Georgetown Starves For Truth, Feeds On Rumor

By Ross Hunter

The Fourth Estate is a name that some people are still proud to be identified by, and I suspect that Ken Martin and his team of investigative journalists at the Austin Bulldog are such people.

But I seriously doubt that Linda Scarbrough and Clark Thurmond, publishers of the Williamson County Sun, actually give a damn one way or another anymore.

And sadly the story published by the Sun on June 16th about our city attorney, asking if the council knew he’d been fired from League City some 13 years earlier, did little more than muddy the surface waters over the real story that the Austin Bulldog had published the day before.

But before we get into specifics let me throw a rumor into the stories that will follow.

The rumor is that next Tuesday, June 22nd, when the city council meets in closed session to discuss the matter of the contract of one Mark Sokolow, attorney for the City of Georgetown, there will be an initiative mounted to award said attorney a 12-month severance bonus in the event he gets fired.

That’s right – a golden parachute designed as an exit strategy for a failing employee who may have to leave. And if you’re a taxpayer, may I just say that’s your money the council is throwing away here.

Sokolow’s contract already has a 6-month severance package, awarded recently when his probationary period ended and the council – astonishingly given the known facts of his wreckage across the county – awarded him a pay raise. Now in closed session the council unless stopped may go even further and double this golden parachute.

We must advocate to stop this of course. And I trust you will join me in facing down the council on this matter – contact us here for more details if you’re not already on the alert list.

So you heard it here first, although I never wanted to be a journalist and OldTowners never wanted anything but a quiet life. Now let’s get on with these real stories written by real journalists…

The Bulldog broke the story that:

  • Newly hired City Attorney Mark Sokolow has in his short time with us already derailed long-standing city negotiations.
  • He has alienated practically everyone who’s encountered him in the course of city business.
  • This is his his signature behavior, witnessed in two previous positions with municipalities.
  • One of the municipalities fired him for breach of client fiduciary duty – he sued the city, in a lawsuit dismissed for lack of substance.
  • Sokolow was on our payroll while still taking money from his previous employer Port Arthur, although no record of our council being aware of this has yet become visible.
  • Sokolow is fighting hard to keep secret his performance evaluation by the City of Georgetown, in the face of public information requests made by the Bulldog.
  • The City of Georgetown sought independent legal advice regarding the validity of Sokolow’s contract and hiring process, following earlier allegations of impropriety made by the Austin Bulldog.
  • It’s conjectural but possible that the sole reason for the contract review in executive session scheduled for next Tuesday, June 22nd, is prompted by the independent legal advice to clean up Sokolow’s contract, which was indeed executed in a deficient manner.
  • City and county officials are now working around Sokolow and excluding him from sensitive discussions in order to limit potential damage from his involvement – the entire county has become actively averse to working with him.
  • Staff and contractors naturally are afraid to talk about Sokolow publicly, but off the record describe him as a control freak who has destroyed previously vibrant channels of communication and frozen what used to be a smoothly running system.

In the shadow of all this, the Williamson County Sun broke the already old news that Sokolow was fired from League City, and interviewed practically the entire council to see if they remembered knowing about this.

The story WAS actually useful to illustrate how confused the council was in its selection process. Council members had opted to save the cost of using a recruitment firm by performing the recruitment itself. Big mistake, witness Sokolow.

And also – pricelessly – the story gave Sokolow a chance to speak. He said he’d moved on since League City days, and was disappointed to find them rehashed now. He admitted some unfortunate behavior patterns, and claimed to have spent much time working through them.

But what the Bulldog story makes clear – and what the Sun story, appallingly, leaves unchallenged – is that Sokolow’s claim of improvement is demolished by his actions since starting with our city. In fact, all he’s done is repeat his apparently age-old patterns: dysfunctional working relations, bull-headed obstinacy, and paranoid control mania. All of which result in a distinctly dulled performance edge.

Let me say that I like Jamaal E. O’Neal’s writing and I think he’s a good journalist. But there’s no juice coming from the publisher for a real local politics beat. Jamaal’s doing great, but he’s fronting for an institutionally half-hearted task, seriously undermanned, and seriously un-serious. The Sun is completely out of touch with what’s happening in Georgetown; you have to go to Austin for the clear view.

And you know what the worst part is? I live here, and I really could use a local paper that keeps me informed. But every year I have to decide if this local rag is really worth $32 to get in my mailbox twice a week. I can drain it of substance in 15 minutes and still be craving nutrients. You could starve for truth reading the Williamson County Sun.

Meanwhile the rumors coming from the locals – who have now taken to forming their own channels of communication – ah, those rumors are packed with vitamins.

 

Leave a reply