Friday, September 30, 2016

From the Austin American - Statesman: Austin state Rep. Dawnna Dukes to step down amid investigation

Texas ethics rules are loose, but not non-existent.

- Click here for the article.
Dukes drew the attention of investigators earlier this year when she was accused of misusing her staff for nonstate work.
Michael French, an employee she fired shortly after he complained, said that Dukes was forcing her employees to work on state time on a pet project, theAfrican American Community Heritage Festival. That event, launched 17 years ago and co-founded by Dukes, raised money for Huston-Tillotson University.
Dukes maintained that the directive was acceptable because the festival benefited the community.
“There is not an issue with employees working on community events that benefit the constituency,” Dukes told the American-Statesman at the time. “I take great pride in this event being well organized and being unblemished. For 17 years we have not had one problem.”
After looking into the issue, the state auditor’s office referred its concerns to the Travis County district attorney’s office, which opened an investigation. The Texas Rangers soon joined in.
During the probe, other allegations of wrongdoing came to light. A text message by Dukes obtained by the Statesman indicated that she was using state money to pay a legislative aide for gas needed to drive Dukes’ daughter to and from school and run other personal errands. The employee received a $268-per-month raise on Sept. 1, 2015, according to documents obtained through the Texas Public Information Act.

She will resign after the election apparently in order to maximize her retirement pay.

Dukes is allowing her current term to expire rather than resigning immediately, allowing her to make an extra $3,220 per year in retirement benefits from the state because serving any amount in January counts as a full year when calculating pension benefits. Dukes will make $74,060 per year in retirement, a substantial bump from the $41,000 she’s making over two years in her current term.
Dukes’ name will still appear on the Nov. 8 general election ballot. If she beats Republican Gabriel Nila in the heavily Democratic district, her seat will be vacant starting Jan. 10 until a special election that will probably be held in the spring, while the Legislature is in session.
Because there are no other Travis County races scheduled for the spring, the special election could cost taxpayers as much as $200,000, Travis County Clerk Dana DeBeauvoir said.

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