01/30/13 — Walnut Creek Village Council member could have a conflict of interest

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Walnut Creek Village Council member could have a conflict of interest

By Ty Johnson
Published in News on January 30, 2013 1:46 PM

WALNUT CREEK -- The Village Council could make its decision concerning the expansion of the sewer system as early as its Feb. 27 council meeting -- just after the public hearing on the matter which is expected to attract dozens of residents opposed to the project.

If approved, that project, which Councilman Russ Prys said in December would affect 55 percent of residents, will require villagers whose property is not on the sewer line to pay about $8,500 in assessment fees and between $1,100 and $1,500 in hookup fees.

But on top of voicing opposition to that decision based on economic grounds, residents have called into question the possibility of a conflict of interest with one of the council members who could stand to gain from an approval.

Property owned by Councilman Tom Shaw is being considered for a possible lift station, which would be necessary if the village moved forward with the sewer project.

"It's one of several parcels we're considering," Village Manager Lou Cook said.

Shaw owns three parcels of land behind his home on Walnut Creek Drive near the front entrance to the village, which Cook said would be in a prime location for the station. The village could also benefit by not having to purchase an oversized lot for the facility, Cook said.

While the selection of a site, like the project, is far from a done deal, however, residents have added the potential conflict of interest to their heap of reasons to oppose the project.

Because the site selection wouldn't come until after the project's approval, Village Attorney Phil Baddour Jr. said he didn't see a need for Shaw to recuse himself from the general vote to move forward with the sewer expansion and Shaw went even further, suggesting that he hadn't even determined how he would vote yet.

"I don't think I would have to be recused for the vote. If I would, I would certainly excuse myself, but it depends on how I vote," he said. "We have to have this public hearing before I make up my mind. It's a really challenging vote."

As for the site selection decision, which would result in the village purchasing land, Cook noted several instances where council members had recused themselves or, in some cases, not even allowed their services to be considered in an effort to negate any concerns about conflicts of interest.

"When we built the town hall, Daniels & Daniels could have built it easily," he said, pointing out that the local construction company didn't even bid on the project while Kathy Daniels was a council member.

Danny Jackson was also on the board at that time, he noted, and Jackson and Sons didn't bid to be a subcontractor, either.

Cook said Shaw was aware his property was under consideration and felt confident the council member would recuse himself from any such vote. Baddour suggested that, as well, and Shaw said he's more than willing to comply.

"I certainly would (recuse myself)," he said. "I would definitely not vote on that one. I would have to recuse myself."

Regardless of the conflict of interest concerns, it's not likely public opinion will shift much concerning the project in advance of the public hearing Feb. 27, especially after more than a dozen residents turned out during the council's January meeting to voice their opposition to the project.

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Ricker asked that the meeting location Feb. 27 be changed in anticipation of a large turnout for the hearing, which will be held at 7 p.m. at the Walnut Creek Country Club.