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Hashmi: 'Accountability' a concern for Paris council, PEDC

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Last night in Paris, the city council voted not to send results of an investigation of the local Economic Development Corporation to the state Attorney General’s office and the state Comptroller’s office. The motion was introduced by former mayor and current councilmember Dr. A.J. Hashmi. KETR’s Mark Haslett spoke with Hashmi about last night’s vote.

Mark Haslett: Paris Mayor Matt Frierson voted against sending the investigation’s findings to Austin. So did councilmembers Dr. Richard Grossnickle, Edwin Pickle and Benny Plata. They prevailed 4 to 3 over Hashmi, Aaron Jenkins and Billie Sue Lancaster. Hashmi explained why he introduced the measure to send the results of the investigation of the Paris Economic Development Corporation to the office of Texas Attorney general Greg Abbott as well as to the State Comptroller’s office.

Dr. A.J. Hashmi: The confidence of the people of Paris has been shaken by this investigation, and I think that the people of Paris deserve answers as to how their tax payer dollars were used, what they were used for, and if they were used inappropriately, who is held responsible for that. And that is why I made a motion that since there is a concern raised in the investigative report, that the matter be referred to the Texas Comptroller’s Office and to the Texas Attorney General to apply appropriate laws and see if they were transgressions or not.

Haslett: The Paris EDC had been investigated by a private firm due to allegations of misappropriated funds. Hashmi said that while a state agency could investigate the matter without the council being involved, a referral from the council chambers would send the right message to people in Paris about city government demanding accountability when tax dollars are involved.

Hashmi: We are elected officials and we represent the interest of the people of Paris from all seven districts, and I felt that it was very important for the elected leaders to put the issue in front of the appropriate parties so that appropriate action is taken. Now does the Attorney General’s Office investigate on their own or can a citizen refer the matter directly? Yes they can, but we talk about accountability and transparency, and I think before we tell others about transparency and accountability, we ourselves should be transparent and accountable.

Haslett: Hashmi pointed out that the private firm that conducted the investigation of the Paris EDC didn’t have the subpoena powers that a state agency would. As for why the mayor and three councilmembers voted against the initiative, Hashmi said he didn’t know. 

Hashmi: I think one of them, probably, tried to explain. I still do not understand the reasoning. One of the reasons which was given was that they didn’t want to bog the Attorney General’s office with more paperwork. But again I hope they voted their conscience and that’s all I’ll say.

Haslett: The Paris News reported that Paris Mayor Matt Frierson said last night he wanted to wait until after an upcoming joint meeting of the council and the Paris EDC on the topic of the investigation. That meeting is set for either September 15 or 16. It’s unclear whether Danny Defenbaugh, who authored the investigation’s findings, would attend that meeting. 

Mark Haslett has served at KETR since 2013. Since then, the station's news operation has enjoyed an increase in listener engagement and audience metrics, as well recognition in the Texas AP Broadcasters awards.