San Marcos City Council members voted 5–2 to keep Carter Morris on the Planning and Zoning Commission Tuesday evening after several alleged ethics violations were brought against him.
Emails sent from Morris to fellow Planning and Zoning commissioners were submitted as evidence in his ethics hearing. Morris, the commission’s vice chair, sent the emails while the board members were deciding whether to approve the construction of an apartment complex he was representing as a real estate agent at the time. This violates the San Marcos Ethics Code, according to City Attorney Michael Cosentino.
Councilman Shane Scott, Place 6, and Councilman John Thomaides, Place 3, casted the dissenting votes. A criminal trial for the ethics violations is currently pending.
Councilman Jude Prather, Place 2, said he has great respect for Morris, admires his philanthropy work in the community and considers him a friend. However, Prather said the ethics violations had become a “public shame fest” and suggested Morris resign from the Planning and Zoning Board.
Scott said he agreed with Prather’s statement.
Councilwoman Kim Porterfield, Place 1, said while she thought Morris should resign from the board, she thought the process had become “too political.” Porterfield said the removal of Morris from the board would cause a rift in the community.
David Gonzalez, Morris’ attorney, said at the meeting that Morris had indeed sent the emails and held meetings with Planning and Zoning commissioners about the proposed apartment complex, though he had no idea it violated the ethics code at the time. Gonzalez said the larger problem was Cosentino’s role in the incidents. Gonzalez said Morris immediately talked to Cosentino and asked for legal advice as soon as he heard there were ethics violations filed against him.
The councilmembers questioned Gonzales, Morris and Cosentino about their roles in the incident. Thomaides asked Cosentino whether he gave Morris legal advice before or after he knew of his alleged ethics violations, which Cosentino denied by saying no advice was given after the allegations.
Morris said he talked to Cosentino within 15 minutes of receiving the ethics violations email. Morris received a letter stating he could not accept clients anymore and instantly followed the letter’s instructions, he said.
“(You all) are calling me unethical and I’m not,” Morris said. “I didn’t do anything wrong.”
Scott asked Cosentino when Morris’ emails were discovered by the city, which Cosentino said did not happen until August 2013.
Thomaides asked Morris if he thought it was wrong to consider himself innocent. Morris said he felt like he did something wrong now, but thought what he was doing was completely legal when he sent the emails to his colleagues.
The ethics violations allegations during the past few months have had a sizable impact on his life and the way he approached his job, Morris said.
“I had to grow up pretty quick,” Morris said.