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Ethics complaint over Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson’s retweet dismissed

Ethics advisory commission members disagreed that a reasonable person could conclude that he used his title to support a council candidate.
Mayor Eric Johnson speaks during a press conference at Kay Bailey Hutchinson in Dallas on Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. Mayor Eric Johnson, city officials and Dallas-area elected leaders discussed the ongoing vaccination response. (Juan Figueroa/ The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

By Everton Bailey Jr.

A preliminary panel dismissed an ethics complaint filed against Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson on Tuesday.

Three members of the city’s Ethics Advisory Commission Committee voted 2-1 against moving the complaint to a full hearing, saying it didn’t meet a standard where a reasonable person could conclude a city ethics violation had occurred.

The complaint had argued that Johnson broke city rules by sharing news about his endorsement of a City Council candidate through his Twitter account.

Dallas’ code of ethics bans city officials from using their official titles when making political endorsements. Typically, “honorable” is used in place of “mayor,” “city council member” or other title when an official endorses a political candidate.

At issue was an April retweet from Johnson of Donald Parish Jr., a District 7 candidate who finished third in the May 1 general election. Parish’s tweet shared a Dallas Morning News story on Johnson’s endorsement of the council hopeful. It also quoted from the article, which identified Johnson in the headline and in the story as the mayor.

Barry Jacobs, a retired attorney and publisher of city politics Facebook group and website Reform Dallas, claimed in his April 23 complaint that Johnson’s retweet to his 38,000 followers counted as a political endorsement of Parish and that the public display of his title was a violation.

In a response filed last week, Johnson said that the retweet was from his personal account, @Johnson4Dallas, and that he was “acting as a private citizen and was not using the prestige of his office.”

“The retweet contained no added content,” Johnson wrote. “It simply passed on Mr. Parish’s tweet.”

Ethics Advisory Commissioner Paul Castillo, who voted against moving the complaint forward, said a violation was not apparent. Johnson didn’t type out the initial tweet, and “mayor” wasn’t used in quotes from the article that Parish published. Also, it’s unknown whether Johnson knew the story had his title in the headline or the URL when he shared Parish’s post, the commissioner said.

“It’s not clear to me that the mayor acted with knowledge that the underlying article … had the term ‘mayor,’” Castillo said.

Commissioner Thomas Perkins, who voted with Castillo, didn’t give an explanation before or after his vote.

Commissioner Cassandra Hernandez, who was the sole “yes” vote, said she believes sharing content on social media gives the perception of acceptance for all of it. She noted that while Johnson had no control over what was in the article, he could have also decided against retweeting Parish.

“It’s kind of dangerous to think that just because a person does not originally create a post that they’re essentially scot-free from re-sharing something,” Hernandez said.

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