City Manager Bill Watkins has ruled that prior work done in the capacity as a consultant by the city’s current chief engineer, David Nichols, does not pose a conflict of interest.
Watkins said he reached his conclusion after a site visit to the project in question, the Park View Center Phase I project, discussions with city and non-city officials, a review of city project files and a conversation with Ken Midkiff, the conservation chair of the Ozark chapter of the Sierra Club who first filed a complaint in early March. Watkins said in a news release Tuesday that future concerns regarding conflicts of interests and compliance with city ordinances should be handled differently.
“I want to make it clear that our ordinance, which Public Works staff is charged with enforcing, does not allow staff to impose extra conditions on some projects,” Watkins said. “Should residents wish to affect changes in the city policy, the appropriate method is through the open council consideration required by the City Charter.”
Watkins’ review also found that ordinances regarding land disturbance were followed. The Public Works Department strictly followed city ordinances in issuing the permit and found that Nichols had no financial stake in the project.
From the outset, Watkins deemed the complaint “very serious” and one that should be looked into in order to preserve the public’s trust of city government and its employees.
Midkiff said he is disappointed with the result of the investigation.
“It certainly isn’t the result I’d hoped for,” Midkiff said. “It seems pretty simple to me that when there is a city employee working on a project he had been involved with as a consultant earlier, then a conflict of interest is fairly apparent.”
Midkiff filed the complaint 29 days ago because he thought Nichols’ work on the project as a consultant for engineering firm Trabue, Hansen and Henshaw, could impact oversight and compliance with the city’s land disturbance permits. He also said the project, located on the 42 acres of property owned by Stadium 63 Properties LLC, was an example of deficient city land disturbance, tree clearing and erosion control ordinances.
Despite his disappointment, Midkiff said his conversation with Watkins did have some benefit.
“We talked about a number of things in addition to my complaint,” he said. “It was a friendly discussion about a number of issues brought to light by the destruction of this site.”
Nichols has not denied his involvement with the project, but noted that such oversight is guided by city ordinances and Public Works Department staff. Nichols has said he only gets involved when a compliance issue is reported.
Nichols was not allowed to participate in the project during Watkins’ review, but said he is glad the matter was thoroughly examined and resolved. He will be permitted to go back to work on the project now that the review has been completed.
“He took a (serious complaint) and did what he said he was going to do by looking into it,” Nichols said. “I’m sure he had more important matters to deal with besides this.”