Local NewsKemah City Administrator Pushes Rehiring Fired City Attorneys in Special Meeting

Despite multiple votes to terminate work with a controversial law firm, Kemah’s city administrator is asking for new contracts in a special meeting.
March 21, 2023
Facing multiple lawsuits in both federal and state court, the Kemah City Council voted last year to terminate a long relationship with the Gregg & Gregg law firm, but now the city’s administrator is pushing to rehire the controversial legal team.

Although the council voted last week to hire Kyle Dickson as the new city attorney, according to a special meeting agenda posted last Friday, City Administrator Walter Gant has proposed contracting with Gregg & Gregg to continue providing prosecutorial services in municipal court and to represent the Kemah Community Development Corporation in legal matters. 

Attorney Dick Gregg III drew scrutiny last year after the city grappled with multiple legal issues, including a federal lawsuit, T&W Holding Company v. City of Kemah, over the city’s alleged interference with a private property that closed multiple businesses and resulted in the towing of a food truck.

During a secretly recorded meeting last fall between Gant, City Council Member Doug Meisinger, and Police Chief Holland Jones, the three discussed alleged selective code enforcement as well as Mayor Carl Joiner’s deposition for the T&W Holding Company’s lawsuit. 

In response to Joiner’s testimony that he’d never met with city staff regarding permitting, Jones, an attorney by training, replied, “Well, that’s not true.” 

The Texan Tumbler

Over the next few months, Meisinger would repeatedly request a city council censure of Joiner. On December 30, 2022, he posted a portion of Joiner’s deposition along with a tranche of emails that had been withheld from discovery for the ongoing T&W Holding Company lawsuit. 

Although the city council was supposed to have considered a censure of Joiner on January 4, Gregg advised council members to take no action until after the next lawsuit hearing originally scheduled for January 17, 2023. Through the Texas Municipal League, the city is represented by attorney Bill Helfand of Lewis Brisbois in the T&W Holding Company suit, although city council considered removing him from the case just months ago.

Gregg also allegedly interacted with private property owners Mark and Veronica Crow after their long-running dispute over permitting for constructing a “barndominium” style home and two cottages. 

Although the Crows say Kemah building code administrator Brandon Shoaf emailed a permit in August 2021, in the following months, they would be told to place and then remove $18,000 in dirt for elevation, revise building plans, pay for a second drainage analysis, and finally restart their application process nearly one year later.

At a February 2022 city council meeting, members expressed shock over the problems the Crows experienced, with Council Member Darren Broadus calling the alterations to the plans “criminal,” and ordered a lift to stop work-order plans. 

The Crows refused to comply with restarting the application, citing mounting costs, and through attorney Kimberly Hoesl sent a demand letter to the city. Gregg allegedly then contacted Hoesl, claiming the couple never had building permits. Gregg requested a new development meeting to restart the permitting process, but after Hoesl declined, Gregg told the city council that the Crows were not planning to develop the property.

Following a lack of response from the city to the demand letter, the Crows filed suit in state district court in Galveston that included allegations that Gregg lied to Hoesl about the status of the permits. 

Although the Crows filed their lawsuit at the end of December, the city has not yet responded.

In September 2020, Gregg & Gregg warned the mayor and council that the use of sound ordinances to target a business would result in a lawsuit against the city for a constitutional “taking,” citing precedent court case City of McAllen v. Ramirez. Earlier this year, the city council instructed police to stop issuing sound violation citations; Gregg has insisted on prosecuting a sound ordinance violation against a local bar related to the T&W Holding Company lawsuit, with a court date set for April 18.  

While Gant is not an elected official, Kemah’s charter allows the city administrator to place items on the agenda for consideration. Last year, Joiner and the city council placed Gant on a performance improvement plan for several issues, including not notifying the council about lawsuits filed against the city. 

As city administrator, one of Gant’s responsibilities is to serve as the public information officer, but the city has struggled to comply with open records requests. Despite the existence of leaked emails widely circulated among Kemah residents, the city has on several occasions failed to produce the emails via open records requests.

A resident who spoke to The Texan on condition of anonymity said that after one request failed to produce expected emails, former city secretary Chandra Jobb told him that emails from former building code administrator Brandon Shoaf and others were kept on a separate server and would not appear in a standard search. After paying requested fees, the resident obtained some additional emails but not all of those he sought. Other communications not provided for open records requests were posted as supporting documentation for Meisinger’s December 30 agenda item on the censure of Joiner.

After receiving copies of leaked emails sent to new building code administrator Alfonso Acosta last year, The Texan formally requested the emails through a Texas Public Information Act request. Administrative specialist Rebecca Zeitler responded with only one email, but none of those that had been previously leaked. 

Much of the city council’s discussions of legal matters, including the dismissal of Gregg & Gregg, has taken place during executive session, and Gant has not provided a public explanation for re-hiring the firm. 

Council Members Meisinger, Darren Broadus, and Isaac Saldana all voted to terminate the city’s relationship with Gregg & Gregg last fall, but Council Member Robin Collins abstained after saying she had a conflict of interest. 

In the most recent vote over removing Gregg & Gregg last week, Collins voted to retain the firm while Teresa Vasquez Evans abstained. The motion passed 3 to 1.

Joiner did not file for reelection, and as the only candidate, Collins will be sworn in as mayor of Kemah in May. 

The Kemah Community Development Council is scheduled to meet Tuesday, March 21, and the agenda includes a potential contract with Gregg & Gregg. Board members are appointed by the city council and four of the two-year terms are currently expired, including that of former Kemah mayor Matt Wiggins.

Gant has also been deposed in the T&W Holding Company lawsuit, and after reviewing the deposition and other city documents, citizen activist Daniel Conrad called for Gant’s removal. 

After the beginning of the March 15 city council meeting, Joiner left the dais to make public comments before leaving the meeting. 

“We have a negative environment here,” said Joiner. “It’s toxic, it’s unprofessional, and quite frankly it’s a waste of time for me to attend these meetings anymore.”

A copy of Joiner’s deposition can be found below.


Disclosure: Unlike almost every other media outlet, The Texan is not beholden to any special interests, does not apply for any type of state or federal funding, and relies exclusively on its readers for financial support. If you’d like to become one of the people we’re financially accountable to, click here to subscribe.

Get “KB's Hot Take”

A free bi-weekly commentary on current events by Konni Burton.

Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a reporter for The Texan living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.

Related Posts