Decision Stands on Denial of Public Funding for Sheriff Gonzales

The City’s Independent Hearing Officer (HO) on Monday affirmed the City Clerk’s decision to deny Sheriff Manny Gonzales just over $660,000 in public campaign funding,

The decision leaves Tim Keller as the only publicly financed candidate for mayor in the November 2 municipal elections. The sheriff announced that he would appeal.

In denying the sheriff’s appeal after a seven-hour hearing last week, HO Ripley B. Harwood stated his view that the sheriff’s failure “to detect and eliminate a multitude of forged qualifying contribution forms bearing the signatures of key campaign subordinates constitutes failure to exercise ordinary care in the management of a campaign.”

Harwood rejected the sheriff’s arguments that the city clerk exceeded his authority in denying funding, since the clerk is prohibited from awarding funding where he detects fraud.  The HO also denied that the clerk’s decision was flawed because the clerk did not issue findings of fact along with his decision, and that the clerk’s denial of public funds wrongly deprived the sheriff of a  property interest in public funding without due process.  He strongly rejected the sheriff’s argument that such fraud is commonplace in political campaigns.  

Especially as the sheriff acknowledged that some signatures were forged, the HO stated that evidence of fraud was “sufficient to be regarded as widespread rather than isolated” and was “traceable to Mr. Gonzales’ key subordinates.”  Further, he rejected the argument as being “without merit” that the clerk’s decision was motivated by fear of losing his position, as the clerk is confirmed by the City Council and can be removed only for cause.

The City’s Inspector General has been asked to investigate the claims of fraud and is to issue a report August 16.  City Clerk Ethan Watson referred the most recent fraud complaints against the  sheriff’s campaign to the city’s Board of Ethics and Campaign Practices.