Wichita Falls city councilors agree to pay fines in election-code violation complaints

Four members of the Wichita Falls City Council have agreed to pay fines to the Texas Ethics Commission to resolve a complaint of violations of the state’s election code.

Mayor Tim Short, District 3 Councilor Jeff Browning, District 4 Councilor Mike Battaglino and District 5 Councilor Tom Taylor agreed to pay the fines to the TEC. The fines are $500 each.

Four of the seven members of the Wichita Falls City Council agreed to pay fines related to election code violation allegations.
Four of the seven members of the Wichita Falls City Council agreed to pay fines related to election code violation allegations.

The fines stem from in-kind political donations provided to the candidates by the Political Action Committee of the Wichita Falls Professional Firefighters Association.

The TEC's findings regarding the in-kind donations were posted on the commission’s website on Thursday.

Wichita Falls Mayor Tim Short in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.
Wichita Falls Mayor Tim Short in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.

Short, Battaglino and Taylor were newly elected to the council on Nov. 7, 2023, and Browning was re-elected to a new term.

The commission found that each of the candidates were notified before the election that they had been endorsed by the firefighters’ PAC, that they provided the firefighters’ PAC and a Lubbock political consultant with photos, and participated in filming of an endorsement video paid for by the firefighters’ PAC.

District Three Councilor Jeff Browning in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.
District Three Councilor Jeff Browning in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.

The commission said the PAC paid the consultant $61,200 for work on the campaigns of its endorsed candidates.

The commission said the candidates did not disclose in-kind contributions from the firefighters’ PAC in campaign reports as originally filed. The commission found “credible evidence” of violations.

District Four Councilor Mike Battaglino in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.
District Four Councilor Mike Battaglino in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.

On a second allegation, the commission determined the candidates did not knowingly accept donations from the Wichita Falls Professional Firefighters Association, which is separate from the group’s PAC. Knowingly accepting such donations could violate an Elections Code rule against accepting donations by unions.

The conclusions reached by the commission indicate the individual councilors “neither admits or denies the finding of fact or conclusion of law.” The agreed resolution is “solely for the purpose of resolving the sworn complaint.”

District Five Councilor Tom Taylor in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.
District Five Councilor Tom Taylor in a city council meeting at the Ray Clymer Exhibit Hall in Wichita Falls.

The complaint was filed by Cathy Dodson, an unsuccessful candidate for the District 3 City Council seat.

In a separate allegation, Dodson claimed Browning accepted donations or made expenditures before appointing a campaign treasurer as required by the code. The commission found no evidence of a violation.

Cathy Dodson
Cathy Dodson

The firefighters association is collecting signatures to put collective bargaining and binding arbitration on the Nov. 5 ballot.

The city's Public Information Office responded that binding arbitration would obligate future councils and budgets and that the city already has measures in place to "get all parties to the table and make meaningful decisions."

More: Defeated candidate files election complaints against new City Council members

More: Wichita Falls firefighters union seeks collective bargaining rights

More: City of Wichita Falls fires back at firefighters' collective bargaining effort

This article originally appeared on Wichita Falls Times Record News: Wichita Falls city councilors fined by Texas Election Commission

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