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Wynn violated state rules by depicting himself as an architect in campaign ads

Wednesday, May 3, 2000 by

Complaint filed with State Board of Architectural Examiners blows whistle

This is not like the infamous case of Railroad Commissioner Lena Guerrero, who got caught padding her résumé with a degree she didn't earn, but City Council candidate William Patrick Wynn may nonetheless suffer politically for having claimed to be an architect when he is not one. Wynn got a bachelor's degree in architecture from Texas A&M University but he's no architect–despite what you hear out of his own mouth in television commercials or read in the mail pieces that have been flooding Austin mailboxes.

State law and the rules and regulations of the State Board of Architectural Examiners (SBAE) define an architect as someone registered to practice architecture in the State of Texas. Wynn is not so registered. He was found out when a friend and neighbor of Wynn's chief opponent, Mary Clare Barry, filed a complaint with the SBAE Monday.

Dave Henton says he's a lecturer in social work at Southwest Texas State University. Henton tells In Fact Daily that Wynn's improper claim to being an architect "came us as a topic of conversation at neighborhood events." Henton says that he confirmed the matter when he went to file the complaint. "I'm a real, real strong believer in the consumer protection of professional titles," Henton says. "As a social-work lecturer, I am very, very concerned when someone offers themselves as a social worker and is not licensed. That was my motivating factor."

The brief complaint Henton filed states, "Will Wynn is representing himself as an architect when his is not in an effort to elevate his status with voters with the intention to secure his election to the Austin City Council." The documents Henton supplied to support his complaint were copies of two slick-paper mail pieces from the Wynn campaign.

• A letter-sized piece with Wynn's photo on one side lists "Architect and president of historic restoration business" as the first item beneath the photo.

• An 11-inch by 12-inch folded piece shows a photo covering half of one side, with a large caption stating, "Architect Will Wynn and his daughter, Larkin, on Town Lake."

In addition, in a TV commercial that's been airing as part of a $45,000 advertising campaign paid for out of Wynn's own pocket, Wynn himself says, "I'm Will Wynn. I'm a businessman and an architect."

In Fact Daily filed an open records request regarding the complaint with the SBAE Monday. At that time, Cynthia Black, director of enforcement for SBAE, verified that SBAE's database of registered architects does not contain the name of William Patrick Wynn.

The SBAE rules and regulations give the board authority to seek misdemeanor convictions, injunctions, and restraining orders and to impose administrative penalties against persons using some form of the title "architect" or offering or performing architectural services improperly. Each day that a violation occurs or continues may be considered a separate violation. Black tells In Fact Daily that these penalties became effective Sept. 1, 1999, and "we haven't had a case since the new statute took effect."

SBAE General Counsel Cynthia Canfield tells In Fact Daily, "If the allegations are proven to be true it would be a violation." She said the procedure would be to open an investigation and send a letter to the accused person and based on the response decide how to proceed. "If we conclude he violated Article 249(a) of Vernon's Texas Civil Statutes we would normally send a consent order setting out what the law says, how the law applies to a person, that he may not use 'architect' to describe himself. We would ask the person to sign the consent order and the case would be closed. That would serve as ammunition if this person does it again." Subsequent infractions would be judged much more serious, she said, and the attorney general would be asked to seek an injunction. Canfield says the SBAE hasn't decided to use the new statutes "in more innocent cases."

Canfield cautions, however, "the statute is not very clear…that using 'architect' in a case like this is illegal. It's very clear if offering architectural services to a client or potential client it's illegal, but in the (campaign) brochure he's not offering services, so it's unclear."

Technicalities aside, Wynn took action immediately after receiving notification of the complaint from the SBAE. "Several pieces of campaign literature say I'm an architect and I'm not, and it was a mistake to state otherwise," Wynn tells In Fact Daily. "I literally stopped the presses and changed the TV commercials. I do not have a license to practice architecture and have not solicited business. I have a bachelor's degree in architecture from A&M. I worked in an architectural firm ( Shefelman & Nix of Austin) in the early '80s."

Wynn continued, "I do believe my experience in architecture is beneficial and I want voters to know it's in my background," but concedes, "the message was delivered in shorthand."

"I apologize–especially to my architect friends," Wynn adds. "It was a mistake to use the words in my stump speech. I regret the mistake."

Three architects contacted by In Fact Daily for comment all happened to be supporting Wynn in his City Council race. Sinclair Black of Black & Vernooy has been designing Austin's character one small building at a time for 34 years, including the Central Park Master Plan and Central Market. Of Wynn, Black says, "I was aware he was not an architect because he has told me he's not. He has a degree in architecture, which I consider excellent training to be on the City Council." Regarding the complaint filed on Wynn, Black says, "It's not purely political, because the term (architect) needs to be protected."

The question at the end of the day is, 'Who's been harmed by this?'" Black adds. "The law is to protect me as an architect. If I'm not offended, what harm has been done?"

Juan Cotera, chair of the city's Design Commission and head of the firm Cotera Kolar Negrete & Reed, which was picked to design the new City Hall, says, "What he did was a bad mistake politically. Will Wynn has never practiced architecture. He's a developer. Architects know not to infringe. He was probably not aware of the difference between having a degree and being an architect."

Cotera says to become a licensed architect requires a bachelor's degree or master's degree, three years of documented practice under a registered architect, and then passing an exam. "If you pass, then you are registered and can call yourself an architect," he says. Of Wynn's error, Cotera says, "I don't think it's terrible. I think his punishment is that it will cost him politically."

Architect Girard Kinney of Kinney & Associates designed the Drake Bridge that carries 1st Street over Town Lake, as well as the retrofitting of the former headquarters building at Bergstrom Air Force Base to serve as a Hilton Hotel. Kinney also serves on the Design Commission. "It sounds like someone did the right thing in filing a complaint and bringing this to the board's attention. Often someone who is not an architect will not recognize the problem." Kinney says, "It's important to architects that the public understand only those who have gone through rigorous training, taken the exam and agreed to abide by certain professional standards to protect the health, safety and welfare of the public," call themselves architects.

As to Wynn's case, Kinney says, "I'm surprised he would not know the difference. He deals with architects a lot." Kinney says, "He probably did himself more harm than good because he's been caught and the result will be a loss of votes. You reap what you sow."

It's a bit ironic that Wynn's chief opponent in the race to succeed Bill Spelman on the City Council is Clare Barry, who herself has a master's degree in architecture and was working as an architectural intern before taking a leave of absence to run for City Council. Barry, as reported yesterday by In Fact Daily, had raised only 17 percent of the funds that Wynn has at his disposal (including $45,000 of his own money poured into television advertising). That he would not only bury her in an avalanche of advertising but misconstrue his credentials seems like rubbing salt in the wound. Thus, Clare Barry's political consultant, Mike Blizzard of Blizzard Fawal & Associates, is less than sanguine about Wynn's misstep. Noting that Wynn had called the Austin American-Statesman and Austin Chronicle on Tuesday to tell them how he was responding to the complaint, Blizzard says, "I think when you're accused of misrepresenting your professional status and lying to voters it's probably a good thing to be attempting some damage control. However, he clearly did this. If it was a simple mistake he would have corrected it after his first mail piece, and it would not have come out of his own mouth in his TV ad."

"The commercial was still playing last night," Blizzard said on Tuesday, "and it played for a week. It's easy to admit a mistake after you're caught."

Though he didn't want to characterize Wynn's miscue as willful, Blizzard said, "In direct mail or TV advertising you choose your words carefully because you're limited by space and time. I'm sure many people reviewed these documents and specifically chose to use the word 'architect' prominently to describe Will Wynn…It's a ruse to keep from calling what he is–a developer."

Aquifer board approves Higginbotham's well permit in spite of water-use questions

Quantity of water to be determined later; 50 million gallons requested In spite of hearing two distinctly different stories about what T.J. Higginbotham might do with 50 million gallons of aquifer water, the board of the Barton Springs Edwards Aquifer Conservation District (BSEACD) voted 3-2 Tuesday to grant Higginbotham a permit to drill a commercial well on his property west of Buda. Voting in favor of the motion were Chairman Roy Dalton and Directors Don Turner and Lois Franklin. Directors Craig Smith and Jack Goodman voted no.

During last week's public hearing, Higginbotham and his attorney, Jimmy Alan Hall, steadfastly refused to say how the water would be used. ( In Fact Daily April 26) At that time, Hall insisted there was no way his client could determine how the water would be used until a pumpage test was done. However, Hall told the board Tuesday that his client intends to build 700 or so apartments and associated commercial buildings, such as a convenience store.

Hearing that, Smith said, "The idea (of putting that many apartments on the property) is potentially harmful to Onion Creek, but it's not, as I see it, our job to make that determination…I don't think our rules give us the authority to say this is an unwise use."

Other board members seemed to concur with that idea. Dalton said, "It would be very difficult for the board to deny any commercial well application. If it went to court, we would lose."

However, Ron Fieseler, the district's field operations program manager, said "It's my duty as a staff member to tell you some things." Fieseler said he had talked to Higginbotham at length when the landowner filed his permit application. Fieseler said he carefully explained to Higginbotham the differences between a commercial well and a public water supply well. Higginbotham assured him, Fieseler said, that he wanted the commercial well, which does not have to be approved by the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission. The apartment complex Hall said Higginbotham wanted to serve would fall under the public water supply category, Fieseler said.

In addition, Fieseler said, Higginbotham's land "may fall within Buda's CCN (certificate of convenience and necessity) area," and Higginbotham would have to have authorization from the City of Buda to provide public water.

Then the board discussed whether Higginbotham would have to change his application or file a new one. Smith asked Hall if he was willing to change the application. Hall said he didn't see the necessity to do so.

Dalton called a 10-minute recess in the meeting. During that recess, Fieseler told In Fact Daily, "I hated to throw gas on the fire, but the board had to know."

Following the recess, the district's general manager, Stovy Bowlin, said he had consulted with the board's attorney to see if the board could proceed on the application. Bowlin said the board did not have to hold another public hearing unless another hearing would bring forth different information. Dalton then told Hall the board has "a complete application" for a commercial well. He then asked Hall to explain again what use Higginbotham would make of the water.

Hall said, "What we would like to do, in our initial look at the property, was a commercial development with a large commercial tenant. But one of their first questions was, 'Do you have enough water?'" Hall said he could not give any specifics on the prospective tenant. He said Higginbotham's "default position" would be to provide service to an apartment complex.

Smith said to Hall, "I'm having trouble believing we're being dealt with in good faith. It looks like you'll say whatever you need to say to get the permit. I'm not going to believe what you're telling us unless you're willing to lock yourself in…." Smith then made a motion to postpone the vote on the application. He said the board should inform the City of Buda about the possibility of a large apartment complex being built in its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Goodman said he did not want to vote because he could not tell how the water would be used.

Then Hall said he wanted to withdraw all his previous comments about the apartment complex and asked the board to vote on the application.

Turner made a substitute motion to approve the application.

After the meeting Hall told In Fact Daily the tenant would be "in manufacturing." Asked if the tenant was a high-tech company, Hall said, "something like that."

Following the decision, Goodman said, "I think its kind of dumb that we're issuing permits to drill a well when we're in second stage drought." Goodman said the board needs to enact a moratorium on granting new permits.

In addition, Goodman said, "I don't believe they're going to put 750 apartments down there. There's no market for it." (The property is located on FM 967 at Onion Creek.) In addition, Goodman said, "Their behavior today didn't instill any belief in their veracity."

Smith said, "I was shocked the board voted for it. I thought the motion to postpone would prevail. I'm not sure what to make of the vote for approval after what I'm sure escaped no one's notice. Maybe we're just the board that can't say no."

The board will hold another hearing on the amount of water that can be pumped from the well after pumpage and geologic tests are performed.

Tit for tat in Place 6…The campaign manager for City Council candidate Danny Thomas is still smarting over stories about the complaint filed by attorneys for incumbent Willie Lewis regarding improperly reported independent expenditures of Thomas Henderson and the Austin Police Political Action Committee on behalf of the Thomas campaign. Dailey called In Fact Daily yesterday to say she was going to file a complaint today against the Lewis campaign for allegedly not reporting the expenditure of funds for rent on his campaign headquarters. Lewis' contribution and expenditure report filed April 28 shows a rent payment of $600 on April 7 paid to Willie Lewis but does not indicate the location of the campaign office. Dailey says the headquarters is now located at 2938 E. 12th St. in a building owned by James Harper. Harper tells In Fact Daily that he just rented the building to Lewis about a week ago at $150 a week and expects to be paid later. Lewis could not be reached late last night for a comment.

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