North Texas Daily

Polling locations postponed due to conflicts of interest

Polling locations postponed due to conflicts of interest

Polling locations postponed due to conflicts of interest
February 14
00:55 2019

In their Feb. 5 meeting in a 6-1 vote, the Denton City Council decided to postpone the issue of polling locations for the May municipal elections until their next meeting on March 5. District 3 City Council member Don Duff voting against the postponing

The City Council has until March 13 to decide polling locations for the May municipal elections and it is Denton County that decides early voting locations while the city decides polling locations for Election Day, interim City Secretary Rachel Wood said.

“The conflict of interest provision in the ethics ordinance has two parts,” City Attorney Aaron Leal said at the meeting in response to Duff’s concerns. “[The first] is do they have a conflict of interest and the second part is, is there a pending matter?”

This issue, which involves the possibility of a polling location at UNT on Election Day, was postponed following concerns of conflict of interests for two city council members, as councilpersons Deb Armintor is an English professor at UNT and Meltzer is married to a UNT professor.

Meltzer moved to postpone the issue after hearing that there was not yet confirmation on whether The Village Church will serve as a polling location. Immediately after Meltzer moved to postpone, Duff brought up the issue of a potential conflict of interest, saying some members of city council have a conflict of interest when dealing with UNT.

Leal said the threshold for a conflict of interest was met by two city council members but said it is a pending matter.

“If UNT has expressed to [Wood] that ‘yes, we are willing to work with you to establish this,’ [then] we’re getting into a territory where it is arguable that there is a pending matter now before the council if it’s choosing to wish to decide whether or not to add a third election day polling location at UNT,” Leal said.

Leal said that statement is his opinion and the ultimate decision maker on this issue would be the ethics board should a complaint be brought before them or an advisor opinion is requested of them.

In her presentation regarding potential polling locations for the May 4 general election, Wood showed the Denton City Council members a presentation which included new information on a potential polling location at UNT.

“UNT indicated that they are very comfortable serving as a polling location for either early voting, Election Day or both,” Wood said. “UNT has also indicated that they would make the seven story Highland Street Parking Garage available and they’ve even volunteered that they would make golf carts available for people that needed to park there and had accessibility issues.”

Wood said she met with Melissa McGuire, assistant vice president of student affairs at UNT and Brandy Grimes, a deputy elections administrator for Denton County, determining that the Greek Life Center on Welch Street was the best option to serve as a polling place.

“If UNT is saying that ‘yes, we’ll work with you, let’s get it done,’ there is an argument that we’re crossing into a threshold of a pending matter,” Leal said. “Which is the second prong of a conflict of interest that’s required to be met.”

At the city council meeting, Armintor said she had emailed city manager Todd Hileman, who then forwarded it to Leal, asking if she had a conflict of interest and assumed there was no issue when she did not hear back.

“I stepped out before the discussion could even begin, in earnest, because I wanted to protect myself and also to protect the public and the public trust,” Armintor said. “I didn’t want to be part of a discussion without an official opinion on whether or not there was a conflict of interest.”

After Armintor stepped out of the council chambers to recuse herself from the discussion about polling places, seven people spoke to the council on the issue. Current city council candidates Matt Farmer, George Ferrie and Emily Meisner, as well as UNT professor Jennifer Lane, were among them.

“I think that if we want to, as a city, increase the visibility for these elections, it would just make sense to come up with more polling locations,” Farmer said at the meeting. “Especially around the universities.”

Following the public discussion and the vote to postpone the issue, the city council finished up their meeting with concluding items, officially adjourning at 12:43 a.m. on Feb. 6.

For the issue of a potential conflict on interest, Armintor said on Monday that after that city council meeting, she emailed the city auditor to initiate the process of getting that ethics question answered.

“So it’s my question that’s come before the ethics committee,” Armintor said. “And I want to know the answer to that question [of conflict of interest] because it’s an important question.”

Armintor said the city auditor will try to get the ethics committee to meet on Thursday to discuss the issue, but that does not mean they will have an opinion on Thursday.

“In the meantime, staff is looking to see if there’s a voting location that is right next to campus but not on campus,” Armintor said. “That would make the point of a potential conflict of interest moot.”

Featured Illustration by: Jordan Collard. 

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Lizzy Spangler

Lizzy Spangler

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