Sunday, October 15, 2006
Official served both city, contractor
Bev Fitzpatrick says his simultaneous service did not constitute a conflict of interest.
Before joining the Roanoke City Council, Bev Fitzpatrick sat on the Roanoke Redevelopment and Housing Authority board for a year while he was a paid associate in a private consulting firm that had close to $1 million in contracts with the authority, according to documents obtained by The Roanoke Times.
Fitzpatrick says he doesn't believe the relationship created a conflict of interest.
Records show that during his time on the authority board, Fitzpatrick voted on at least three matters associated with an overhaul of the Lincoln Terrace housing development. The Lincoln Terrace project was managed by the firm for which Fitzpatrick worked -- The Issues Management Group. His votes included approval of a budget that involved federal tax money to be paid to IMG.
Fitzpatrick, in a one-page statement to the newspaper, wrote that he worked as a part-time consultant on a limited number of IMG projects, and that "at no time while I served on the authority's board did I perform any work with IMG that involved the authority."
Fitzpatrick did not elaborate on the work he did perform for IMG during that period.
The housing authority's conflict of interest policy states that no authority officer should participate in any phase of an authority contract or its administration if that officer holds a position with a bidder or a contractor. "Position" is defined in the policy as "officer, trustee, director, partner or the like." The policy's purpose is to try to ensure ethical behavior and proper competitive bidding with a public agency.
Also, state law prohibits a member of a governing body from having a personal interest in any contract associated with that body or one under the ultimate control of that body. There are some limited exceptions.
"I did not knowingly violate any laws or conflict of interest rules," Fitzpatrick wrote in a Sept. 29 letter to The Roanoke Times.
The state conflict of interest law includes a paragraph that reads: "Any person who knowingly violates any provisions of this chapter shall be guilty of malfeasance in office or employment."
The state law, which is tied to a two-year statute of limitations in this type of case, says that any potential violator must have an annual financial interest of $10,000 or more in order for malfeasance to exist. Fitzpatrick reported twice that he was paid at least $10,000 annually by IMG, according to financial disclosures he was required to file in 2003 and 2004. Fitzpatrick served on the authority's board from May 2002 to May 2003, when he was appointed to the city council.
Having received questions from The Roanoke Times about the situation, City Attorney Bill Hackworth is now researching state law and how it might apply to Fitzpatrick's history while he was on the authority board and after he was appointed to the city council. Hackworth said last week that he's still gathering information and declined to elaborate.
Hackworth, a council appointee, is involved because conflict of interest laws could also pertain to Fitzpatrick's council service. The city's responsibility also overlaps with the housing authority's because the council appoints authority board members.
Authority board members are not paid. Council members make close to $15,000 annually.
Documents obtained by The Roanoke Times, including Fitzpatrick's signed financial disclosures as an authority board member and city councilman, as well as his resume, show he was an employee of IMG from 1997 through at least January 2004.
The authority's new executive director, Ellis Henry, said he believes Fitzpatrick should have abstained from any vote that had anything to do -- directly or indirectly -- with IMG's relationship with the authority during his term on the housing board. Henry is also questioning whether Fitzpatrick ever publicly disclosed his IMG ties during any housing authority board meeting in which Fitzpatrick participated.
In an Oct. 4 letter to Hackworth, Henry wrote: "I have found no record indicating that Mr. Fitzpatrick refrained from participating on behalf of IMG or that he disqualified himself as a matter of public record."
Henry's concerns over the authority's relationship with IMG, including preferential treatment in contracting and conflicts of interest, caused him to draft a 400-page report on the 11 contracts the authority has held and to seek a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development audit. The audit began in September and is ongoing.
"I have nothing to hide, and I will cooperate fully with the board and/or HUD should there be any formal investigation into these matters," Fitzpatrick said in his letter to The Roanoke Times.
Fitzpatrick's multifaceted relationship with IMG and its president, Rob Glenn, dates back almost a decade.
A biography of Fitzpatrick once included on the IMG Web site described him as a "founding member" of IMG. Glenn himself is a former authority board chairman.
Fitzpatrick was part of the IMG team hired by the authority for $760,000 in 1999 to manage the now complete $41 million overhaul of the Lincoln Terrace public housing complex, according to authority documents obtained by The Roanoke Times under the Virginia Freedom of Information Act. The documents make no mention of Fitzpatrick's direct involvement with the Lincoln Terrace project as an IMG employee after 1999, though he continued to work for IMG.
The Lincoln Terrace project was ongoing with IMG as program manager when Fitzpatrick joined the housing authority board. During his year on the board, Fitzpatrick cast votes in the summer and fall of 2002 in support of: the Lincoln Terrace project budget; amendments to a Lincoln Terrace revitalization plan; and property purchases by the housing authority that were part of the project.
Fitzpatrick's resume, found in an authority file dated June 25, 2002, lists his employment with IMG as "1997 to present." He listed IMG as an employer on a financial disclosure statement he signed in December 2002 as a board member. On signed and notarized disclosures Fitzpatrick filed as a councilman on May 19, 2003, and Jan. 15, 2004, he recorded that he was paid more than $10,000 annually by IMG. On those reports, Fitzpatrick also listed that he was paid in excess of $10,000 by Ferrum College, where he held an administrative post at the time.
On a separate authority disclosure Fitzpatrick filed on Dec. 4, 2002, he listed that he was paid by IMG and Ferrum at that time. That disclosure form did not include a specified salary amount.
The Roanoke Times has been unable to determine when Fitzpatrick received his last payment from the firm, or for what he was paid by IMG over the past four years.
Fitzpatrick was listed as a "strategic partner" on IMG's Web site until late this summer.
His written statement in response to questions regarding this story was sent to the newspaper using an Issues Management e-mail address.
Fitzpatrick's association with Glenn isn't limited to IMG.
The two have served together on the boards of civic and community organizations, including the Roanoke Foundation for Downtown Inc. and the Foundation for Regional Excellence, which also has had a business relationship with the authority.
In 2002, the authority gave the Foundation for Regional Excellence control of $185,000 in authority funds as seed money for a memorial fund for deceased authority board chairman Willis "Wick" Anderson. Glenn is president of the Foundation for Regional Excellence and IMG is the paid manager for the charitable group.
At the time when the agreement committing the authority money to the foundation was negotiated and signed, Fitzpatrick was simultaneously an authority board member, a Foundation for Regional Excellence board member and was working for IMG.
The board took no vote approving the agreement with the foundation. In his statement, Fitzpatrick said, "I am unaware of any improper or illegal activities regarding the $185,000."
But Henry, the authority director, included questions about the authority's agreement with the foundation in his report to HUD.
Fitzpatrick's term on the authority board ended when he was appointed to the city council in May 2003 to fill a vacated, unexpired term of Bill Carder, who left council because of a job relocation.
Fitzpatrick's resignation from the authority board came after a failed behind-the-scenes effort to find a way to keep him on the council-appointed authority board while he served simultaneously as a councilman.
E-mails among Glenn, then-authority Executive Director John Baker and authority board Chairman Ben Fink show the three researched how Fitzpatrick could legally serve on both panels, and strategized to persuade the council to go along. They perceived City Manager Darlene Burcham to be a major opponent of the idea.
In e-mails, they discussed how Fitzpatrick's regional vision would be more influential if he could serve on both entities simultaneously. And they debated how to present their argument to the council, and to which council members a letter should be sent, and from whom.
"I don't want to mistakenly give city council the idea that they have control over the decision," Baker wrote April 23, 2003.
Other e-mails the same day show Fitzpatrick was aware of the strategy.
When council members continued to balk at the idea, Glenn suggested to Fink that he send a letter to then-Councilman Nelson Harris, now the mayor, suggesting that Fitzpatrick's vision of the authority as a regional entity "is so critical that you don't even want to risk talking about alternatives since Bev is willing to stay on."
It is unclear if either letter was ever sent.
In the end, a legal opinion from the city attorney trumped all others. Hackworth sent a letter to Fitzpatrick citing the Virginia Constitution and multiple state laws that prevent Fitzpatrick from serving on the city council and a council-appointed body at the same time.
Fitzpatrick resigned from the authority board the day his council term started, May 19, 2003. He remains council's liaison to the authority.
In his Sept. 29 letter, Fitzpatrick said he had no desire to circumvent any legal requirements concerning the dual service, and that he wanted Hackworth's guidance to avoid any possible conflict.
Fitzpatrick, a member of one of Roanoke's most prominent families, has served on dozens of boards and commissions over the years. In at least three instances, he ended up leaving those boards to take jobs with the entities they governed. Those executive positions include stints with Ferrum College, Blue Ridge Public Television and, most recently, Virginia Museum of Transportation.
"I fully understand the need for public officials to be accountable," Fitzpatrick said in his statement. "I can assure you that I did not take any action while serving on the authority's board that I had any reason to believe was a violation of law or conflict of interest rules."