Heated discussion ensues at West Lake Hills over ethics complaints
Friday, June 27, 2014 by Elizabeth Pagano
Accusations flew during Wednesday’s meeting of the West Lake Hills City Council, where ethics complaints against a former city employee and former council member continue to fester.
The city is in the midst of an investigation into a formal complaint filed by attorney Chris Gunter. That complaint alleges that former city planner and council member Darin Fillpot behaved unethically and perhaps illegally by beginning a relationship with developer Keller Capital before his employment at the city had ended. That relationship could have affected the proposed subdivision of 806 Redbud Trail.
Though the West Lake Hills Council received a preliminary investigation report from the city attorney’s appointed counsel, they did not publicly reveal what that report contained. Because theTravis County District Attorney’s Public Integrity Unit is now looking into the matter, Mayor David Claunch said the city has opted to “pause its efforts” for the time being in order to clarify what, exactly, they should be doing.
The mayor did issue a statement after reviewing the report, and allowed for a public hearing that almost immediately grew heated. In his statement, Claunch refuted “insinuations that implied, for lack of a better term, dirty trickery.”
Claunch explained that Fillpot was engaged to work for the city on a part-time basis after his full-time employment ended Dec. 31, 2013. That part-time employment amounted to “an average of six hours a week,” and was done as a favor to assist the city with some of the tasks he performed as city planner, the Mayor said. That employment continued until the city hired his successor March 24, 2014.
“Davin helped us out. Everybody knew it. We knew it. We knew that Davin was representing private clients. We knew that he had left the city to pursue private business as an architect. We knew that he was representing different property owners with different interests before this body. We were fully aware of it. Davin’s clients knew it. Even some of the people in Mr. Gunter’s complaint… were aware of this as well,” said Claunch.
Gunter responded by urging the city to look into Keller Capital’s role in the alleged misconduct, saying he felt the company was “as culpable as anybody.”
“This council is very, very pro-development. I know that. I recognize that. But I think it will be shameful if Keller gets to come in here and do what they want to do in light of their involvement in this misconduct. They knowingly agreed to pay the city planner of West Lake to help get this project moving. That’s wrong, and they ought not be rewarded,” said Gunter.
Claunch then launched a series of pointed questions for Gunter, which he said were “in the interest of transparency.” He wanted to know whether Gunter had tried to buy 806 Redbud Trail since filing his complaint June 6.
Gunter denied that he did, though he had asked Keller Capital to walk away from the project. He offered to produce a recording of the conversation, causing a general uproar in the chambers and a widespread, articulated paranoia that Gunter had recorded a number of conversations in secret.
“It looks to me, as a novice, like a little bit of a shakedown,” said Claunch. “I’d love to hear that tape. Because if you are filing a complaint, then going to the people that you assert tonight were at the core of this horrible misdeed and offer to make them whole by purchasing the property at below market value… It seems to me that’s sort of the classic definition of a shakedown.”
Gunter also reiterated concerns that the investigation was being kept “in house.” (See Austin Monitor, June 23) In response to Gunter’s complaint, the city’s attorney, Alan Bojorquez, who has his own firm, asked Bojorquez Law Firm PC attorney Herbert Prouty to investigate the allegations and report his conclusions to the city.
Bojorquez took umbrage with this characterization.
“I am not a city employee. I am a city officer, but I am not an employee. I am outside counsel. Mr. Prouty is also outside counsel… Never has he met anyone from West Lake Hills, or worked with anyone from West Lake Hills. That’s as neutral as we can get,” said Bojorquez, who added that those in search of a more neutral investigator might be heartened by the county’s investigation.
In the event that they find an ethical breach, Claunch said they would be abiding by their city code, though the section that suggests that they take “steps to atone for past ethical conduct and prevent future ethical conduct” may currently contain a typo.
“We might, at some point, change our ordinance so that we’re not punishing people for being ethical,” said Claunch.
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