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DOUBLE DEALING? Councilman's pricey contract prompts conflict of interest concerns

$100/hour for homelessness consulting
COLUMBIA, Mo 2/12/18 (Beat Byte) -- A Columbia city ordinance barring conflicts of interest is proving troublesome for a City Councilman who received a contract from the downtown Community Improvement District (CID), then voted to approve a multi-million dollar tax incentive for a CID board member. 

"It is my sad duty to notify you that I believe there is a serious ethics violation and a violation of Columbia ordinances by a member of this Council," Columbia resident and Second Ward City Council candidate Paul Love told City Council members at their Feb. 5 meeting

Both an elected official and paid employee, Second Ward Councilman Michael Trapp received the CID contract, which pays him $100/hour for homelessness consulting services

"The entire contract comes to approximately $25,000," Love told the Council.

At the same time, Mr. Trapp voted to approve a four million dollar tax increment financing (TIF) package for CID board member David Parmley, who owns the Broadway Hotel.  Mr. Trapp's vote proved decisive: without it, Parmley would not have received the money, his second such incentive -- for a total of $5.3 million -- in just six years. 

"The TIF would have failed had my Councilman stood aside and abstained, as I believe he should have," Love explained.  "Two million of my tax money was applied to the Community Improvement District for causes related to the District.  And one of the board members, Mr. Parmley, is the owner of the Broadway Hotel." 

Mr. Trapp later denied the charge, calling it a "baseless accusation." 

Columbia city ordinance 19-41 (c) prohibits city employees from "any business, activity, transaction or substantial financial or personal interest, direct or indirect, which might reasonably be expected to interfere with the proper discharge of the employee's official duties, or which would impair the employee's independence of judgment or action in the public interest, or would impair the employee's independence of judgment or action in the performance of the employee's official duties."

The policy is repeated across city departments.  For instance, "the City of Columbia Purchasing Division subscribes to the highest standards of ethical conduct for avoiding improper business practices and personal conflicts of interest for all personnel." 

"I find it deeply, personally offensive that my Councilman is being paid one hundred dollars an hour by an organization that is influenced by the man he gave a two million TIF to," Love concluded.  "I would like to offer Mr. Trapp the opportunity to immediately resign from the City Council."
"I don't have a conflict," Mr. Trapp told fellow Council members at the Feb. 5 meeting's end. "I've certainly never taken anything of value for any vote. When I have an appearance of a conflict, I appropriately recuse myself from those votes." 

The hourly rate, Trapp continued, "is not unreasonable.  It's thirty percent lower than the competing bid and what the CID paid for a similar service.

"I'm proud of the work that I do with the homeless," he explained. "It's more than just interviewing. It's coaching and referral for resources" such as Social Security, Medicaid, and housing.   

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