Round Rock mayor faces conflict of interest questions

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Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan
Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan

Round Rock Mayor Craig Morgan has faced some heat after local television station KXAN aired a recent report pointing out that his law firm collects delinquent taxes for the city.

Critics have called the arrangement a conflict of interest, but Morgan insists he is doing nothing wrong.

“I understand the perception,” Morgan told The Statesman. He has worked for 11 years at Round Rock-based law firm McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen, P.C., where he oversees delinquent tax collections in Williamson and Milam counties. “But I have worked with the firm since I’ve lived in Round Rock. This is not anything hidden.”

That firm began collecting delinquent taxes for Round Rock in 2013 and has reaped $622,000 for the city since that time, KXAN reported. The Statesman reported that the firm could earn more than $335,000 in markup fees if it can collect the $2.2 million in city property taxes that remain unpaid.

The Round Rock City Council used Austin-based Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson LLP for its collections when Morgan first joined that panel in 2011 but switched to Morgan’s firm two years later — a vote that Morgan abstained from as required by state law.

When Morgan joined the council, he filed a statement disclosing his financial interest as an employee of McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen. He filed a second disclosure prior to the council vote for his firm.

City spokesman Will Hampton told The Statesman that when the school district stopped handling property tax collections, city staff recommended the council use McCreary, Veselka, Bragg & Allen because the firm already served the same function for Williamson County. The council added library fines to the firm’s charge in 2015.

Morgan was elected mayor of Round Rock last year.

The Statesman reported that several council members and a city ethics attorney expressed support for Morgan, arguing his role as a managing partner at the firm does not create a conflict of interest. Community newspaper Round Rock Leader reported that a legal expert said the council could have grounds to remove Morgan from his post.

The Round Rock charter says that no member of the council or city employee shall have a financial interest in a contract with the city. Carol Birch, Texas Public Citizen’s legislative counsel, told KXAN that could bar the mayor from this arrangement

“Even if the mayor isn’t, himself, doing that legal work, he benefits because his law firm benefits,” she said.

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