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West Lake Hills’ planner’s actions under ethical spotlight

Wednesday, June 11, 2014 by Jo Clifton

Actions of a former West Lake Hills City Council member and former city planner are raising ethical and legal concerns since it appears he is representing a client he may have begun a business relationship with while still employed by the city.

 

Davin Fillpot, who now works as a private architect, is representing Keller Capital, which has the property at 806 Redbud Trail under contract. Keller wants to subdivide the property and is seeking several variances from the city in order to build on the property.

 

However, local attorney Chris Gunter, who lives on the property next to 806 Redbud Trail, says he has major concerns about Fillpot’s activities with the city and his relationship with Keller Capital, which according to documents Gunter acquired from the city, began while Fillpot was still employed by West Lake Hills.

 

Gunter says the developers of the 15-acre canyon-like property are seeking permission from the city to subdivide it into five lots. To do so, they need at least one variance from the slope requirements on at least three of the lots. Gunter said he opposes the request “because the tract can be subdivided without the need of any variances.”

 

The case is scheduled to be heard tonight by the West Lake Hills City Council, acting as the Board of Adjustment. The Council meets at 7 p.m. at West Lake Hills City Hall.

 

Gunter’s main concerns over the case involve the business relationship between Fillpot and Keller Capital, which he believes is a conflict of interest that violates the city’s code of ethics and may involve illegal behavior.

 

Fillpot has a long association with West Lake Hills, serving on its City Council from 2009 to 2011. In 2011, he left the Council and was hired to fill the newly created position of City Planner, one he voted to create as a Council member. As City Planner, he worked on a number of land development projects over his two years in the job.

 

In September 2013, Fillpot tendered a letter of resignation to the city with a planned separation date in mid-November. According to his resume, Fillpot began a solo practice as an architect in December 2013. According to emails supplied to the Austin Monitor by Gunter, Fillpot continued to work for the city on a part-time basis for several months after that through at least March 21, 2014.

 

Gunter said he requested and received a number of documents and emails from the city under a Public Information request regarding Fillpot’s dealings.

 

In an email about his concerns sent last week to West Lake Mayor Dave Claunch, Gunter said, “The emails reflect that as early as Jan. 9, 2014, Mr. Fillpot solicited private business for himself from people doing business with the city. The  records further show that after Jan. 1 , while  working as City Planner, he was also representing private individuals in matters before the city,” he wrote, listing properties that came before the city such as 800 Double Bend Back, 517 Buckeye, 303 Cedar Oak and others as examples.

 

“In our opinion, soliciting private business and representing people before the city at the same time as being paid as the City Planner for the city is inappropriate,” Gunter wrote. “It looks bad and is possibly illegal.”

 

However, Gunter said he found Fillpot’s relationship with Keller Capital regarding the property at 806 Redbud Trail to be the most troubling.

 

According to emails and other documents, Gunter says that Fillpot appears to have told Jeff Needle, the representative of a potential buyer for the 806 Redbud Trail property, that it would be impossible to develop. Then in late January he heard from Needles again, saying the client had changed his focus and only wanted to build a single family home on the steep lot. Fillpot told the agent in a Jan. 30 email that he would get back to him but did not, according to Needles’ emails. When mid-February passed with no word from the city, Needles’ client lost interest in the deal.

 

In his email to Mayor Claunch, Gunter said “Of particular significance is the fact that on the very day of Fillpot’s email (Jan. 30) to Mr. Needles saying he would answer his questions but would need to get back to him in a few days, Fillpot met with Keller Capital on the 15 acre site. According to Mitch Johnson, a principal with Keller Capital . . . a business relationship was entered into at that time between Fillpot and Keller Capital whereby Fillpot would help with this project for a fee. By at least Feb. 27, Fillpot was referring to the tract as ‘our’ lot in an email to Keller.”

 

Gunter said it appears Fillpot was still on the city’s payroll on a part-time basis as late as March 19, the same time the property’s plat was filed with the city. Gunter has asked the city to postpone the item at tonight’s Board of Adjustment meeting so the matter can be investigated. However, as of late Tuesday, it was still on the agenda.

 

The Austin Monitor checked with several authoritative attorneys, and most said that it appears that the actions of Fillpot and Keller Capital are in violation of the city and the state’s statutes regarding conflicts of interest and other regulations.

 

Andy Martin is currently the general counsel at the Central Texas Regional Mobility Authority, has served as city attorney for both Austin and San Antonio and has served as general counsel at the Texas Ethics Commission. He said “taking advantage of your position” as a public employee is not only unethical but illegal. Based on the facts described to him by our reporter as laid out in Gunter’s letter to Mayor Claunch, he said “it sounds criminal.”

 

The Austin Monitor attempted to contact Mayor Claunch, Fillpot and Johnson with Keller Capital for comment on this story, but phone calls were not returned by deadline Tuesday night.

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