A conflict-of-interest complaint lodged Thursday against Chattanooga Councilman Chris Anderson said a representative for the company planning a controversial seven-story apartment complex on the city's Southside is also the host of Anderson's next campaign fundraiser.
The complaint was filed Thursday with the city attorney's office by Helen Burns Sharp, a local activist who has frequently complained about the city's tax abatement policies.
Sharp said in her complaint Anderson should have disclosed the tie before voting in favor of a proposed zoning change sought by the developer.
Anderson "should have disclosed that Mike Price, the engineer who represented the developer on the Cowart Street project, is a member of the 'Host Committee' for the Dec. 6 brunch for his City Council Re-Election Campaign," Sharp wrote.
She noted that Price has repeatedly represented Knoxville-based Belle Development Group before the council. Belle wants to build a seven-story, 140-unit apartment building in the 1200 block of Cowart Street, about a block and a half northwest of the Chattanooga Choo Choo. Anderson had actively supported the proposed zoning change. The complaint also claims that each of the 16 members of Anderson's campaign brunch host committee paid $500 to his campaign.
The complaint refers to Section 2-752 of the City Code, titled "Disclosure of personal interest by official with vote:
"An official with the responsibility to vote on a measure shall disclose during the meeting at which the vote takes place, before the vote and so it appears in the minutes, any personal interest that affects or that would lead a reasonable person to infer that it affects the official's vote on the measure." It continues, "In addition, the official shall not lobby any official or employee of the City of Chattanooga or vote on matters in which they have a personal interest."
Sharp argued, "it is a combination of the $500 amount, the timing of the contribution, the host committee role, and the concurrent votes on the zoning matter that could lead a 'reasonable person' to infer that the public official should disclose the association before voting."
Anderson said Tuesday evening he does not believe the complaint is justified. "I have had many contributors over the course of my political career," he said in a statement, "but the only things that guide my judgment are the concerns of my constituents and the well being of our city."
"In the first six months of my term, I championed and passed comprehensive ethics reform," he added. "I am confident that the city attorney and my fellow council members will review this matter and find quickly that it does not violate our ethical standards."
City Attorney Wade Hinton, who acts as the city's chief ethics officer, said he will bring the complaint before the council at its next scheduled meeting. According to the city ethics code, Section 2-761-B, the council must then by majority vote decide whether it has merit, does not have merit, or needs further investigation by the city attorney or another designee.
If the council asks him to investigate, the city attorney can ask the council to allow him to hire an outside attorney to investigate the matter.
According to the complaint, other members of Anderson's fundraising group listed on a private Facebook page include Kevin Boehm, Bob Chazen, Gary Chazen, Lee Davis and Heather Ott, Martin and Mary Gadd, Carl Greene, Mark Hite, Dale Hixson, Adam and Monica Kinsey, Michael and Liz Mallen, Mitch Patel, Judy and Mike St. Charles, Jim Steffner, Albert Waterhouse and Nick Wilkinson.
Contact reporter Steve Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org, 423-757-6673, on Twitter @stevejohnsonTFP, or on Facebook at stevejohnsonTFP.