The Sierra Club’s local chapter lodged a formal complaint to the city Monday about what it sees as a potential conflict of interest involving a Public Works Department engineer whose job includes overseeing a contentious development.
The group says Chief Engineer David Nichols’ prior work with the engineering firm Trabue, Hansen, and Hinshaw Inc. affects his partiality over the development of Park View Center Phase 1 at Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63.
“You can’t serve two masters,” said Ken Midkiff, conservation chairman for Ozark Chapter Sierra Club. “He was directly involved in the planning of this development and is now serving in the department with the ability to provide certain input.”
Nichols, who has worked for the city since October, worked for 14 months for the engineering firm in question.
Nichols, meanwhile, does not deny that he was involved in the initial “conceptual” stage of the project but said he works for the city now, not an engineering firm.
“It hadn’t even reached the land disturbance phase at that point,” Nichols said. “It seems a little silly to think there was an elaborate scenario to get in the city (government) and work to make sure this project was approved.”
He added that any inspection of the site and violations of land use permits is conducted by city staff.
Nichols’ statement was reiterated by city attorney Fred Boeckmann, who doubts such a conflict of interest exists because professional standards for engineers are different than for other occupations.
“It’s not an efficacy issue, in that they (engineers) do not make a subjective judgment of a project’s value,” Boeckmann said. “He’s just abiding by the rules of the profession and the ordinances approved by the City Council.”
Midkiff said the complaint is not intended to hinder Nichols in his job, but rather to convey the group’s concern with the grading and tree clearing that has already taken place on the Park View Center site. The Missouri Department of Natural Resources granted a land disturbance permit to Stadium 63 Properties LLC in January allowing the developer to do such work.
“There used to be 100-year-old trees on that property, and I’ve seen numerous animal tracks along Hinkson Creek,” Midkiff said. “Not only has this destroyed established, beautiful forest, but animal habitat as well.”
Nichols said that to date no violations had been reported to him by staff members after inspections of the site. He said he could not understand what good the filing of a complaint against him would do.
“I really don’t see what the point of all of this is,” Nichols said. “I don’t get involved until my staff comes to me a report documenting something is wrong, and that hasn’t happened with this site.”