Russ Racop, the blogger who complained to the state Ethics Commission about Dallas Cowboys’ owner Jerry Jones’ gift worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to North Little Rock cops, has received notice that the Commission will have a probable cause hearing on his complaints.
The hearings will be at 9 a.m. April 21.
This means, at a minimum, that a staff review of the complaint has presented sufficient evidence for the commission to review to decide whether the gift ran afoul of ethics laws. That hearing will be closed to the public except that Racop may attend as might those contesting the complaint.
Racop said two North Little Rock aldermen had been dismissed from the complaint because they had not participated in the vote that attempted to declares Jones’ gift of Cowboy tickets, transportation and lodging to cops and family was legal compensation. Not all police took Jones up on the offer,— 120 of 178.
State law prohibits gifts to public servants worth more than $100. The Jones gift has been estimated to have been worth more than $300,000, or better than $2,000 on average per cop. Jones, a North Little Rock native, said he made the gift out of appreciation for the police. He’s been widely lauded for the gift.
To avoid the gift prohibition, the City Council voted to declare this compensation for police, though it was not reported as income and not all received it. Former Attorney General Dustin McDaniel offered free legal representation to any challenged on the gift. North Little Rock City Attorney Jason Carter has defended the gift on account of the City Council action declaring it compensation.
A violation of the gift rule on first offense is punishable by a warning.
Does the plain language of the gift prohibition have meaning? Or can city officials step in to “legalize” gifts as they choose? Would the state Ethics Commission declare something popular out of bounds,, minor though the punishment? We’ll know more April 21.