The City of Houston has received 39 resumes for the Houston City Clerk’s job and the board is seeking an Attorney General’s opinion to determine if a relative of a sitting alderman can hold the position.
Houston began looking for its next City Clerk after Jamie Dendy resigned June 30. Dendy took the city’s top administrative spot June 11, 2013, replacing City Clerk Bobby Sanderson, who retired after 10-years in the post. Sanderson has been called out of retirement to serve at interim City Clerk until a new clerk is hired.
“The applications are in my office and I want you to look at them and let’s see if we can make a decision by September,” said Houston Mayor Stacey Parker. “I would like for you to get me a list of the people you want to interview by (Aug.) 12 and we’ll set up interviews. I would like to see us have someone hired and in place by Sept. 2.”
Parker also pointed out that assistant City Clerk Barbara Buggs has applied for the post and she is the sister of Ward 2 Alderman Shenia Jones.
The state has rules preventing nepotism or the hiring of relatives to government jobs by elected officials.
“My understanding from a previous Attorney’s General opinion is you can’t do it,” said Houston Board Attorney Elizabeth Ausbern. “But an AG’s opinion can only advise you what to do and it is based on specific facts in a specific case that might not apply here.”
Ausbern did counsel that if Buggs was hired as clerk and a formal complaint was filed with the State Ethics Commission and the city was found guilty of nepotism, they could be liable for damages and possible court action.
The law also states those who vote on the issue could be liable on their bond for the amount of the money paid to anyone hired and found in violation of the law.
“We don’t want to do anything wrong,” said Parker. “But I do think we need to move on this.”
Alderman At Large Barry Springer said he understood the issue but he also felt the best qualified person for the post might already be familiar with City Hall procedures and business.
Jones said the board was asked by Dendy and others interviewing for the post last summer for a job description.
Parker said he has repeatedly asked the board to create job descriptions for city jobs, specifically those with administrative duties.
Jones also said she understood if she needed to excuse herself from voting on Buggs or votes that dealt with her salary.
“But it is also my understanding that an (Attorney General’s) opinion is an opinion,” said Jones. “If we decide to go with that opinion, that is also up to us.”
On a motion by Ward 4 Alderman Willie Mae McKinney and a second by Ward 3 Alderman Frank Thompson, the board voted to ask Ausbern to seek an Attorney General’s opinion.