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Ethics charges dismissed against official in trellis case

Monday, May 15, 2017 by Chad Swiatecki

A member of the city’s Board of Adjustment will not face a final hearing on charges he involved himself inappropriately in an appeals process involving the neighborhood association of which he is also a founding member.

At Wednesday’s meeting of the Ethics Review Commission, commissioners voted 8-0 that there was not enough evidence to move forward with the case against Board of Adjustment member Bryan King, who was alleged to have violated the city ethics code that states no city employee or official “shall formally appear before the body of which the official or employee is a member while acting as an advocate for himself or any other person, group, or entity.”

Commissioners discussed that while some of King’s involvement entered into a gray area of what some said is a poorly worded ethics code, there wasn’t evidence of intent on King’s part to manipulate the process unfairly.

“This was a train wreck as far as procedure goes,” King said toward the preliminary hearing’s conclusion, with commission Chair Peter Einhorn agreeing that “there was some unfortunate process here.”

The case was brought by developer Ross Wilson of PSW Real Estate, who was building duplexes in South Austin and last year faced an objection by the South Lamar Neighborhood Association over a code interpretation on the definition of “attached housing” for some of the units Wilson wanted to build.

The question centered on whether a trellis or arbor could qualify as a structural element attaching two otherwise freestanding homes.

Wilson eventually prevailed when the Board of Adjustment voted in his favor, but he brought the ethics complaint because he said King’s involvement on behalf of his own neighborhood association helped cause a five-month delay in the project that unfairly impacted his business interests.

Much of the discussion at Wednesday’s meeting centered on the role King played throughout the process in late 2016 through early this year, and whether he knowingly violated the city’s ethics code.

King said he’d planned to recuse himself from the case when it came to the board, and admitted to being present and involved in some Board of Adjustment discussions on the matter early on in the process. He said he wasn’t informed by the city’s legal staff until mid-November of the ethics code that prevented him from most involvement in the matter as a board member, and ceased his board activity on the case thereafter.

Wilson said that King sent an email requesting a delay of a special meeting on the appeal soon after learning of the potential ethics conflict, and then involved himself in a December meeting on the appeal by “instructing staff which slides to show to assist applicant; interjected his opinions to Board about procedure; and advised other speakers for applicant during consideration of item by Board.”

King admitted that the case was plagued by “one snafu after another” and was drawn out longer than it should have been, but said he felt his involvement and later recusal didn’t contribute to the delay.

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