I-Team Investigation: Conflict of Interest

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An Amarillo city councilman may be facing another potential conflict of interest.

Documents show Place 3 Councilman Randy Burkett benefited financially from the Convention and Visitor Council (CVC) and even cast votes in favor of the budget that paid money to his business.

Burkett sat on the CVC board from July of 2015 until July of 2016.

Burkett may have actually broken the law by voting on a budget that paid his outdoor billboard business tens of thousands of dollars.

Receiving money from the CVC is not against the law.  But voting on it may be.

The CVC is fully funded by the city’s Hotel Occupancy Taxes (HOT).

There are two numbers that caught our attention kick starting our I-Team investigation.

The first number is $15,809.  That’s the amount paid by the CVC to Burkett Outdoor Advertising for fiscal year 2015. This money was part of the CVC’s budget that was approved nearly a full year before Burkett was elected to the city council and before he was placed on the board of the CVC. There are no issues with that number.

The second number is $66,297.50. That’s how much the CVC paid to Burkett Outdoor Advertising for fiscal year 2016. That amount was paid as part of the CVC’s budget and the first budget voted on by Burkett as a member of the CVC board.

That’s an increase of more than $50,488.50 in one year — and all coming once Burkett was elected to the city council and appointed to the CVC board.

According to chapter 171 of Texas’ Local Government Code, voting on the budget that paid that money is illegal.

A CVC official says says the huge increase in money spent with Burkett Outdoor Advertising can be explained two ways.

CVC Vice President Dan Quandt says Burkett’s switch to digital billboards three years ago and their prime locations on the interstates were appealing.  Plus, he wanted to do more advertising in the city itself.

“We wanted to do things twofold with digital boards,”  Quandt said. “One, to promote activities in town and also to build pride within Amarillo because part of our job is to make sure that the people of Amarillo feel good about their city.”

Burkett voted for the 2016 CVC budget one day after being appointed to their board. Quandt says Burkett didn’t have any input in crafting the budget or how much money would be spent with his company.

“Our board looks at it and approves it. But their approval is a recommendation to the city council, and then we go again and present it to the city council for final approval,”  Quandt said.

That’s where Burkett may have run afoul of the state’s conflict of interest laws.

City Attorney Mick McKamie said, “They (the CVC) are a governmental entity for most purposes, so they have to comply with the same rules.”

Chapter 171 of the Local Government Code states: If an elected official has a substantial financial interest in a business that’s doing business with the city, they shall file an affidavit stating the nature and extent of the interest and shall abstain from further participation in the matter.

“Not just “not” voting on the issue that they have a conflict on, but also deliberation and discussion,” McKamie said.

Councilman Burkett did file an affidavit with the city disclosing his conflict of interest.  But there are two potential problems.

One, the law states that affidavit must be filed before any vote is taken.

Burkett voted on the CVC budget as a member of their board in July of 2015.  Then he voted for the budget again as a city council member in September of that year.

He didn’t file his affidavit until October after he voted for the budget twice — once as a CVC board member and again as a city council member.

Also on that affidavit filed October 12, 2015, Burkett referenced former city attorney Marcus Norris as approving his conflict of interest. However, Norris resigned a full two months before that affidavit was filed.

Another possible violation, even if Burkett had filed the affidavit before casting his votes, he’s still not supposed to participate in any way.

“The council member can ask that a particular section of the budget, or particular item in the budget be considered separately,”  McKamie said.  “They declare the conflict or they just voluntarily recuse themselves from voting on that subject, and then the whole budget can be voted on, even by that member.”

According to the minutes of the CVC board, that didn’t happen.  Burkett voted on the entire budget.

He did so again when the budget was presented to the city council on September 8, 2015.



Not only did he vote for the CVC budget as a separate item, but also he seconded the motion when it was time to vote.

Quandt says he was unaware of any possible conflict of interest.  In fact, he says Burkett told him it was okay to do business with the CVC.

“Before he was elected actually, he stopped in and visited with me like many candidates do and said that he had already talked to the city attorney Marcus Norris, back then, and had asked can he accept money from us if he’s elected, and it was ruled that he could,”  Quandt said.

Accept money — yes.

Participate in deciding whether you get that money — not according to state law.

“It is a crime and it’s a misdemeanor that is subject to prosecution.  So, it could carry some jail time,”  McKamie said.

The fiscal year 2016 budget is not the only one Burkett voted on.  

 
Before leaving in July, Burkett voted on the fiscal year 2017 budget which the CVC is operating under now.
 
Burkett worked with an advertising agency under the previous budget, but there were some changes made following his vote on the 2017 budget.
 
There’s actually a contract between the CVC and Burkett outdoor advertising now.
 
It will pay Burkett $2,000/month through the end of September.

 
The I-Team did reach out to Burkett for comment.  He refused an on-camera interview as well as the use of his text message comments.
 
Former city attorney Marcus Norris is limited in what he can say since the city used to be his client.
 
He did say, he was never asked about whether Burkett could actually vote on a budget.

McKamie says any conflict of interest charges would have to come from the Potter County Attorney’s office.

The county attorney Scott Brumley says at this point, no law enforcement agency has pursued an investigation.

He says if his office does receive a complaint, there’s a possibility it could fall under Official Misconduct. 

Under that statute, if convicted, Burkett could face immediate removal from office.

Burkett’s term on the city council ends in May.

He has not yet filed for re-election.  The deadline is Friday.

This isn’t the first time questions have surrounded Burkett and conflict of interest laws. In our exclusive I-team report this past November, records showed Burkett was attempting to change the city’s downtown urban design standards in an attempt to build a new billboard in a restricted area. Those attempts were eventually derailed when the city refused to sign off on his request.

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