District 1 City Councilman Malcolm Hamilton refuses to say where he lives. And he claims that where he works is none of anyone’s business.
Hamilton’s lack of transparency makes it difficult for anyone to independently assess potential conflicts of interest or basic matters like who their councilman is and whether he’s still eligible for the office that voters elected him into last year. It’s a break with the practices of current and former council members that requires Odessans to take Hamilton at his word.
In an emailed statement, Hamilton insisted he has “always resided in District 1.” And he said he is “aware of the requirements concerning conflict of interest” and that he would abstain from votes like other councilors do on matters presenting a conflict of interest “with employment or financial investments.”
“In the past, when I shared my place of employment with people, they have shown up to my worksite and harassed my employer and myself,” the statement from Hamilton said. “I believe disclosure of my place of employment may subject not only myself but also my employer to potential harassment.”
But Hamilton has never reported a place of employment to the city. He listed “oil and gas industry” as his occupation on a city filing and city officials say they don’t know where he works.
Former District 2 Councilman Jimmy Goates, who was an early supporter of Hamilton, called for greater transparency from the councilman.
“Yes, people do have the right to know where you are working,” Goates said. “That’s just normal life. People know where you are working. That way there is no conflict of interest.”
City Secretary Norma Grimaldo said Hamilton has provided the city with an address in his district as his residence but has instructed city staff not to release the address to the public.
The issue of Hamilton’s employment surfaced when he missed two regular City Council meetings — on Sept. 26 and Oct. 10 — for what he told city officials was a work trip to Pennsylvania and West Virginia.
Grimaldo confirmed Hamilton’s assertion that he notified her in advance that he would miss the meetings.
The Oct. 10 meeting nonetheless proved controversial because of the absences of two additional council members — District 3 Councilwoman Barbara Graff and District 5 Councilman Filiberto Gonzales. The three councilors have voted in a bloc on controversial decisions such as the ouster of City Manager Richard Morton last month.
On Oct. 10, the City Council was scheduled for a discussion with an outside attorney about the latest sexual harassment complaint against City Attorney Larry Long and a closed-door review of his job.
District 4 Councilman Mike Gardner would describe Graff’s and Gonzales’ absences as “suspicious.” But they said they were absent because of sickness and work obligations, respectively.
Hamilton’s claim that Odessans do not have a right to know his employer came in a public Oct. 11 Facebook post responding to the Odessa American’s coverage of that meeting, which he described as “disinformation” that’s part of a conspiracy theory he has espoused for months, without evidence.
“As far as Where I work, is none of anyones business! Why should it be, it has nothing to do with the city or the council and I have privacy rights as a citizen working in the private Sector, just as any man or woman.” Hamilton wrote.
Hamilton’s post began by saying “Thank you” to an Odessan named Richard Love.
“Mr. Love Reached out and left his contact information with the city secretary and asked that I call him—which I did. We had a great conversation!!!!”
Reached by the OA, Love said he agreed that the roughly 90 minute talk was “a good conversation” and that he appreciated Hamilton calling him. But he described the chat in a different light.
“It was really heated between me and him,” Love said. “And then he said the GD word and I said ‘Don’t you ever say that to me’.”
Love said he was yelling too before their tone eventually cooled in a wide ranging conversation.
Love said he also asked him where he worked but said Hamilton wouldn’t answer.
“The reason he doesn’t put his workplace down is because, he said, ‘I don’t have to,” Love recalled. “I said ‘Well everybody else does,’ and he said ‘I’m not going to do it. It’s really nobody’s business’.”
Love said it left him wondering: “what’s there to hide?”
Goates said “every City Council member that I’ve known since I’ve been in Odessa since 1976” has disclosed their business interests. Goates donated to Hamilton’s campaign last year but later criticized some of Hamilton’s behavior once he took office.
“When you run for public office, you open your life up and that is just normal,” Goates said. “And you have to let people know where you work. And you have to unfortunately let people know some of your investments. That’s normal.”
Hamilton declined to answer questions from the newspaper about what work took him out of town during the two recent council meetings that he missed, saying that “My employer sent me out of town for business.”
Before Sept. 26, the last time Hamilton missed a City Council meeting was in January. When he returned from that trip, he declined to say where he was when the OA asked him.
But the newspaper would learn he had been on a 12-day taxpayer funded trip to his former home of Minneapolis for the purported reason of studying the city’s downtown. Hamilton’s expenses billed to taxpayers initially totaled more than $2,100 for flights, a hotel stay and a rental car.
After it became public, Hamilton reimbursed the city about $310 for the cost of a six-day extension to the trip.
But Hamilton has not filed any expenses with the city for the most recent trip or indicated he was on city business.
Adding to the mystery of Hamilton’s employment is his history of exaggerating his work experience, having campaigned on the image of a home-grown athlete who reached the pros and became a successful businessman.
A campaign ad, for example, claimed he had been an “Investment Banker.” And he told the newspaper during his campaign that “I have experience in investment banking.”
Public records suggested otherwise: a stint lasting about a year and eight months in a sales role at a brokerage firm but not a job as an investment banker.
Records showed that after a professional football career that ended in 2002, Hamilton worked at least 12 jobs during the past 10 years and faced a series of financial troubles.
One of those jobs illustrates the sort of conflicts Hamilton could face in the decisions that come before elected officials.
Before being elected councilman, one of Hamilton’s recent employers was the oilfield equipment company, FMC Technologies. He worked there from December 2014 through April 2016.
In January 2016, the City Council voted to give the company more than $380,000 worth of public incentives.
Hamilton was not on the council at the time. But if another employer of Hamilton seeks incentives from the city, Odessans may not have any way of knowing unless the councilman recuses himself from voting on the matter.
Public officials should be held to a higher standard, former Mayor Larry Melton said.
“If you are willing to serve the city you ought to be willing to let the people know who you are and where you reside and who you work for and things about you,” Melton said. “I think that’s part of being a City Council member.”
Doing so is more than just making a good gesture, Melton said. City law requires City Council members to live continuously in their districts or forfeit their positions.
And knowing where a councilor works helps guard against self-dealing and conflict of interest. Melton offered an example, during his tenure. Melton was chief executive of accounting firm Johnson, Miller & Co. That was public. And accordingly, his firm never bid on the opportunity to perform city audits.
“If it affects their personal business they should abstain from voting,” Melton said. “And if we do not know what that job or company or career is then that’s very difficult to monitor.”