Despite allegations and the perception of wrongdoings, an outside attorney found no grounds for conflict of interest concerns in a recent land purchase by a member of the city council.

Despite allegations and the perception of wrongdoings, an outside attorney found no grounds for conflict of interest concerns in a recent land purchase by a member of the city council.

At the request of St. John’s city council members, Great Bend attorney Allen Glendenning of Watkins Calcara look into the situation.

In a three-page report provided to the council and press, Glendenning determined the city itself can have no liability under K.S.A 75-4304 – that forbids a city council member from participating in the making of a contract between the city and a business in which he has a substantial interest. Furthermore, Glendenning found that the facts do not indicate that a violation of this statute occurred.

“I have conducted an investigation into issues surrounding the acquisition of the a piece of property in St John by a city councilman to determine if there has been a violation of the Kansas conflict of interest statute and whether the city has been exposed to any legal liability as a result of that acquisition,” Glendenning stated in the report. “I have reviewed the documents you sent me and spoken to Rod Lyons (city attorney), Kevin Davis, Jeffery Olivier and Jeni Jones.“It is my conclusion that no illegal activity has occurred and that the city has no exposure to any liability arising out of this matter.”

The conflict allegations arose when council member, Kevin Davis, purchased the corner building at Fourth and Main streets and acquired the adjoining ground. Until recently, the adjoining lot had a large structure on it that had been deemed a safety hazard by the council and was razed at the city’s expense.

There were concerns that Davis may have violated the conflict of interest statues by voting on the building’s demolition and then purchasing the property afterwards.

Glendenning stated Olivier, the original property owner offered the building to a couple individuals that were not interested in it because of the condition of the building, clean up costs, and a tax lien of approximately $1,300. Olivier stated he “had a casual conversation” with Jeni Jones, who owns the adjoining property on the north side of the lot.

According to the report, “Jones advised they were not interested in purchasing it with the building still on it but that they might be after the building was down. Mr. Olivier remembers this conversation as occurring before he and the city entered into the agreement (for demolition.)

Glendenning reports that Jones had made inquiries about the property was told that the city had an agreement to clean up the property, after which it would be sold at auction.

The report goes on to say, “She also states that she had several conversations with Mr. Davis about this, in which he advised her to keep quiet about the property because he was going to acquire it and then, when it was all over, he would split the lot with the Jones. Mr. Davis advises that he did receive inquiries from the Jones about what the city was doing with the property and he advised that he did not know. He advises that he was unaware of the agreement between the Oliviers and the city until the recent City Council meeting in May, 2014. Mr. Davis denies that he ever told the Jones to keep quiet or ever offered to split the lot with them.

“Ms. Jones advised that her concern was driven by the impression that Mr. Davis has worked the situation so that he will end up with the cleaned up property and the city will stand the bill for the cleanup. However, this is a misconception as Mr. Davis is paying the entire expense incurred by the city in connection with the cleanup. When he first spoke to Mr. Olivier about purchasing the property, Mr. Davis advised Mr. Olivier that his intent was to take care of the cleanup costs and save the city that expense.”

Mayor Juliann Owens and city attorney, Rodney Lyons confirmed that Davis did indeed pay the city for the total cost of the clean up of $13,000, which is probably more than the lot would have brought at auction.

In his conclusion, Glendenning stated, “While better and more communication would have been preferable and would have prevented the appearance of impropriety that has resulted in concerns, there has actually been no impropriety, Mr. Davis’ interests have not been in conflict with the city’s and the end result is beneficial to the city.”