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Some Sandy residents cry foul over commissioner’s alleged conflict of interest

SHARE Some Sandy residents cry foul over commissioner’s alleged conflict of interest

Bethann Martin puts a boarding horse into a stall in her barn in Sandy on Wednesday, Aug. 14, 2019. The Sandy City Council will vote Aug. 20 on a plan to rezone 4.5 acres of land into quarter-acre lots. The proposed rezone would also not allow farm animals in an area that has historically been equestrian friendly. Martin owns two acres of land about 11/2 miles northeast of the proposed rezone.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SANDY — Sandy’s mayor and city attorney have drafted changes to the city’s Planning Commission bylaws after some residents opposed to a controversial rezone application that would break up 4.5 acres of horse-friendly property into quarter-acre lots without animal rights decried a conflict of interest.

Though planning Commissioner Cory Shupe recused himself from a vote on Aug. 1 — when the item came before the body he serves on — he presented an application for the rezone both to the Planning Commission and the City Council as a representative for the project’s developer.

“I just don’t think that is a good practice. I want our decisionmakers to be neutral (and) to have rigorous ethical standards,” said Monica Zoltanski, a Sandy resident and candidate for City Council.

The Sandy Planning Commission, a mayor-appointed body, is limited to making recommendations and final decisions are determined by the City Council. However, Zoltanski said those recommendations “are weighted heavily. That is why we have them.”

Zoltanski was one of many residents who denounced the alleged conflict in public comments made during the last three Sandy City Council meetings. However residents’ concerns may not be the only force behind a change to the Planning Commission bylaws.

Both the state code and city code in Sandy call for elected and appointed officials to disclose conflicts of interest they may have with businesses regulated by the body they serve on. State code requires such disclosures to be “sworn statements filed with the mayor” both when becoming appointed and any time that interest changes or increases.

Deputy Sandy Mayor Evelyn Everton said this disclosure requirement was not met due to “an oversight by the Planning Commission staff” and “disclosures were not collected until recently when they were made aware of the mistake.”

When asked if they city was aware of a potential state code violation, she said, “We are currently investigating and will present the findings to council when completed.”  

After discovering the error, a disclosure was made on Aug. 15. In the disclosure provided to the Deseret News by the city, Shupe notes that he is the owner of Blue Line Designs — a planning and urban design firm — and holds or is expected to hold contracts for Cairns Plaza, a Sandy pickleball development and the Bell Canyon Trailhead.

“I’m a planner, that’s what I do for a living. That’s how I provide for my family,” Shupe told the Deseret News Saturday.

”It’s unfortunate that it’s gotten to this point. If there were laws that were broken, I was never informed of that and I apologize for anything that may have gone wrong with the city, I made it very clear to Mayor (Kurt) Bradburn when I was invited to participate on the Planning Commission that because I’m a planner, there may be an occasion where there was a conflict.”

He said the city assured him that if he recused himself from a vote, it would “not be a problem.”

Though changes to the commission’s bylaws have yet to be finalized, a statement provided by the mayor’s office notes the commission will “require additional disclosures in the event there is a conflict of interest pertaining to a Planning Commission recommendation” and “if a commissioner must recuse themselves from a vote, they will be required to leave the room.”

Everton said the city expects bylaw changes to be presented to the Planning Commission during the next scheduled meeting on Sept. 19.

Jeff Walker, an attorney retained by a group of citizens concerned about the rezone, said he hand-delivered a letter to the mayor noting the conflict of interest on Aug. 22. On Aug. 28, he said the mayor and city attorney met with Walker to review and discuss his concerns.

Everton confirmed both the meeting and receipt of the letter by the city.

Walker said he hopes the issue can be resolved amicably, but said of his clients, “I know there are some that would very much like a notice of claim to be filed” with the city over the conflict of interest.

Not everyone, however, is convinced that the conflict of interest is an issue. When the item came up for public comment during an Aug. 20 City Council meeting, Councilman Chris McCandless asked residents to refrain from talking about the issue saying, “When you speak of conflicts of interest, that doesn’t plead your case to the City Council.” 

Responding to a request for comment made to all Sandy council members, McCandless wrote, “Conflict of interest is one of those vague notions that people throw out when they lack substantive argument.”

He equated Shupe’s conflict of interest to “homeowners making comments on residential developments” but said “any changes as it relates to this topic should take into consideration the unforeseen circumstances.”

During the Aug. 20 meeting, in an attempt to “set the record straight,” Shupe told the council and residents that he is “not a developer.” His name however has been in the spotlight recently when he presented an application for the controversial Olympia Hills high-density development, west of Herriman.

Minutes of a public Box Elder School District meeting show Shupe was working on other development projects with Olympia Hills developer Doug Young as far back as 2009.

A City Council vote on the rezone ultimately deadlocked on Aug. 20 with council members Brooke Christensen, Kristin Coleman-Nicholl and Zach Robinson voting to deny the rezone and Steve Fairbanks, Linda Martinez Saville and McCandless voting to approve. Councilwoman Maren Barker was absent. A unanimous motion then pushed the decision out until an undetermined date in September.

The rezone was listed on the council’s Sept. 3 agenda. During the meeting, however, a discussion on whether the meeting had been noticed appropriately prompted the council to pass a motion ending discussion on the item and continuing the public hearing on Sept. 24.