City Manager Futrell Responds: Explaining High-Level Ethical Principles

RECEIVED Tue., Dec. 19, 2006

Dear Editor,
    Michael King circuitously questions my professional integrity while acknowledging he has no knowledge of either a conflict of interest or any inappropriate personal interventions [“Point Austin,” News, Dec. 15]. He then tries to draw a parallel about how I handle my job as city manager and my husband's employment to a past conflict-of-interest case involving a contract project manager on a major city utility project. In that particular case, the project manager did not disclose that he had a live-in relationship with an individual who obtained significant financial subcontracts at the same time and on the very same project he was hired to directly manage.
    While inviting readers to draw their own conclusions, Mr. King lays out a shadowy conspiracy theory.
    Before readers draw their own conclusion, they should know that for years, I have annually disclosed my husband's employment as a heating and air conditioning technician for Wal-Mart on multiple, publicly filed financial disclosure forms. Once filed, these forms are made available for inspection in the City Clerk's Office.
    What I did file for the first time last January was a new state disclosure form designed to disclose potential vendor conflicts. I filed this form reporting my husband's job, in addition to the two other financial disclosure forms I file annually where I also report my husband's employment. This new state disclosure requirement was created by legislation as part of HB 914 in late 2005. The new form could not be filed prior to January 2006, and I filed in January 2006. This is the "curious coincidence" or suspicious timing Mr. King refers to.
    Mr. King says "Futrell abruptly recused herself of any further Wal-Mart dealings." This is incorrect. It is incorrect because I was never involved in the Northcross Mall Wal-Mart site plan. Filed as an administrative site plan, full authority to review and approve this site plan was vested under Austin city code to the department director of the Watershed Protection and Development Review Department. The site plan would not have, and did not, come before me.
    A few weeks ago I did recuse myself from the separate discussion of a citywide conditional-use permit process being proposed as land-use regulation for all large retail establishments. Once that proposal was being linked directly to the discussion of the specific redevelopment of Northcross Mall and a Wal-Mart site plan, I recused myself. It is that new link that could create a potential conflict of interest and the reason that I recused myself.
    In my opinion, recusal was the right thing to do at that point to avoid any distraction, interference, or even the appearance of a conflict of interest while the council evaluates this proposed new land-use regulation and any direct tie to the Northcross Mall site plan.
    And yes, Mr. King, that is what high-level ethics principles are all about.
Toby Hammett Futrell
City manager
City of Austin
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