Members of the Granite Shoals Ethics Review Commission consult with City Attorney Joshua Katz (on screen) over Zoom during the final hearing on ordinance violations by City Councilor Phil Ort. Commissioners Jeffrey Kahl (left), Mark Morren, and Seth Smith deliberated in Ort’s absence as he did not attend the hearing on Dec. 13. Staff photo by Dakota Morrissiey
Granite Shoals City Councilor Phil Ort was indicted Dec. 9 by a Burnet County grand jury in a vandalism incident that happened in the Marble Falls H-E-B parking lot last year. Unrelated to that, Ort was sanctioned by the Granite Shoals Ethics Review Commission on Tuesday, Dec. 13, for what it determined were violations of several city ethics ordinances and Texas government codes.
The grand jury indictment charges Ort with keying a car in the grocery store’s parking lot in October 2021. The case was moved from Burnet County Court at Law to the 33rd and 424th Judicial District Courts after damages to the car were estimated to be more than $2,500. Under that amount would be a misdemeanor and handled in the lower court.
A state jail felony charge carries a potential fine of up to $10,000 and between 180 days and two years in jail. No other information was available on the case at time of this story’s publication.
The ethics complaint against Ort was filed by resident Susan Bushart on Oct. 17 and first addressed by the recently formed Ethics Review Commission during a preliminary hearing on Nov. 21. Bushart charged Ort with refusal to hand over copies of complaints he claimed to have received from residents regarding his Dark Skies Ordinance proposal.
Granite Shoals resident Kiel Arnone submitted a public information request for access to the complaints. Ort refused to provide the information and claimed to have destroyed all 41 messages to protect the identities of those who had reached out to him.
During its final review of the case, the commission determined that Ort withheld public information and used his city email account for inappropriate communications.
Commissioners Mark Morren, Jeffery Kahl, and Seth Smith, who were appointed to the commission when it was formed on Sept. 27, opted to sanction Ort with a letter of censure, the strongest punishment available to them in the city charter.
Commissioners have five days to draft the letter and present it to the city attorney for review. It then will be presented to the City Council to determine what, if any, other actions can or should be taken.
“Since I have been here, this is the first time that we have processed a complaint against a city councilor through an ethics commission,” Interim City Manager Peggy Smith told DailyTrib.com after the meeting. Smith has been with the city for more than nine years.
Ort did not attend the commission’s final hearing and was not available for comment at the time of this story’s publication.