HOUSTON – In a surprise announcement Friday afternoon, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner revealed he has accepted the resignation of embattled Press Secretary Darian Ward.
For weeks, Ward had been the center of stories by Channel 2 Investigates that have exposed her misuse of city resources for her own personal production company.
The city suspended Ward without pay for 10 days in December after an internal inspection revealed more than 5,000 pages consisting of over 2,000 emails clearly showing Ward pursuing reality show production deals in New York and Los Angeles, using her city email account.
Reaction from Houston City Council members was swift following Turner's announcement.
“I was very pleased to see the right thing was done. Shocked? I was happy,” Council Member Michael Kubosh said.
When he was asked how it reflects on Turner that Ward resigned instead of being fired, Kubosh said, "Well, it doesn't look good. It’s a black eye but I believe the mayor will recover."
"I think that is the appropriate thing to do," Council Member Greg Travis said. "I don't know why it took so long and they drug (sic) the city through this."
Council Member Mike Knox said, "I think the mayor accepting her resignation is a positive thing for the city of Houston."
On Tuesday, Turner told Channel 2's Keith Garvin, "If people disagree with that, I respect their right to disagree. I respect their right. But, for now, I'm the mayor of the city of Houston. I looked at it like I will look at all cases. I'm the one who signed the letter saying, 'You violate policy,' and I'm the one who determined what I thought the appropriate penalty was."
Travis said Ward should do more.
"I think she should reimburse the city," Travis said.
Council member Jack Christie told Channel 2 Investigates on Friday night there should have been action sooner.
"If the resignation was earlier, it wouldn't be going downhill," Christie said.
For Travis, the city's own suspension letter, along with thousands of emails released over the past week detailing Ward trying to land various reality show deals and securing favors, clearly shows she was abusing the office of the press secretary.
"These are resources that she did not own. The city owns, the taxpayers own and they should be used for specific purpose," Travis said.
The Texas Penal Code talks about these acts in a section referred to as abuse of official capacity.
Travis offered the following perspective: "There are times when you prosecute things and times when you don't. I would think this would be one of them."
Mark Stephens spent five years investigating public corruption in HPD's now disbanded public integrity unit.
"Someone asked me the other day, 'What is public corruption, what does it look like?' And I pointed to this and I said, 'This,'" Stephens said.
District Attorney Kim Ogg’s office is not commenting on their probe of Ward's actions, but the DA's office did inform Channel 2 Investigates on Jan. 8 it is reviewing the evidence.
In the resignation announcement, Turner also announced that former KPRC2 reporter Mary Benton will serve as interim press secretary.
Turner's full statement:
“Darian Ward served the city as a key communicator for many years and has our thanks for working in public service. I hope she is successful in her next endeavors.
"After working as a news reporter for KPRC (Channel 2) for 20 years, Mary Benton has served the public since 2014 as a communications director, manager and aide at Harris County government agencies. She is experienced in media relations, community outreach, crisis management, intergovernmental relations and strategic media engagements.
“The addition of Mary Benton to our team brings even more experience and expertise to our work of keeping Houstonians informed about their government’s many actions on their behalf, such as reducing flooding, restoring the city’s financial health, leveraging our status as a welcoming community that is the nation’s most diverse, and much, much more."