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Ethics commission finds against councilman Fernandez

January 15, 2013

The Texas Ethics Commission has issued a note of final resolution in the complaint against Big Spring District 1 Councilman Marcus Fernandez claiming the local politician illegally accepted campaign contributions during his 2011 bid for office.

According to the report, the TEC met Nov. 29, 2012, to consider the complaint, which was filed by local resident Joyce Crooker in March 2012. The complaints were the result of an investigative report published by the Big Spring Herald in 2011 alleging Fernandez — along with Mayor Tommy Duncan and District 3 Councilman Glen Carrigan — accepted campaign contributions from corporations, which is prohibited by Sections 253.003 and 253.094 of the Texas Election Code.

According to the TEC and published in Section IV Findings and Conclusions of Law, the commission found credible evidence of violations of Sections 253.003 and 253.094 of the Texas Elections Code.

“On Feb. 22, 2011, the respondent (Fernandez) filed a campaign treasurer appointment with the city of Big Spring,” the notice reads. “On his campaign treasurer appointment, the respondent signed a statement stating he was aware of the restrictions in Title 15 of the Election Code on contributions from corporations or labor organizations.

“Nevertheless, on March 3, 2011, and March 10, 2011, the respondent accepted two contributions from corporations totaling $1,200. The contributors were identified as incorporated entities on the contribution checks at issue. The respondent endorsed one of the checks. There is credible evidence of violations of Sections 253.003 and 253.094 of the Texas Elections Code.”

According to campaign finance reports filed with the city of Big Spring during Fernandez's bid for office, the city councilman accepted a donation of $1,000 from Quad A Inc. and a $200 donation from Hydro Dynamics.

Fernandez was sanctioned by the Texas Ethics Commission as a result of the complaint.

“After considering the nature, circumstances and consequences of the violations described under Sections 3 and 4, the sanction necessary to deter future violations, the commission imposes a $200 civil penalty,” the notice reads.

According to TEC records, Fernandez accepted the resolution agreement Dec. 16, 2012.

The TEC entered a similar agreement with Carrigan, issuing a $200 fine. According to the campaign report submitted by Carrigan during his 2011 bid for the District 3 seat, the councilman reported receiving $1,000 from Quad A Inc. and $400 from Hydro Dymanics.

The complaint filed against Duncan has not yet been resolved by the TEC, however, a judgment could come as soon as February, according to paperwork received by Crooker.

While Fernandez and Carrigan can now close the books on their TEC complaints, the first-year councilmen aren't out of the woods yet, as former longtime councilwomen Stephanie Horton and Joann Staulcup have filed lawsuits against both, which are still pending.

According to Sec. 253.131 of the Election Code, candidates challenged during the election by a person who accepts an illegal campaign contribution could be awarded civil damages to the tune of “twice the value of the unlawful contribution,” as well as “reasonable attorneys fees incurred in the suit.”

The civil suit could cost Fernandez $2,400 — payable to Horton, who was unseated in the election — and a total of $2,800 from Carrigan, who would have to pay the amount to Staulcup and challengers Shannon Thomason and Oscar Velasco, who also challenged him for the seat in 2011, for a total of $8,400.

Midland attorney C.H. “Hal” Brockett is representing Staulcup and Horton in the legal action.

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