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Conflict Of Interest Concern Denies Post
2015 Council

Despite the encouragement of many city residents for her to vie for a commission post, the wife of a city councilman was denied a spot on both the city’s Planning and Parks and Recreation commissions because of a potential conflict of interest.

“I got a call from (Mayor) Pat Paul telling me, ‘just letting you know I won’t be appointing you to the planning commission,’” Gina McCarty said. “It’s all about perception.”

McCarty said she inquired prior to applying about the legality of serving on an advisory commission because of her husband, J.R. McCarty, who was elected to the post in 2014, is on the city council.

McCarty said she was advised by City Clerk Kathy Teixeira that City Attorney Tom Hallinan had reviewed the matter and said it was legal and she forwarded her application to the mayor.

According to Teixeira, commission applications are reviewed by the mayor and usually another council member. In this case Mayor Pro-Tem Tom Dunlop also interviewed the candidates.

If approved, the names are then forwarded to the full council for a vote regarding appointment.

“I have not seen in my term where the mayor has brought forward an applicant and the majority of the council said ‘no,’” Teixeira said. “It’s up to the mayor’s discretion to recommending someone for appointment and in some cases she may consult with the city attorney for answers better than I could.”

When contacted, Paul confirmed that the mayor is who forwards names to the council and felt in the case of McCarty that she was concerned with the “perception” of potential conflicts would be an issue, especially with the planning commission since many appeals to the council are from the planning commission decisions.

“In politics, it would look awkward,” Paul said.

Paul said prior to deciding she contacted the city attorney and was told it would be legal for McCarty to be on the commission, but added there would be perception issues and advised against it.

“We could open ourselves up for criticism,” Paul said. “We want to be careful to prevent questions of ‘Why does one family have all these votes?’”

Dunlop, who also reviewed the applications, backed Paul’s decision.

“Honestly, it’s an issue,” Dunlop said. “The Planning Commission is a body the council overrides. If she made a decision (that came to the council for review) an argument could be made that at least one of those votes wasn’t impartial.”

Dunlop added that of all the commissions, decisions by the planning commission were frequently appealed by potential developers.

“Legally, there may not be a conflict, but the appearance of one can be made,” Dunlop said. “It would just give developers a tool to argue if and when something occurred.”

Dunlop said it was important to keep commission activity and council decisions separate.

Both Dunlop and Paul thanked McCarty for applying and agreed, by herself, she would make a good candidate, but with her husband on the city council, an appointment couldn’t happen.

“It’s the cost of being on the council,” Dunlop said.

Councilman J.R. McCarty said his wife is her own woman and responsible enough to make her own decisions, without any input from him.

He, however, questioned the process that gives the mayor so much power and could possibly “stack” commission posts to their line of thinking.

Councilman McCarty pointed to December, 2011 when Mayor Paul lobbied to appoint Ramona Howard, mother of then-councilman Jason Howard, to the Oakdale Tourism Business Improvement District and then voted ‘yes’ for appointment despite the conflict of interest question being raised by other council members.