College Station Council Member Linda Harvell used city communications staff and equipment for personal project

City of College Station emails, recently unearthed by Brazos Journal, reveal that Place 3 City Council Member Linda Harvell used resources belonging to city’s Public Communications Department for a personal project. The misallocation of city resources is centered around Harvell’s application to the Food Network reality TV show, Worst Cooks in America. In an email to Mayor Karl Mooney, Harvell stated, “This is one of my favorite cooking competition shows because it’s just fun to watch and I’ve always enjoyed the antics of the contestants.”

Apparently, Harvell felt justified requesting that College Station Communications Director Jay Socol and Media Production Specialist Mark Beal deploy city time and equipment to help with the interview process and audition tapes because she planned to donate half the $25,000 prize money to charity if she won a spot on the show. “I would donate half of the proceeds – $12,500 – to the Fun for All Playground,” Harvell states in an email to Mooney. “I’m already a Park Fellow, having personally donated to the playground, and I knew this was a city related project that is near and dear to everyone’s hearts.”

Mooney’s response to Harvell indicates he was aware of the impropriety of Harvell’s actions: “While I do believe that you should not have used the resources of our Communications Department to create the video, I do not believe you did so maliciously. As I told Bryan, I am hoping we can use this as a learning/teaching opportunity for Council and city staff.”

Harvell’s email to Mooney was apparently prompted by questions being directed to City Manager Bryan Woods by local television station KBTX. Mooney, “The difficulty we are now faced with is using city resources for the videotaping. Yesterday Bryan Woods called me to say that KBTX was seeking information and trying to create some controversy. Allegedly they were told that a Councilmember had made inappropriate used of city resources.”

While KBTX was asking questions at the suggestion of a whistleblower who, in Mooney’s words, told them “that a Councilmember had made inappropriate used of city resources,” they never reported what occurred to the public. It took the nascent Brazos Journal to make this information available to Harvell’s constituents on October 27 of this year, about a week before election day and about two weeks after early voting had commenced on October 13. Voters, many having no knowledge of the misallocation of city resources, reelected Harvell to her position.

Following is the email thread between City of College Station Mayor Karl Mooney and Place 3 Council Member Linda Harvell, originally obtained via an open records request by Brazos Journal:

From: kmooney@cstx.gov
To: Linda Harvell
CC: Bryan C. Woods
Subject: Re: WCIA
Date: 05-Feb-2019 16:50

Linda,

I have no doubt that you entered this competition with a sense of humor and with only an intent to further serve the Fun for All Park, just as you have stated in today’s message and previously.

The difficulty we are now faced with is using city resources for the videotaping. Yesterday Bryan Woods called me to say that KBTX was seeking information and trying to create some controversy. Allegedly they were told that a Councilmember had made inappropriate used of city resources. While I do believe that you should not have used the resources of our Communications Department to create the video, I do not believe you did so maliciously. As I told Bryan, I am hoping we can use this as a learning/teaching opportunity for Council and city staff.

Since I mentioned him by name, please note that Bryan is receiving a copy of this message.

Karl

Sent from my iPhone

On Feb 5, 2019, at 4:37 PM, Linda Harvell < lharvell@cstx.gov> wrote:

Good afternoon, Mayor…

I would like to take a few minutes of your time to clarify my application to the reality TV show, “Worst Cooks in America.” This is one of my favorite cooking competition shows because it’s just fun to watch and I’ve always enjoyed the antics of the contestants.

Towards the latter part of December, there was a particularly funny episode on and at the end of the show, one of the hosts said, “if you want to apply to be on Worst Cooks in America…here’s how.” On a total whim, I made an online application.

In early January, I received an email from one of the casting producers that they liked my application and would like to take it a step further by interviewing me over the phone. Before I even replied, I immediately sent an email to Carla, you and the City Manager asking if there would be an issue with me participating on the TV show. Unanimously, all three of y’all agreed that there wasn’t a problem since this was not a city-related activity.

At that time, in my communications with y’all, I indicated that if I were selected and won the competition, I would donate half of the proceeds – $12,500 – to the Fun for All Playground. I’m already a Park Fellow, having personally donated to the playground, and I knew this was a city related project that is near and dear to everyone’s hearts.

I participated in the phone interview and once again, several days later, I received a phone call taking the application process a step further, with another casting director wanting to interview me using Facetime. I once again notified y’all that it appeared I was being seriously considered. I was specifically asked to do the interview using Facetime on my desktop computer – which after trying to figure out how to upload the program on my Windows 7 computer – I couldn’t get it to work, so I asked Jay Socol for help. It never crossed my mind I was asking city staff to help me on a personal issue, I just knew if anyone knew how to do it, the Communications Department would.

After that interview, and once again coming across positive with the casting directors, I was asked to sign an agreement of confidentiality, which I did. Up until today, I have told no one about my application to the TV show, not even my children, except for the Mayor, the City Manager, Carla Robinson, Jay Socol and Mark Beal. It also never occurred to me that by very innocently asking for assistance from the Communications Department, that I was asking a city employee to help me with something that could financially benefit me personally, i.e., the other half of the prize money. I never gave it a thought, as I wasn’t doing this for the money.

Last week I was interviewed again, this time by one of the Producers. I have absolutely no idea if I’ll be asked to be one of the contestants or what their time frame is but I suspect they will soon wrap up their selection process.

My point in this clarification is that I never intended for this to become an issue. I’ve been having so much fun going through this application process (which I’ve continually shared with you, Bryan and Jay) that, well, I just didn’t stop and think. This has all happened so very quickly, all within just a few weeks time frame, which started shortly after the beginning of the New Year.

Having said that, I felt it was important to send this email to you in hopes that you will share it with my colleagues on the City Council. I realize I have options but I respect the opinions and input from my fellow council members.

If accepted as a contestant, I can continue with the competition with the full agreement that should I win the prize money, all $25,000 would be donated to the Fun for All Playground. Or, I can notify the producers and withdraw my application. This is something I would need to do very soon because of the time frame in their selection process.

Should I be encouraged to compete and if I were selected as a candidate, the producers of “Worst Cooks in America” would pay for all of my expenses 100%.

I would remind you that at this time, I have signed a confidentiality agreement with the Food Network. Obviously, if I move forward everything would change once filming started. Having a marketing background, this is a great opportunity to showcase College Station every chance I got while on the show…plus maybe I would even learn how to be a better cook.

If you have any questions or need any further clarification, please don’t hesitate to let me know.

Linda

Linda Harvell, CTP, CTIS
Mayor Pro-Tem
City Council Member, Place 3
979-764-3541

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