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Records show conflicts of interest among OKC board, committee members


Scott Cooper November 6th, 2008

At least seven members of various city boards, committees and commissions have resigned since city officials discovered, or reinterpreted, a state law concerning conflicts of interest. LETTERS OF RES...

At least seven members of various city boards, committees and commissions have resigned since city officials discovered, or reinterpreted, a state law concerning conflicts of interest.

LETTERS OF RESIGNATION
DOWNTOWN DESIGN REVIEW COMMITTEE

In August, the city began contacting members of Oklahoma City's different citizen committees, asking them to check for personal conflicts of interests between the board they serve on and the company they work for. City officials released a partial list in September and provided resignation letters last week.

"As a member of the (city committee), you are considered 'officers' of the city," wrote Susan Miller with the Oklahoma City Planning Department in an e-mail dated Aug. 27.

Miller then asked members to read an attached memo regarding potential conflicts on interest.

LETTERS OF RESIGNATION
The seven board members who responded with letters of resignation came from the Riverfront Design, Bricktown Urban Design, Downtown Design and Historic Preservation committees. Some of the resignations came with heartfelt thanks for the opportunity to serve the city, yet were quite blunt in their reason to resign.

"Because 'putting food on the table' is a high priority of my business, I will be unable to continue serving on the (Historic) Preservation Commission," wrote Thomas Small, the principal and director of architecture at The Small Group Architecture.

But others who resigned had questions of their own.

"I am surprised by this seemingly new interpretation that citizens who volunteer in the city's best interest are considered 'officers' of the city," wrote Randy Floyd, owner of Randy Floyd Architects and former member of the Historic Preservation Commission.

Kelly Coffman, a former member of the Riverfront Design Committee and employed at C.H. Guernsey and Company architecture firm, had raised the issue before joining the committee.

"As you know, Guernsey inquired about this issue prior to the submittal of my application," Coffman wrote in her Aug. 28 resignation letter. "The opinion we received was that service on the committee would not be a conflict of interest with city projects. Further opinions stated that even design work falling under the Riverfront Design Committee's jurisdiction could occur, so long as the committee member would recuse themselves from any discussions or decisions in which they had a conflict of interest.

"It is with regret that it is now necessary for me to resign from the Riverfront Design Committee."

DOWNTOWN DESIGN REVIEW COMMITTEE
The issue of committee members with conflicts of interest arose when a proposal by the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce for a new chamber building went before the Downtown Design Review Committee in September. Committee member Anthony McDermid openly voiced concerns he had about the chamber's design and whether it met city codes. Shortly afterwards, the determination by a city attorney regarding conflict of interest was brought up and McDermid was forced to resign from the committee.

"It's "¦ interesting that this just came up, and the city's been operating this way for 80 years," McDermid was quoted in a Sept. 10 article in Oklahoma Gazette.

But City Manager Jim Couch stated in the story the removal had nothing to do with the chamber building, that it was simply a matter of a city attorney discovering the state law. An effort was launched to determine if current board members had conflicts.

"Staff has been in direct contact with existing board and commission members to determine if there are conflicts," said Public Information and Marketing Director Kristy Yager. "We have more than 50 boards, commissions and committees that serve the city."

The city has also adopted a new form for committee candidates to fill out when applying for a seat on a board or commission. Besides listing personal information like occupation and home address, candidates are given the state statute on conflicts of interest and then asked several questions dealing with the issue.

"Those who serve as City officers (committee members) are barred by City Charter and State law from entering into any contract with the City, even if the contract is unrelated to the issues that the officer encounters in his/her service to the City," the questionnaire states. "The City Charter prohibits the officer from being 'directly or indirectly' interested in City contracts or the profits from such contracts or in any City purchases or sales."

Yager said the questionnaire was developed earlier this year.

"Prior to that, appointees didn't have to fill out any paperwork," Yager said.  "Scott Cooper

 
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