City Manager Bill Watkins said Tuesday that he will conduct a thorough review of what he called “a very serious complaint” lodged by the Sierra Club about a potential conflict of interest involving a Public Works Department engineer.
Watkins made the decision to investigate on Tuesday, just one day after Ken Midkiff of the Ozark Chapter of the Sierra Club notified Watkins of his concern about David Nichols’ involvement — before he became a city employee — in the conceptual design of a development taking shape at Stadium Boulevard and U.S. 63. Nichols was working for the engineering firm Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw at the time.
Watkins deemed Midkiff’s complaint serious because of the possible stain on the city’s reputation.
“Any time there is a complaint regarding a conflict of interest, I take that very seriously just because I think the credibility of the city and its staff is one of, if not the most important thing,” Watkins said.
Watkins said he spoke with Public Works Director John Glascock about the matter Monday afternoon to gauge the degree of involvement Nichols had on the design of Park View Center, Phase 1, and to ask Glascock to pull files and documents involving the development. Watkins hopes to complete the review in a couple of days. He asked Nichols to refrain from involvement with the project as a Public Works employee until the review is completed.
“I’ve started, but I’m not very far along at this point,” Watkins said of his inquiry. “I have asked for files and additional information in regards to the issue, and I will be talking to people in and out of city government.”
Nichols became chief engineer for the Public Works Department in October after working 14 months for Trabue, Hansen and Hinshaw. He said he’s glad Watkins is reviewing the situation and thinks the city manager’s examination will show that he has not acted inappropriately.
“I was with that consultant for just a little stint, and when this job opened it was appealing to me, and so I decided to apply for it,” Nichols said. “Like I said, it isn’t as if I can just make stuff up on my own and impose my own will.”
Nichols said the Park View Center was one of 13 projects he worked on for the engineering firm. The others included two sewer projects that are before the city and in the planning and review stage. Those projects will not be included in the review by Watkins, who only asked Glascock for information on the Park View Center project.
Nichols said he views his participation with such projects as a benefit instead of a detriment, citing more than 20 years of experience with agencies such as the Missouri Department of Transportation and the Boone County Public Works Department.
“In these types of projects,” Nichols said, “I think it’s good that I have the type of ground-floor knowledge that I do so that when these projects come before the city for approval or in the bidding process, I’ll have the familiarity required to make the best decision.”
At the moment, the 42-acre tract owned by Stadium 63 Properties LLC, is considered private property because no final plat has been approved by the city. Senior Planner Chuck Bondra said a 1999 preliminary plat for the property will reach its seven-year expiration next month.
Midkiff, who is the conservation chairman for the Sierra Club chapter, said his complaint about Nichols is an extension of the Sierra Club’s concern over grading and tree clearing that has already taken place on the land. Nichols’ involvement with the Trabue firm, he said, is one more reason why such projects should be open to greater public discussion.
“I’m pleased they’re doing the review,” Midkiff said. “But I won’t make any other move until the review is completed and the results are out.”
Glascock, who is Nichols’ superior, said he, too, considers the complaint serious and well worth exploring. But he also said Nichols’ involvement with Park View Center has been minimal.
“Dave is not involved with anything directly on this project,” Glascock said. “This is a private property owner doing some grading on his property, and if he’s complying with city ordinances and the land-distribution permit, then there is not a lot to be done.”
Nichols said he doesn’t see what the Sierra Club will gain by filing a complaint against him if its goal is to challenge city land-disturbance ordinances and the perceived lack of public involvement in reviewing developments.
“I think (Midkiff) should go after the ordinance, instead of going after me,” Nichols said. “I haven’t done anything out of the ordinary here.”