Conflict of interest leads to land acquisition vote reversal

Unanimous reversal of $4.2 million land acquisition for new city library in Council District 9

A heated City Council session Wednesday morning ended with the unanimous reversal of a $4.2 million land acquisition for a new city library in Council District 9.

Last week, council members voted to purchase 5.5 acres of land at 2515 E. Evans Road, but members were unaware that the land is adjacent to Councilwoman Elisa Chan’s company, Unitech Consulting Engineers, 2431 E. Evans Road.

City Engineer Mike Frisbie received an earful at the City Hall podium as members chastised staff for failing to alert them to the potential conflict of interest.

“You understood that was a critical piece of information that needed to be properly vetted to follow the recommendation,” said District 3 Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna. “Why that wasn’t brought to our attention I don’t know, and I’d like to find out.”

“Too often, when credibility is lost, it’s almost impossible to regain,” said District 8 Councilman Reed Williams. “I have yet to hear an apology to the council or to Councilwoman Chan."

The item was brought back to the city at Chan’s request, but she recused herself from the discussion and subsequent vote to reverse last week’s decision.

Frisbie said he sat down with Chan in February to discuss the site, but neither alerted the council that there could be a potential conflict of interest.

Chan’s colleagues called her non-disclosure a “mistake, but said the oversight creates a perception problem with the public.

“Sometimes, things can look bad, smell bad, but they’re still legal,” said District 1 Councilman Diego Bernal. “If that’s the case just let us know. Let us know so we can make that decision knowing all things.”

A second vote on the land acquisition has been scheduled for May 2.

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