Criminal JusticeLocal NewsKemah City Council Votes to File Criminal Complaint Against Mayor With Texas Rangers, FBI

Mayor Carl Joiner allegedly interfered with city permitting and ordered police surveillance of a council member.
October 31, 2022
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Kemah’s city council unanimously voted to file a criminal complaint against Mayor Carl Joiner during a special emergency meeting last Friday.

According to the agenda item approved, the city’s attorney must file complaints and request investigations from the Galveston County district attorney, the Texas Rangers, the state attorney general, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Earlier this month, Councilmember Doug Meisinger brought forth allegations from Police Chief Holland Jones that Joiner had asked him to surveil Meisinger in the weeks prior to council elections last May. In addition, Meisinger aired allegations that Joiner had interfered in the city’s permitting process in favor of his associates and against his political enemies.

At a previous city council meeting, city attorney Dick Gregg urged the council to instead hire a law firm to investigate the matters, but Meisinger and council member Teresa Vazquez-Evans said law enforcement agencies were more appropriate than paying for a law firm.

Vazquez-Evans said she had spoken with Jones and City Administrator Walter Gant prior to the emergency meeting, and told the council, “They did confirm the allegation; they are standing by their statements. I don’t need a law firm to ask them the same questions.”

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Joiner’s alleged interference involves several properties, including one that attracted a federal lawsuit after city officials ordered a valuable food truck towed from a local tourist bar known as Palapa’s.

In a sworn deposition for the federal court, Joiner stated that he did not play any role in building permitting nor give directives regarding code enforcement, but evidence has surfaced indicating the mayor may have been directly involved in permitting for at least three different properties.

Joiner allegedly interfered with the issuance of permits for a property owned by former mayor Matt Wiggins but leased by Meisinger at 707 Bradford Street for a business, and threatened that both Gant and then-Chief Building Officer Brandon Shoaf would lose their jobs if Meisinger successfully obtained a certificate of occupancy.

Joiner also allegedly instructed Shoaf to file a complaint against Meisinger’s business with the state fire marshal’s office. In an email dated January 14, 2022, Shoaf wrote, “Mayor Joiner, just wanted to update you, per your directive rendered on 1/12, I submitted the City of Kemah’s complaint to the State Fire Marshal’s Office regarding the property at 707 Bradford.”

In his deposition for the federal lawsuit, Joiner specifically denied having instructed any fire marshal to inspect the property at 707 Bradford.

Gant eventually issued a certificate of occupancy for the property. Later, on February 8, 2022, Joiner had Gant placed on a performance improvement plan stating that he had “failed at times to follow Mayor/Council’s Directive(s).”

In a January 27, 2022 email obtained by The Texan, Shoaf notified the city council 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. Shoaf also submitted his resignation the same day.

In his own sworn deposition, Shoaf said he did not remember sending the emails, but also stated that although he had denied permits for the Palapa’s building, he had never actually conducted an interior inspection.

In a third case, attorneys for Kemah property owner Veronica Crow have now sent the city a demand letter outlining a timeline of events related to her construction, which includes Shoaf’s instructions to add and then remove dirt at the cost of more than $50,000 and then later telling her she must resubmit her permit application.

During her negotiations with the city, Crow began recording her meetings with Shoaf and Joiner, including one in which Joiner allegedly said Crow would need to re-design her property and could not build two cottages previously approved by the city.

At a previous meeting, Joiner told The Texan that Crow’s plans for her property would violate deed restrictions but acknowledged that the city did not have the power to enforce such restrictions. He said he had not seen the demand letter sent that day and did not have comment.

According to emails from Shoaf to the council and city attorney in June 2021, Joiner had on another occasion directed him to enforce deed restrictions to block short-term rentals. In addition to discovering decades-old language prohibiting “non-white” property owners within the deed restriction document for Bay Breeze, it was determined that the city does not have the authority to enforce deed restrictions under Texas law.

Joiner did not attend Friday’s meeting but had a surrogate read a letter saying he welcomed an investigation. The letter called for scrutiny as to how the property at 707 Bradford received a certificate of occupancy.

All five council members voiced frustration with what they said were Joiner’s threats to retaliate against not only staff but the council.

“I wish I could say it’s the first time he’s threatened us, he’s threatened to have us all investigated multiple times,” said Council member Isaac Saldaña.

Meisinger explained that the council was requesting a multi-agency investigation, since he believed that at least three previous complaints against Joiner filed with the Galveston County district attorney’s office had not been addressed.

In his final comments, Meisinger praised Gant and Jones for “coming forward and saying this happened knowing full well that they’re painting a bullseye right on their foreheads.”

“Don’t blur the line between right and wrong by looking at it through the lens of what you can and can’t get away with,” said Meisinger. “What has happened here is wrong and it’s time it stopped.”

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Holly Hansen

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.