NORMAN — Councilman Tom Kovach has been paid nearly $10,000 in consulting fees for work in Tom Sherman's mayoral campaign, according to campaign expenditure reports filed with the city clerk.
Kovach said he doesn't think the work is a violation of the city's ethics ordinance, which prohibits council members from using their offices to endorse or oppose a candidate.
“At no time have I said that I, Tom Kovach, councilman for Ward 2, support Tom Sherman,” Kovach said.
Sherman and David Kempf are challenging incumbent Cindy Rosenthal for mayor.
Candidates filed campaign contribution and expenditure reports with the city clerk's office Friday. The city's election commission reviewed the reports Monday.
“It's my understanding a question was raised at the meeting about the consulting work and whether it violated the ethics ordinance,” City Attorney Jeff Bryant said.
However, Bryant said, no one asked him to look into the legality of it, nor has anyone filed a formal complaint.
The ordinance says a council member can't use his office to endorse or oppose a candidate, Bryant said, “but what is a reasonable interpretation of that? Just because you run for office doesn't mean you give up your free speech rights.”
Rosenthal said, “I think it's unprecedented. I think there's an incredible difference between somebody who might support a candidate and somebody actually taking money from a candidate.”
Kovach said he was hired by Sherman “to get him up to speed” on city issues.
“The mayor could have hired me as a consultant, but she didn't. It's not what you do in your outside life that creates a conflict of interest. It's what comes before council,” Kovach said.
Sherman's campaign expenditure report shows $3,750 paid to Kovach, personally, and an additional $3,750 paid to AIC Consulting, a company co-owned by Kovach and former council members Bob Thompson and Hal Ezzell. Sherman also paid $2,500 in consulting fees to Ranch Camp, a company in which Kovach is in partnership with David W. “Will” Weir.
“It's obviously common knowledge that I am working for Tom Sherman. The same address — my address — is listed for all three expenditures. I helped write the ethics ordinance, and that's one reason I felt it needed to be rewritten. The idea is not to use your office to endorse or oppose anyone, but what you do in your personal life is different,” Kovach said.
Kovach said he told the mayor “up front” before the campaign began that he would be a consultant for Sherman.
City Attorney Bryant said, “Sometimes what is legal is not necessarily politically expedient.”
If asked, Bryant said, “we would look into it. So far no one has asked us to do anything. I suspect after the election on Tuesday it will become a moot point.”
Also in the reports
According to the campaign contribution and expenditure reports, Rosenthal has received contributions totaling $89,859. She lists expenditures at $99,673, including consulting fees to Red Dirt Strategies. Sherman lists $57,985 in contributions and $40,892 in expenditures.
Kempf lists a loan to himself of $180, and expenditures totaling $205.