EDC contracts with Chapman to recruit businesses

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

The Liberty Hill City Council and Economic Development Corporation (EDC) have both signed off on a contract that will bring a familiar face back for business recruiting assistance.

Former EDC Board President Bill Chapman was contracted to assist with recruiting efforts, specifically at development conventions and conferences.

Under the agreement approved Dec. 20 by the City Council, Chapman will not be paid, but will be reimbursed for travel, lodging and meal expenses connected to his recruiting efforts.

Both the EDC Board and Council voted unanimously to approve the contract, though Council member Tony DeYoung raised the question of whether the contract created a conflict of interest for Chapman who now works in real estate and owns commercial property in the area.

“We met in closed session with (City Attorney) Tad (Cleeves) and the rest of the board and discussed it quite extensively and we were all satisfied this is a good thing for the City,” said current EDC President John Johnston while addressing the Council on Dec. 20. “We talked about that extensively and we don’t feel like there is one.”

No one else on the Council spoke on the issue before a vote on the motion was made by Council member Steve McIntosh.

In an interview prior to the Dec. 20 Council meeting, Johnston explained why Chapman was being brought on board for the work.

“Basically it’s just a consulting agreement,” Johnston said. “He’s going to help represent the city with people like at ICSC (International Council of Shopping Centers), the big trade show at the first of the year. This is his business, it is what he does for a living is work with commercial developers. He has the contacts and he knows the people, if not on a firsthand basis he knows who to contact to get in contact with the right people. We just need his expertise.

“He has a wealth of knowledge in this field both in development and dealing with developers and retail and we felt it was imperative that we seek his knowledge in these matters to help us make proper decisions.”

For Chapman, as it currently stands, this is a one-time assist to the City, following last year’s success at the same conference.

“This is kind of for one purpose as far as I know,” Chapman said of the contract. “Last year, Mayor Rick Hall and I went to ICSC in Fort Worth in January. It’s a big deal for commercial real estate focused toward shopping center developers and retailers. We worked that show on the floor while Lance (Dean) was in the Williamson County co-op booth. We were surprised how many people invited us to talk to them because generally you need an appointment to get into their individual booth, but because a lot of people in this state recognize me we got audiences with a whole lot of people and we were just spreading the word about our needs and trying to bring attention to Liberty Hill.”

Chapman said he did not seek out the opportunity, adding that it was important to him that there was no perception of a conflict of interest.

“I said I’d be glad to go,” he said of Johnston’s invite. “I really would not have gone at all except Johnny is a really great guy and has done a good job with the EDC.”

According to Chapman, Mayor Hall told Johnston a contract would be needed. He said there were a number of ways he intended to avoid the appearance of a conflict.

“I intend not to hand out my personal number and business card or e-mail address,” Chapman said. “I will give them city numbers and city e-mail addresses they created for me for this one show. I will wear the Liberty Hill hat and will be generically speaking of the demographics of growth and the epicenter of the traffic counts at Ronald Reagan and 29 and 29 and 183A.”

Johnston added that it was a service to the City at no charge and the question of a conflict of interest had been thoroughly discussed.

“He’s basically doing this for free, we just pay his expenses,” Johnston said. “He’s not getting a salary. That’s why we went to executive session, so we could discuss all those matters and concerns and we did that and worked everything out and we’re going to hire him as a consultant.”

The issue was not discussed in open session.

When asked about the item on the Dec. 12 EDC agenda, Mayor Hall said it was an EDC issue.

“I kind of let the EDC Board run itself because it is a separate entity from the City because they get their own tax money,” he said at the time. “My understanding is they’re wanting him to help promote Liberty Hill at the upcoming Red River ICFC Convention in January to be held in Dallas.”

Chapman resigned his position as President of the EDC Board abruptly in July, citing his intent to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest.

He said in a letter to the board that he was stepping down because of the EDC’s unwritten policy of not having licensed real estate professionals on the board. He said he plans to become licensed and pursue commercial real estate interests.

“I am leaving to pursue other interests and I truly believe I can do a lot for Liberty Hill and the EDC by working my private practice in consulting, real estate and recruitment. I will always be available for consult to you and would love to help in any way possible in the future,” Chapman wrote in his letter.

The issue of alleged conflicts of interest among city employees, Council members and board members was turned into predominant campaign issue in the May 2019 City election.

During the election, Council candidates McIntosh, Gram Lankford and Liz Rundzieher were each outspoken on the issue of perceived conflicts of interest among developers and those serving at the time on the Council and boards in relation to some capital improvement projects. Hall and Chapman also chimed in on the issue on social media, with Chapman urging then Council members to ask more questions and seek more information on alleged conflicts.

As far as his current commercial real estate holdings in the area, Chapman said he has only one property left that is in negotiations now.

“I’ve sold all of mine to a Houston developer called McAlister Development,” Chapman told The Independent of his own commercial property holdings. “We have five acres left over on the western end and are under negotiation to have it sold to another investor group right now. Then I’m done as far as owning any.”

The focus going forward will be on real estate services.

“My future is to help people represent their property or broker it and help them with development services if they need any help and try to identify users for particular properties that will be the right users for the city.”

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