally supported Texas House Speaker Joe Straus’ efforts to kill all forms of meaningful tax reform during the 85th Texas Legislature and the subsequent special session, was elected mayor in May of 2017 after serving on the City Council since 2011.
Given KXAN’s revelations, Morgan may be more than just another grow-government local official who supports tax increases without voter approval because he believes he can spend taxpayers’ hard-earned money better than they can themselves. Indeed, perhaps his fervent opposition is because he profits personally off of the increased collections.
Morgan’s role at the law firm may constitute a conflict of interest under Texas law and it could also be a violation of an ethics provision in the City of Round Rock’s charter, which states:
“No member of the City Council or employee of the City shall have a financial interest, direct or indirect, in contract with the City…” The provision provides an exemption when the interest being questioned involves the amount of stock a city official might own, which must be less than 1 percent of the corporation stock.
KXAN looked into Morgan’s role at the firm to determine if the amount of stock he owns would exempt him from the charter provision:
According to Morgan’s biography on the MVBA website in July, the page called Morgan a “Partner.” A second check on Sept. 7 showed the same.
But, within days of KXAN emailing Morgan for an interview concerning the contracts, his online biography was changed. The word “Partner” was taken out of the sentence describing Morgan’s duties at the firm. Morgan claims he has no ownership interest in the law firm.
It is unclear whether Morgan owns stock in the firm or if he is simply employed there, however the simple fact remains that the appearance of impropriety is quite evident. It is unethical for a city official to be on a governing body that awards a contract to the officials company, whether they are an owner or an employee. Taxpayers in Round Rock should demand a more accountable city government and ensure those who are elected to represent them aren’t profiting themselves.
Residents should call for a thorough investigation into Morgan and a stringent review of the city’s ethics policies. The charter amendments passed by their fellow Texans in the City Colleyville would be a great place to start.