Criminal JusticeJudicialLocal NewsKemah Police Chief Files Criminal Complaint, City to Again Consider Censuring Mayor

The city council will again take up a proposal to censure Mayor Carl Joiner after the police chief alleged Joiner improperly ordered an investigation.
February 14, 2023
Following months of controversy and mounting legal bills, the Kemah City Council will once again consider censuring Mayor Carl Joiner over both new and old allegations.

In the posted agenda for the February 15 public meeting, Councilmember Doug Meisinger has requested possible action to censure the mayor for what Meisinger has characterized as “abuse of process, personal attacks, [and] actions disrespectful of city council members, city employees, city staff, and private citizens.”

He previously proposed to censure Joiner last October and then again last month over several matters, including allegations that Joiner ordered Police Chief Holland Jones to surveil Meisinger during the run-up to the May 2022 city council elections. Those allegations were discussed in a secretly recorded meeting between Meisinger, Jones, and City Administrator Walter Gant.

Last year, the city council voted to file a complaint against Joiner and invite law enforcement agencies to investigate, but now Jones has accused the mayor of inappropriately ordering a retaliatory investigation against him.

According to Meisinger’s formal request for censure, outside counsel conducted an investigation into the matter and prepared affidavits based on interviews with Jones and Gant. Jones then filed a formal criminal complaint against Joiner with the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office.

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Meisinger alleges that Joiner then directed Gant and former Human Resources Manager Olivia Briley to submit Public Information Act Requests in their own names seeking information on Jones, although according to Meisinger only the city has the authority to order such an investigation.

In a January 31 email, Jones told Gant he believed the mayor was conducting an investigation to coerce him to recant his statements.

“I will not recant, especially in light of the recent disclosures admitted by the Mayor in Executive Session,” wrote Jones.

Meisinger’s request for censure also repeats allegations that Joiner improperly obtained information on properties owned by former mayor and political rival Matt Wiggins; interfered in approving a certificate of occupancy for Meisinger’s business; and illegally attempted to block short term rental properties from operating. Meisinger added that Joiner has sued the City of Kemah, referring to the mayor’s lawsuit filed last year seeking the release of an investigative report on his oversight of an expansion and renovation of the Kemah City Hall, parking lot, and visitor center.

Although Meisinger’s latest request for censure is similar to the one he proposed last month, the new request does not include allegations that Joiner provided false testimony during depositions for a federal lawsuit still pending against the city.

Last year, the city hired law firm Lewis Brisbois at taxpayer expense to conduct an investigation into Jones, but has since refused to release results. After Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office ruled that Kemah must release the resulting investigative report, the city, represented by attorney Bill Helfand, filed a still-pending lawsuit to block the release of the report on Jones.

In September 2020, city attorneys Dick Gregg, Jr. and Dick Gregg III 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.” City police have been issuing citations to a few businesses, including a bar named Palapa’s, whose owner sued the city in federal court last year over unconstitutional takings that include towing a food truck, improperly denying permits, and closure of another bar and short-term rental apartments.

In a video taken by employees of Palapa’s on November 26, 2022, Kemah police officer J. Tankersley said, “I’m contacted by higher-ups saying I have to act,” referring to Jones. During a public meeting on January 4, 2023, Jones, who has a law degree, warned the council they needed to be careful about “giving the appearance of selective enforcement.”

Councilmember Darren Broadus also expressed concern over citations given to just some of the businesses grouped on the city’s 6th Street, saying, “I’ve been down there, and lots of times the officers — I’ve talked to them — they can’t tell where the noise is coming from ‘cause there’s multiple bars that have musicians playing, so how do you measure the noise and know which facility is actually creating the noise that’s going down?”

“Everybody might be under, but collectively they’re over [the decibel limit],” added Broadus.

On Jones’ advice, the mayor and council agreed that city police should not issue further citations for the time being. Citing that discussion, at a January 23 hearing, Palapa’s managers pleaded not guilty to sound ordinance violations, but Dick Gregg III insisted on prosecution and reset the case for April 18.

Last year, the council voted to terminate the city’s long relationship with the Gregg & Gregg law firm and has been interviewing replacement attorneys.

In addition to requesting censure of the mayor, Meisinger has also requested for the council to waive “attorney-client privilege on the email City Attorney Dick Gregg III sent Council on Monday, February 6, 2023 at 11:39 A.M., forwarding an email and letter sent by Mayor Carl Joiner’s attorney.”

In addition to the Palapa’s lawsuit, the city is also facing a state district court lawsuit over property owned by Mark and Veronica Crow, as well as a federal lawsuit over an inmate suicide at the county’s jail in 2014.

City Council Member Robin Collins has filed to run for mayor in the upcoming May election, but Joiner has not yet filed for re-election. The filing deadline is Friday, February 17.


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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.