Last year's NBA season had San Antonio burning with Spurs Fever as the team battled its way to the world championship. City employees were caught up in it too: They wore Spurs jerseys and hung banners from the Municipal Plaza building. But city workers had too much of a good thing when they accepted tickets to games from Dailey & Wells Communications, a company that has part of a $49 million contract to upgrade the city's emergency services communication system.
The busted employees are San Antonio Police Captain William Smith, Director of Information Technology Services Gary Moeller, and Assistant Fire Chief Alan Boozikee. `See related story, "Primary colors," Current, October 9-15.`
A fourth employee, SAPD Assistant Chief Tyrone Powers, spotted Smith in Dailey & Wells' expensive terrace box at the SBC Center, and spilled the beans to the Ethics Review Board. Smith, in turn, snitched on Moeller and Boozikee.
The ERB began proceedings to clear up apparent violations of the city's Ethics Code, but last week the hearings were conducted in near-secrecy. It's no wonder: the ERB apparently set up Boozikee to be a scapegoat, figuratively flogged by a City Council that has yet to thoroughly clean its own little corner in the House of Ethics.
A posted public notice last week at City Hall said the ERB meeting would take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday, November 18 in a room on the first floor of the Municipal Plaza building. The doors were locked. The buzzer rang. A security guard shuffled down the hallway and opened a door. "The meeting is in that room," he said, pointing the way.
ERB Chairman Arthur Downey shook his head vigorously, indicating that the public - namely a reporter - was not welcome. A few seconds later, Assistant City Attorney Helen Valkavich opened the door. "This part of the meeting is open. You can come in."
Inside the meeting room, Assistant Fire Chief Boozikee was reading a three-page rebuttal to the ERB, which had "sanctioned" him in September for accepting Spurs tickets from Dailey & Wells during the 2002-2003 season.
Dailey & Wells leases its terrace box at SBC, and is allowed to purchase extra tickets for guests. Boozikee accepted the firm's offer of tickets, and watched up to nine games from the terrace box.
| "I should not be sanctioned for violation of the ethics code rules. How can two people be sanctioned and not all three?" |
— Alan Boozikee
In May, Assistant Chief Powers reported Captain Smith to the ERB. Powers alleged that Smith had violated Part B, Section 3(a)(2) of the Ethics Code: A city official or employee shall not solicit, accept, or agree to accept any gift or benefit, save and except for items received that are of nominal value and meals in an individual expense of $100 or less at any occurrence from: (A) any individual or business entity doing or seeking to do business with the City; or (B) any registered lobbyist or public relations firm."
According to the ERB file on Smith, he attended a Spurs game on May 19, 2003 in the Dailey & Wells terrace box, and accepted other tickets in 2000 and in 2001. Smith testified that he believed he hadn't violated the ethics code since the tickets were valued at less than $100.
The ERB ruled that even if the Spurs tickets were worth $50 -that price was not confirmed by the Spurs organization since the tickets were purchased in conjunction with the lease of the terrace box, which costs thousands of dollars - they exceeded the term "nominal value" included in the Ethics Code.
Smith cooperated with the ERB, and blew the whistle on Boozikee and Moeller. Smith was directed to attend an ethics code class, but was not fined.
Although the ERB acknowledged that Smith likely did not exert undue influence in his official duties, it issued the opinion that "Captain Smith's actions are not isolated events, but rather are part of a larger, systemic problem concerning other city personnel."
Moeller, who testified in mid-September that he had accepted two Spurs tickets, contends that he determined that the tickets were worth $40 apiece, and that he wrote a check to Dailey & Wells for $80 before he attended the game. The ERB found that Moeller hadn't violated the Ethics Code because he paid for the tickets beforehand. "The board concludes that Gary Moeller did not receive a gift ... and the complaint is dismissed."
No fine, no ethics class for Moeller.
But Boozikee raised the question to the ERB: Did Dailey & Wells' accounting department cash Moeller's check? If not, then the tickets were a gift. According to Dailey & Wells' attorney Sharee Varelas, the person who could answer that question was out of town last week, and was not available. Furthermore, no Dailey & Wells customers were invited to attend Spurs games in its terrace box since the NBA season began October 28. "It's not necessarily a policy change, we just haven't done anything with it this year," Varelas said.
Moeller reported that Dailey & Wells did cash his check.
Case closed on Moeller and Smith, with final City Council approval pending. Now the ERB had only one more chance to produce a scapegoat to parade before the City Council within 90 days: Alan Boozikee.
In addition to his punishment, the ERB also issued copies of its opinion in his case to the media before they told him of its decision.
Boozikee missed the ERB's meeting in mid-September, but demanded the November 18 hearing before the ERB. Nobody but Boozikee, Assistant City Attorney Helen Valkavich and ERB members attended. "I should not be sanctioned for violation of the ethics code rules. How can two people be sanctioned and not all three?" he told the ERB.
| "We all need to look seriously at who is buying lunch and who is paying for Spurs tickets. If we do (accept) these things, down the line they are going to ask for something in return." |
— District 10 Councilman Chip Haass
"My reputation has been tarnished, and this has caused undue embarrassment to the SAFD, my family and me. My position in the fire department has been negatively impacted and my potential for promotion or to seek employment with another government agency or private company has been seriously and adversely affected," he said, reading from his three-page rebuttal.
Boozikee also said many city employees do not report gifts that are valued at under $100, and spoke of an "improperly written and conflicting code."
"Ignorance of the law is no excuse," said ERB chairman Arthur Downey, who initially brought the charges against the three employees. He had recused himself from the decision and stood in the hallway while the ERB reviewed Boozikee's appeal.
"Regardless of what they come out with today, the damage is already done," Boozikee countered. "There was no violation."
"Yes it was," Downey retorted. "Not under the new rules, but under the rules at the time."
Back inside the room, ERB member August Stephen Johnson moved to find that Boozikee violated the ethics vote by accepting a gift of the Spurs tickets, and gave an appearance of favoritism toward a firm that is doing business with the city.
The ERB gave Boozikee a break on the fine by reducing the amount to $100, but the violation would still be in his employment file.
Members of the Ethics Review Board, including Downey and vice-chair Benjamin Youngblood, have said there are problems with how rules are worded in the Ethics Code. The previous City Council tweaked it, but more work apparently is needed as it considers its own place in the realm of ethical behavior.
"Nothing has been firmly scheduled," Valkavich said last week, adding that Council could tackle more ethics issues in January.
District 10 Councilman Chip Haass, who spoke recently of seeing various city employees dining finely with local, high-roller lobbyists (meals carry a $100 limit), said the same rules that apply to the very visible City Council should also apply to city employees and members of the Zoning Commission and other boards.
"We all need to look seriously at who is buying lunch and who is paying for Spurs tickets," Haass says. "If we do (accept) these things, down the line they are going to ask for something in return."
Assistant fire chief Alan Boozikee is left holding the bag in this mini-scandal - it pales in comparison to events that have occurred here throughout the years. It's just like frontier times. You call out the posse, and they ride hellbound down the trail of righteous vengeance. Ultimately, somebody's got to be hanged. •