Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Recovery zone bond award seen as a conflict of interest for council member

Councilman Dave Trinkle

Councilman Dave Trinkle

On Dec 11th, Councilman Trinkle withdrew his property from consideration for receiving funds as part of the Recovery Act.

The deadline was December 15 when award of the stimulus funding discussion began at Monday’s council briefing. It was time to award Roanoke’s piece of the Recovery Act pie. The bonds must be issued by March 15, 2010.

Roanoke’s flood reduction project was a no-brainer for the $1.6 million Recovery Zone Economic Development Bond (RZEDBs) at Mondays council meeting. The flood reduction project easily qualified as a governmental purpose project.

The Recovery Zone Facility Bonds (RZFBs) were a different story. An independent financial advisor to the city rated all the projects vying for these funds. Karen DeMoors, Senior Managing Consultant with the Public Financial Management, Inc. ranked the top five projects.

The criteria included ratings for financing plans, job creation and project readiness. The top five ranked were the Patrick Henry Hotel that ranked fifth, Advanced Auto IT consolation to Crossroads was fourth, Boxley Residences third, Billy’s Restaurant/The Rowland Hotel second and in first place Councilman Dave Trinkle’s Shenandoah building project.

Being the building’s owner Trinkle left the briefing room prior to the beginning of any of the Recovery Act funding discussion. Stan Breakell of Breakell Inc. is general contractor for the project. He said “it would be the first LEED Platinum candidate for downtown Roanoke … all consultants and contractors will be local.”

Colonel Robert Craig spoke up calling it a “conflict of interest.” This led Councilman Court Rosen to say, “ the heartburn I have is that I agreed to do exactly the opposite. Voting for a colleague in the same exact position is difficult for me.” Rosen said he has excluded his own business for conflict of interest reasons.

Council member Anita Price was of like mind saying that her husband Charles was ineligible for any work with the city. Price said she was “flabbergasted” by the award.

Council members Rupert Cutler and Gwen Mason were satisfied with the integrity of the process. They made the case that DeMoors was independent of the city as the rater and that there is no city money or management involved. Mayor Bowers also thought the process was “entirely transparent.” He did admit to being surprised by the rankings.

Vice-Mayor Sherman Lea was “very uncomfortable” with Trinkle’s project being awarded the $2.4 million. Lea compared it to his son Sherman Lea, Jr. being rejected from school board consideration years ago because of his council position. Later in a phone call he confirmed his misgivings.

During the challenging discussion city manager Darlene Burcham received an email on her Blackberry that said the December 15 deadline had just been extended to January 12. This took the pressure off of council to make an immediate decision.

Though there was confusion on the bond resolution in council chambers it was resolved by moving it to the December 21 council meeting. In the meantime the Director of Finance, Ann Shawver will take information changes from the top ranked five project owners back to the committee. There is a chance it could change the ranking said Shawver.

Trinkle in his own defense said that he felt he was clear of any conflict under the circumstances but said he would understand if his colleagues voted against it.

The flood reduction bond resolution was passed separately.

Posted By Valerie Garner

Categories: Politics, Roanoke City Politics

Tags: , , , ,

Comments (2)

Robert Craig

December 8th, 2009 at 4:26 PM    

Ms. Garner has correctly put quotation marks around conflict of interest.

I believe I said Mr. Trinkle being successful in winning the bond award could be perceived as a conflict of interest, given that he is also a member of the City Council and despite the fact that he recused himself.

That is significantly different than calling it a conflict of interest, which I did not and which is not responsible journalism.

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