Commonwealth’s Attorney opines no conflict of interest exists for supervisor

Last updated: November 18. 2013 2:59PM - 1513 Views
By - aworrell@civitasmedia.com

Dr. Tom Littrell
Dr. Tom Littrell
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Thanks to a recent opinion issued by Carroll County Commonwealth’s Attorney Nathan Lyons, a Carroll County supervisor believes his vote at an October board meeting was “disqualified improperly.”

During the board’s July 8 meeting, Supervisor Bob Martin made a motion for the county to vacate the plat for Agape Motorcoach Retreat with the consent of owner Stephen Gregson, with the alternative to hold a public hearing on the matter if Gregson objected to vacating the plat. During the July meeting, Ronald Newman told the board the issue dated back to 2006 for a variance that was granted without a public hearing.

Gregson revisited the matter during the board’s Oct. 21 meeting. During Citizens’ Time, he said he felt Littrell failed to disclose a “conflict of interest” before the July vote since Littrell is co-owner of a business along with John Garner and Douglas Vaught called Square Properties, which operates a car museum and RV Park. Later in the meeting, Martin made a motion to rescind his July motion. The motion passed 3-2 with Littrell abstaining from the vote.

On Thursday, Littrell revisited the issue during the board of supervisors’ November meeting.

“At the October 21 board meeting, Mr. Steve Gregson alleged I had a conflict of interest voting on business relating to the Agape Motorcoach Retreat. Based on that allegation I abstained on the vote, which affected the outcome of the motion which was on the floor at the time,” Littrell said. “Since then, there have been a couple of Letters to the Editor…in which I feel like I was misquoted. Mr. Gregson said in his letter that I acknowledged that I didn’t understand what was being voted on, which was entirely false. I understand entirely what was being voted on. The conflict of interest was the question.”

In October, Littrell made the statement that if he was in conflict, it was a misunderstanding of the use of the Agape property and that he would ask for an opinion from an unbiased individual whether it was a conflict or not. Littrell said when he got home that night, he made a phone call to the Commonwealth’s Attorney to ask what he needed to do to get an opinion on whether his vote constituted a conflict of interest. Littrell said Lyons asked him to send an email with the information on the matter, and that he would render an opinion.

Littrell said he emailed Lyons the following day with information on Gregson’s allegations that Littrell’s July 8 vote was improper and a conflict of interest. Lyons issued a two-page opinion to Littrell on October 30, which Littrell shared with the board Thursday.

Littrell specifically asked Lyons if he would be required to abstain on votes related to Agape Motorcoach Retreat since he is one-third owner of Square Properties, which encompasses a car museum and RV park in a different jurisdiction.

“By way of procedural explanation your request to my office states that a Mr. Steve Gregson stated at the Oct. 21 Board of Supervisors meeting that you had a conflict and could not vote on matters pertaining to Agape Motorcoach. He further stated that you failed to disclose that you were a partial owner of Square Properties, which has a nightly RV park and a car museum in a different jurisdiction,” Lyons wrote. “In short, I believe the answer would be that no, you would not be disqualified or conflicted from voting on issues related to Agape Motorcoach Retreat.”

Lyons wrote that in reviewing the question, one must look at several factors. One would be to see if Littrell disclosed his investment of partnership with Square Properties on his annual Statement of Economic Interest Forms.

“In reviewing years 2012 and 2013 forms it appears that you list both Square properties as a partnership on Schedule F and as a Real Estate Investment on H-2,” Lyons wrote.

The Commonwealth’s Attorney wrote that the second factor would be to examine if Square properties were in active competition with Agape Motorcoach Retreat.

“I can find no information to support that these operations are in direct competition in the RV business. Assuming (for sake of argument) that these businesses were in direct competition with each other, that alone does not create a conflict of interest which would prohibit you from voting on matters relating to Agape Motorcoach,” Lyons wrote. “Therefore based on the factual structure as you have provided to me, I can only conclude that the answer would be no that you are not required to provide that information.”

With that answer, however, Lyons wrote it would be imprudent not to tell Littrell that as an elected official it may benefit him to prepare a disclosure to any votes on matters pertaining to Agape Motorcoach.

“You may want to provide the information to hold yourself out as fully transparent, but again I do not believe that you are in any way required to decline to vote or make decisions in that regard,” Lyons wrote.

After reading the letter, Littrell had one last thought for the board of supervisors.

“I wanted that in the record that according to the Commonwealth’s Attorney, I was not in conflict and I felt like that vote that night was disqualified improperly,” Littrell said.

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