What next on city conflicts? | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What next on city conflicts?

Posted By on Tue, Oct 19, 2010 at 3:20 PM

The city of Little Rock has only just begun grappling with conflict-of-interest questions that arose from business dealings at the Little Rock National Airport.

Monday, Marcus Devine and Billy Rouse Jr., the president and vice president of the construction company ADEVCO, resigned from the city Planning Commission because City Attorney Tom Carpenter concluded that state law prohibited city officials from profiting directly or indirectly from city business without express permission from the city board. Devine, who was already the minority partner of the airport's concessionaire, also stands to profit from his company being the minority partner on a major new construction project at the airport. Devine also won a recent competitive bid for a city demolition project on 12th Street. Nobody thought about the conflict between his city position and his private work until city directors discussed potential conflicts on the new airport work last week.

Carpenter completed work today on an opinion on whether a planning commission member could participate in the airport work. He said the issue is moot because of the resignations. The opinion also dealt with a variety of other business relationships on the part of some airport commissioners. Commissioner Tom Schueck didn't participate in the construction project vote because of past associations with Devine but he remained present for the discussion. Other airport commissioners have some small indirect business relationships with companies that might figure in the work. Carpenter signed off on most of what occurred, saying any discrepancies were more form than substance. The question of the demolition project done by ADEVCO, already completed, is another matter. Since the contract was illegal under the law, sanctions are possible. Carpenter recommended passing an ordinance after the fact expressly authorizing Devine's firm to do the work.

Meanwhile, the action this week has led to the resignation of Carolyn Witherspoon from the Little Rock Sister Cities Commission, which promotes foreign exchanges with a city in Italy. Her law firm does work for several city agencies, including the Airport Commission, though not the city of Little Rock itself

Dozens of people serve on city boards and commissions, some more sensitive than others in terms of potential conflict of interest. It seems likely that Devine and Rouse weren't the only appointees who have some connection with city business. The Planning Commission, with its power over development, is particularly sensitive, of course. Carpenter says the city board likely will be discussing whether further disclosure of business relationships will be required of all city board and commission members. Others fear an inability to serve on account of small indirect benefits might make it difficult to find people to fill openings. Issues raised in this could also result in legislative changes for discussion at the 2011 General Assembly. (All things considered, including his sometimes controversial past, I don't think the city has lost much by Devine's resignation from the Planning Commission, however.)

But the larger question of how the city systematically responds is another matter. Are Rouse and Devine the only people with city-related business? As Witherspoon notes in one of her resignation notes, the situation could "get very messy."

On the jump, Witherspoon's resignation e-mails, first to the mayor:

Dear Mayor- I have enjoyed my short tenure on the above Commission. However, it has come to my attention through the newspaper that my work with municipal entities would be precluded by my service on Sister Cities unless some type of Ordinance was passed. I never received anything about needing such an ordinance when I was appointed. I came to that conclusion only through reading today’s article in the newspaper about Ark. Code Ann. Section 14-47-137 which I thought only dealt with work for the City of Little Rock itself. Our firm’s contract with the City predates by years my tenure on the Commission.

I am saddened by this situation as I have loved my public service with SCC. I was especially excited about being the liaison to one of our Sister Cities. Thank you for allowing me this important opportunity and accept my resignation effective immediately.


Carolyn B. Witherspoon
Cross, Gunter, Witherspoon & Galchus, P.C.

Also, her resignation note to Airport commissioners.

Dear Commissioners: I wanted you to each know that I have resigned from the Sister Cities Comm. in light of today’s article. Although the city attorney has not opined on whether or not that statute encompasses work for other municipal entities, it appears that this was going to get very messy. There may be other resignations from other volunteers in the upcoming weeks.

Please let me know if any of you have any questions.

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