Pelican Bay councilwoman contends arrest politically motivated

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 19, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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A member of the Pelican Bay City Council who is a constant critic of how the city is managed was arrested last week after attending a budget meeting where she raised questions about the city's precarious financial condition.

Robin Finstad was arrested Wednesday night on charges of driving with a suspended license and attempting to flee police. She was taken into custody, but before her transfer to the jail in Blue Mound she complained of chest pains and was taken to an Azle hospital.

She was subsequently released without bond.

Finstad contends that her arrest is politically motivated because of questions she has raised about finances in the city, which is near Eagle Mountain Lake.

At a budget meeting Wednesday, the city was told that its general fund balance, the one used to run day-to-day operations, contained less than $50,000.

"This was all a setup to have me arrested and get thrown off of the council," said Finstad, who is seeking a second term in May.

Police Chief Jim Frawley said Monday that one of his officers pulled Finstad over because she failed to use a turn signal. Also, he said, Finstad initially did not stop.

After she pulled over, Frawley said, Finstad "made two claims."

"One, she said, 'You can't give me a ticket. I'm a council member.' And second, she said, 'You're not a real police officer.' "

Frawley also said that it was well-known in the town of about 1,500 that Finstad had a suspended driver license, and that her husband typically drove her to council meetings.

Although police occasionally received reports from witnesses who saw Finstad driving, Frawley said his officers were told not to pull her over unless they witnessed a traffic violation firsthand.

Arrest details

Finstad was stopped by Pelican Bay police at about 9:30 p.m. after she left the budget meeting, according to police reports provided to the Star-Telegram by the councilwoman.

She was taken into custody and was going to be transferred to the Blue Mound Jail, which has a contract to hold Pelican Bay prisoners. She was treated and released from an Azle hospital, then taken to jail.

Blue Mound Mayor Alan Hooks said his city's police officers got permission from the Pelican Bay police to release Finstad.

Last year, former Pelican Bay Police Chief Gilbert Towns said he had been ordered by Mayor Clifford Tynes to arrest Finstad because she was asking too many questions about the city's finances.

Towns said the charges against Finstad were not credible.

"The complaints were laughable," he said. "I told them [city officials] that I would be committing an illegal act if I arrested Robin."

The mayor fired Towns on May 25.

Towns appealed to the State Office of Administrative Hearings, and in November, an administrative law judge ordered Pelican Bay to say that Towns was honorably discharged.

In January, Towns filed a wrongful termination suit against Pelican Bay, which his attorney says they hope to settle.

Budget woes

Towns contends that one of the reasons he was fired is that the city could no longer afford his salary.

Gary B. Williams, a certified public accountant who conducts the city's audits, has told the council that the city is in financial trouble.

In a letter delivered at last week's meeting, he stated that the city had less than $50,000 in the general fund. (The document was dated March 8, 2008, but Williams said he accidentally used an old form. He said the financial information included was current.)

Williams' letter said in part: "I am greatly concerned about the financial state of the General Fund. This is not rhetoric. THIS IS A FACT!!!..."

"As custodians [of] public funds, we cannot overdraw our accounts. Without a ready source of cash, the City cannot operate," the auditor wrote.

Williams said he has since learned that Pelican Bay has $85,000 on hand. Letters were sent to department heads asking them to get approval before submitting purchase orders.

Williams said the city is behind in approving a 2012-13 budget.

"I'm still worried," he said, describing how Pelican Bay had no controls in place until recently. "We are going to have to make some decisions about our activities; we are going to have to decide what we can do without for the next several months."

Elizabeth Campbell,

817-390-7696

Twitter: @fwstliz

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