The October 18 city council meeting agenda posted Friday includes the following request:
“Consideration and Possible Action regarding allegations against the mayor for improperly instructing staff, including but not limited to, directing the Police Chief to conduct surveillance on a City Council Member/Candidate during election season and threatening the City Administrator with his job, should a Certificate of Occupancy be issued for a new business being opened by a City Council Member.”
Council member Doug Meisinger has brought forth allegations from Police Chief Holland Jones that Joiner asked him to surveil Meisinger in the weeks prior to council elections in May 2022.
Joiner is alleged to have interfered in the city’s permitting process in favor of his associates and against his political enemies.
In a January 27, 2022 email obtained by The Texan, then-Chief Building Official Brandon Shoaf notified city council members that although they had voted against offering a food truck variance to Bubble Jungle Beer Garden, Joiner had ordered Shoaf to issue a permit allowing food trucks anyway.
“Due to the sensitivity of the matter and the decision already rendered by council, I am seeking council’s clarification to proceed with this directive that was issued to me? Please advise,” wrote Shoaf, who has since resigned from his position with the city.
In February, the council approved revisions to city ordinances that allowed for food trucks in some settings.
Last year, city officials ordered the towing of a food truck stored but not in use on private property at Palapa’s, a business owned by It’s Five O’Clock Here, LLC., after a lengthy permitting dispute with owners. The incident resulted in a still ongoing federal lawsuit filed by the business alleging violations of the U.S. and Texas Constitutions.
Joiner also allegedly targeted a property owned by former mayor Matt Wiggins, leased by Meisinger for a business, and threatened that City Administrator Walter Gant would lose his job if Meisinger successfully obtained a certificate of occupancy.
In a sworn deposition in the Palapa’s food truck lawsuit, Joiner said he did not play any role in building code enforcement and did not give directives to the city administrator regarding code enforcement. In the same deposition, Joiner admits to communicating with the Palapa’s owner and meeting with Veronica Crow, a Kemah property owner who has been unable to obtain a city construction permit for nearly two years.
In an interview with The Texan, Crow explained her plans for building a “barndominium” residence and two small cottages on her property had been stamped and approved by the city in June 2021, but shortly afterwards, Shoaf repeatedly requested meetings with her along with Gant and Joiner and delayed the issuance of a permit.
At each meeting, Crow said she was given another reason for full permitting delays, and began making recordings of the meetings. In one instance, Shoaf told her she would need to add dirt to raise the level of her property to 18 inches above the crown of the street.
Crow says Shoaf verbally told her she was operating under a permit, but on the same day she had building materials delivered in late November 2021, Shoaf requested she attend another meeting with Gant and Joiner during which the mayor, an architect, offered to design a different structure. Crow declined, and two days later, the city issued a “stop work” order without providing a reason.
Crow said later the city told her she must have an engineering firm conduct a new survey with a drainage plan that resulted in an order to remove the dirt raising the height of her property. After removing the dirt in July 2022, Crow said new Chief Building Official Alfonso Acosta told her she would have to start an entirely new application with a new checklist of requirements.
Crow said she has retained legal counsel to consider her options.
A second agenda item for next week submitted by Council Member Isaac Saldaña seeks to publicly reprimand the Mayor “for unilaterally (without council approval) authorizing an amusement in the city parking lot in total disregard of the protective measures established by council for such an event, including those protections of the public when a helicopter lands in an urban setting, resulting in an FAA enforcement action and multiple citations.”
Joiner has also placed on the agenda requests to censure all five city council members.
Narrowly elected in a highly contentious three-way race in May 2021, Joiner previously served as mayor from 2015 to 2019, but was unseated by former council member Terri Gale for one term.
Joiner drew controversy earlier this year for attempting to have council pass a prohibition on criticizing the city on social media, and has sued resident Daniel Conrad over Facebook posts. In August, council members voted 3 to 2 to censure the mayor over his lawsuit against Conrad and his bombastic behavior.
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Holly Hansen is a regional 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.