Conflict of Interest Questions Complicate IZ Discussion

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Thursday February 09, 2012

On January 25, 2012, the law office of Murphy Sullivan and Kronk, on behalf of Cupola Golf Course, Inc., filed a notice of hearing with the VT Superior Court for a preliminary injunction that would prohibit Dooley from participating in the proceedings.  On Feb. 2, just hours prior to the meeting, the court decided that there was no conflict of interest, and therefore no reason for Dooley to recuse herself.

“[T]his kind of request could be brought by any developer relative to any City Councilor or Selectboard member,” Dooley told The Other Paper in an interview. “I am also most pleased that the Court found in support of the City’s position in this matter.”

Criticism was also brought against Councilor Knapp. Knapp encouraged Councilor Greco to read an anonymous email aloud that asked: “Will Jim Knapp publicly disclose all of his real estate clients who developed and planned to develop in South Burlington. Jim has worked in this field for over 30 years.  These charges against Sandy [Dooley] are very serious.  I think it’s important for the public to also know about this potential conflict of interest.” 

Knapp responded to the accusation by tracing his employment history. He is a licensed attorney whose “professional focus has been on property, real estate, and title insurance law, as well as implementation of technology in the practice of law,” according to his Mickenberg, Dunn, Lachs, and Smith, PLC profile, where he serves on an of counsel basis.  Knapp highlighted work he had done with clients within South Burlington and without, stating that none of these relationships created a conflict of interest.

Knapp then went on to request that each councilor comment on the information given, and on the request that he recuse himself. 

Councilor Emery referenced the fact that by necessity all of the City Councilors must be South Burlington residents, and therefore, “None of us are of no interest. I don’t see enough reason to think that Jim should have to recuse himself. I similarly thought that Sandy did not have to recuse herself.”

The councilors voted unanimously to keep Knapp in the discussion.

Other councilors received anonymous emails questioning their ability to address interim zoning effectively.  Councilor Engels reported at last week’s City Council meeting that Councilor Greco had received an email from “Mike” asking her “which hell hole she crawled out of.”  Greco seemed touched when Engels endorsed her and her experience in the service as an arms negotiator with the Russians in the 1980s.

The councilors moved on to work through the IZ discussion together at the February 2 meeting. “I know there is still some suspicion and mistrust surrounding IZ,” Councilor Greco said in her remarks.  “There have been quite a few comments about motivations.  Raising Conflict of Interest issues is a good example.”

“Despite the rough start, miscommunication and lack of communication amongst ourselves, I think we have all done a lot of good work and have had many productive conversations and meetings with residents, developers, commercial and industrial people over the past month,” Greco continued.  She thanked those who had reached out in support, offering “to work with us on this very important issue for our City.”  She further thanked “the many people who expressed their views to us in a respectful manner.”

SOURCE: Annalisa Parent, Correspondent