Thursday, July 27, 2017
A shadow Town Attorney for Davidson Town Hall?
Regular readers of aShortChronicle will know that before he resigned his position with the town in 2015 (effective June 30, 2016), Mr Kline's position as Town Attorney and the conflicts that presented with his private practice representing developers was a hot topic for this blog.
This list of conflicts was problematic enough that Mr Kline even mentioned them as part of his comments when the position was handed over to current Town Attorney, Cindy Reid. Below is an excerpt from a May 2016 column penned for the Herald Weekly and re-posted here. That column covered why aShortChronicle covers what it does. When it came to conflicts of interest, Mr Kline was the example.
"Some of those columns were down in the weeds on the state law governing exactly what is a conflict. Others covered specific examples – more than one involving the long time Davidson town attorney, Rick Kline. Those columns in particular seemed to strike a nerve. Kline announced his retirement a few months ago, and his replacement was announced at the May 10th Board meeting. The town’s Affordable Housing Coordinator, Cindy Reid, will be stepping into the Town Attorney role. At the meeting, as Kline was complementing the town’s selection of Reid as his replacement, it was interesting to hear him add “unlike me, she doesn’t have any potential conflicts out there.”"
That was in May of 2016. So, it was really very surprising to see the results of a recent public records request through June 1st 2017 showing Mr Kline still very much engaged with Davidson Town Hall - particularly when it comes to real estate transactions.
The request which ran up to June 1st, 2017 shows invoices from Kline to the town for work done every month except December 2016 since his "retirement". Per a separate email from Town Hall, Davidson has "paid Rick Kline $10,453 since July 1, 2016 for projects related to the planning department, town attorney, and real estate".
In March and April of this year, that planning/real estate work was around the controversial Beaty Street RFP project and selling public land to an unincorporated group called Davidson Development Partners or DDP.
One $400 charge on April 6th was particularly interesting. It's for a conference call with the Beaty Street developer. The email record sheds more light on that meeting. At about noon on April 6th, Assistant Town Manager Dawn Blobaum contacted Kline asking him to attend on short notice and meet with the developer's attorney because they were asking questions Blobaum couldn't answer.
What makes this interesting is it shows Kline's close involvement in pushing this project forward. Just a little over 6 weeks later Kline was called to Davidson Town Hall as a witness of sorts for the project to refute activists' claims that the parcel should be used as a park. That story and video can be seen in this post titled "Beaty Street: Lawyers, threats, and karma at Davidson Town Hall". The public records request did not include Kline's invoice to the Town for any work done in May because, again, the request only went through June 1st and that invoice likely had not arrived yet. It would be interesting to know if Kline paid for that testimony or for preparing for it?
If all of that doesn't bother citizens enough regarding Mr Kline's continued involvement at Davidson Town Hall after his "retirement" from official Town Attorney duties, the gray area continues involving his private practice helping developers as well.
In this single public records request, aShortChronicle counted no less than four private sector projects Kline is working in Davidson. Three of these are unannounced at this point. The one that is public is The Summit at River Run. aShortChronicle will be working on stories for the other three as they develop.
The breadth and depth of this continued involvement by the former Town Attorney in development projects is important. It should bother readers because of the obvious chumminess between Mr Kline and the town staff particularly in the Planning Department - the department that has very direct impact on decisions impacting Mr Kline's private sector clients. The public records request is riddled with banter and jokes with one exchange being particularly telling.
On September 1st, 2016 Kline asked for a quick 15 minute meeting with Town Planning staff either that day or the next. It was regarding the Summit at River Run project mentioned previously. Planning Director Jason Burdett responded "Just like a developer. Always wanting to meet with no notice! How's 1130?" To that joking comment Kline replied "Perfect! And thanks for the compliment."
The saying "fox in the henhouse" comes to mind when one sees this kind of thing, and that is not good - not good at all. But let's be clear, that is not the the fault of the "fox". That is the fault of the Davidson Town Board who left the door to the henhouse wide open.