Arrests made in Covington as alleged Meetings Act violations investigated

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

September 29, 2021

Additional arrests of Covington city employees and council members have been made in recent days as the investigation into alleged Texas Open Meetings Act violations in the city continues.

The latest string of arrests came after Covington Mayor George Burnett was arrested by the Hill County Sheriff’s Office Wednesday, September 1, on a misdemeanor Open Meetings Act violation.

On Friday, September 17, Covington Police Chief John O’Rourke arrested Covington City Secretary Edwina Milam, 69, of Covington and city employee Melvin Coker, 80, of Itasca on the same charge.

On Monday, September 20, council members Holly Reyna, 34, and Jessica Utter, 39, both of Covington, were also arrested on Open Meetings Act violations.

Bonds were set at $1,000 on all four individuals, and each posted bond after their arrest.

Burnett was arrested by the Covington Police Department again Thursday, September 23, on a misdeameanor charge of “refusal of officer for public information.” No further details about that charge were available as of The Lakelander’s press time.

According to arrest warrant affidavits filed on the individuals, the arrests stemmed from a password-protected online meeting that was held Friday, August 6, without the link or password being posted to open the meeting to the public. The Covington Police Department and its budget were reportedly topics during the meeting.

The affidavits state that the meeting notice was not posted for the required 72 hours. Chief O’Rourke alleged in the affidavit that an agenda was posted at Covington City Hall on the day of the meeting and was backdated to read that it had been posted on August 3.

In addition, the police chief stated that he verified that there was no public access to city hall for members of the public to attend, view or listen to the meeting.

The affidavit states that one council member cooperated with law enforcement by attending the meeting and recording the proceedings, in which Mayor Burnett reportedly made several references to holding the meeting out of the public’s view.

In one such comment, the affidavit states that the mayor said, “If we are going to do anything we probably should do it back here and things, still good without the public. Because if we do it out in the public, everybody in Covington is going to know what’s going on.”

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